In-state rivals both seeking one more win to reach a bowl will meet on Saturday as the Tennessee Volunteers visit the Vanderbilt Commodores. Kickoff is set for 4:00 EST on Saturday, November 24, at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville. Fans can watch the game on the SEC Network.
Oddsmakers list the Commodores as 3.5-point favorites at home. The over/under is set at 50.5 points. Click here to check out a full list of this week’s college football odds and game previews.
One could make the argument that Tennessee is playing with house money at this point in the season. Back in August, making a bowl game may have seemed like an overachievement for the Volunteers. But with their upset win over Kentucky a couple weeks ago, the Vols are just one win away from becoming bowl eligible. Last week’s attempt to win their sixth game ended in a 50-17 loss to Missouri. But Jeremy Pruitt’s team has one more chance to surpass preseason expectations by beating Vanderbilt and earning a 13th game.
Vanderbilt, on the other hand, is under a little more pressure to get to a bowl game this season. This is Derek Mason’s fifth season at Vandy and he’s only taken the Commodores to one bowl game during that time. Expectations at Vanderbilt are usually tempered, but he could be fired if Vandy doesn’t make a bowl game. With the pressure on, the Commodores have won two of their last three games to get themselves to 5-6 on the season. Of course, just like the Volunteers, they still need one more to reach a bowl game and perhaps save Mason’s job.
Working in Vandy’s favor is the fact that they’ve beaten Tennessee each of the past two seasons. The Volunteers have a big edge in the all-time series, but Vandy has won back-to-back games in this series and four of the last six meetings after all. The Commodores no longer see themselves as perpetual underdogs against their in-state SEC rivals, and that could give them a psychological edge in the season finale.
Slowly but surely, Vanderbilt has earned my trust over the past few weeks, making me comfortable picking them to cover against Tennessee. They’ve played some competitive games with good teams during the second half of the season, and their wins the past few weeks tell me that they’re probably a little more worthy of a bowl game than Tennessee. Even with a few points to cover, I’ll lean toward Vanderbilt in this game.
One problem Tennessee is facing this week is the injury uncertainty involving quarterback Jarrett Guarantano. The sophomore has taken some positive strides this year, but he was knocked out early in last week’s loss to Missouri and remains questionable to play this week. Backup Keller Chryst was largely ineffective last week, so the Volunteers can’t feel too confident if Guarantano isn’t well enough to start.
On top of that, leading receiver Marquez Callaway is battling an injury and has largely been a non-factor in the last three games. Missing Guarantano and Callaway is particularly concerning because of the inconsistency of the Tennessee rushing attack. The Vols have been held under 100 yards rushing in two of their last three games, including their uninspiring win over Charlotte. Keep in mind that the Volunteers have eclipsed 24 points just once against an FBS opponent this year, so not being at full strength offensively is a concern.
For what it’s worth, the Vanderbilt defense has some vulnerabilities this year. They simply don’t have the same level of athleticism at every position as the rest of the SEC. However, they’ve put together a few quality performances on that side of the ball this year. Against a team that’s a little limited offensively, I think the Commodores can get a few stops and keep the Vols to a reasonable point total.
On the other side of the ball, the Commodores are coming on strong late in the season. Vandy has faced some weak defensive teams the last three weeks and quarterback Kyle Shurmur has taken full advantage, throwing eight touchdown passes to just one interception. His numbers aren’t eye-popping, but he’s been efficient. It also helps that running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn has come alive over the last three weeks, averaging 160 yards per game while scoring five touchdowns over that span.
Meanwhile, the Tennessee defense is coming off one of their worst performances of the season. The Volunteers have had trouble when facing good quarterbacks this season, so I’m not sure if they’ll be able to handle Schurmur. Add Vandy’s running game to the equation and I think the Commodores could have one of their best offensive performances of the season against Tennessee.
All things considered, Tennessee has a few more question marks heading into this game than Vanderbilt. On the surface, the Commodores have the better quarterback, the better running game, and maybe even the better defense. The Vols have a chance, but they also have a narrow path to victory. With just 3.5 points to cover, I’ll take my chances with Vanderbilt being able to cover the spread.