Yesterday, Joe Rexrode of the Tennessean wrote an article pretty high on the Stockstill-Shurmur matchup this weekend. He went on to express his enjoyment of the MTSU-Vandy series, and wishes for it to continue. I’m not going to get into the nuts and bolts of the bold declaration that it’s the best QB matchup of the week. The article did, however, get me thinking about the future of this match-up.
Like many AoG readers, I have expressed happiness to see this series end. The fact of the matter is MTSU treats this game as their Superbowl. Their players and fans alike go nuts over it, knowing they can (and have) knocked off a SEC school, and a local one at that. The result is that in the last two series, these games have been uncomfortably close. Most AoG readers were Vanderbilt students during the Woody-BoJo era where Vandy lost three in a row (two by less than one score). In the recent series, we have won all three games. One of these a close victory (17-13), one closer than it looks win (47-24) and last year’s solid win (28-6). MTSU plays us hard, and matches up well against the Commodores.
The biggest argument against scheduling MTSU is that Vanderbilt needs to get every win they can lay their hands on. With the SEC “lol screw you Vandy” rule, Vanderbilt is required to take an out-of conference (OOC) against a power five team. So Vanderbilt already faces the handicap of possibly going 3-1 in OOC games whereas most of the rest of the conference will go 4-0. To get a bowl game, they would then have to take three wins against a conference they traditionally struggle in. To add MTSU as a regular OOC opponent is a huge risk that puts us in the possible position of needing to win four SEC games to get a bowl.
This is a strong argument against the MTSU series, and the one I’ve voiced in the past. The strongest propellant for an upward trajectory of Vanderbilt football is wins. Success breeds more success, and Vanderbilt could get to the level the fans want it to be. We’ll never be a national title contender, but if we were a consistent bowl team with the occasional great year of playing SECe spoiler, I’d love that. I think that’s a reasonable goal. To get there, Vanderbilt needs to win as much as possible. More MTSU match-ups would be putting an unnecessary obstacle in the way of that goal.
The argument against the series is also one that can be used for it. That is, it’s not just another cupcake game, which makes them fun. It’s also a local rivalry; it is exciting to the local communities, and that’s not an argument to ignore. Coach Mason has echoed that sentiment, though who knows if that was just “coach speak”. MTSU’s athletic director has voiced his desire to keep the series going.
I think there’s an element of truth here that’s worth considering. While the MTSU match-up runs risks, the local appeal is a benefit Vanderbilt should consider. The biggest thing that’s going to get the Dud filled is the “sidewalk fans”. Vanderbilt does not have the student body size, nor the alumni in the area, to keep that stadium even close to full each week. We are almost entirely dependent on people who are locals for cheering on our team. Adding a perennial local match-up would add excitement and possibly good will with the community. And let’s be honest, Vanderbilt has done a poor job of reaching out to the community.
Finally, one of the best parts of college football is rivalries. We don’t have many real ones. In fact, you could argue that MTSU is probably our only real one. Despite our recent success against Tennessee, I don’t think we’d consider it much of a real rivalry. Vandy-MTSU seems like it may grow into a fun kind of local tradition and maybe even become a sort of city-wide event if done long enough. I’m open to the idea of having a real local rivalry, it sounds fun, and it could be a benefit to our own program as well.
When I started to write this article, I thought this was going to be an easy yes or no question. I actually changed the title multiple times going from “yes” to “no” to “maybe”. Exchanging MTSU for an easy win is definitely the less risky road for our beleaguered team. I have argued for ditching this match-up in the past. I’m not convinced that getting rid of it is the right path; but, I’m also not convinced that keeping it is the right path either.
Author’s Note: Hey Joe, please continue all the good work you and Adam are doing at the Tennessean to keep Vanderbilt accountable for the stadium crap. It means a lot to those of us that actually care about Vanderbilt football (i.e. not the Vandy administrators).