OK, Tennessee, it's officially the biggest week of your season. Before I even get into the formal smack talk section of this article, can we take a second and recognize that that last sentence alone pretty much sums up how far your program has fallen?
The success of your season hinges on the Vanderbilt game. And by "success" all we're really talking about is potentially eking out bowl eligibility with a 6-6 record.
Let that sink in. I’ll wait.
I can see you UT fans shaking your heads in disbelief. I can hear you asking yourselves how it has come to this. I can feel your despair as you cry out, "How are we only favored by a field goal at home against a tiny private school we’ve beaten 28 times in the last 30 years?" And no, those numbers are not a misprint.
Simply put, Vandy is finally a player in the college football world. We're not deluding ourselves; it's not like we're winning a national championship next year, let alone an SEC title. But we're at least good enough to lay a 41-18 beat down on our biggest rivals. (That was last year.)
My beloved 'Dores are on to their third bowl game in three years under Coach James "I'm Not Leaving for USC" Franklin.
Over the past 17 games, Vanderbilt has the third most wins in the conference, behind only Alabama and Texas A&M.
Not everyone loves Franklin's brash, in-your-face style, but due to his recruiting prowess and relentless selling of the school, Vandy is undoubtedly a program on the rise.
Tennessee, on the other hand, has a 10-28 conference record since Phil Fulmer was fired. First, there was the Lane Kiffin debacle. Everybody knows about that. The wunderkind coach humiliated the once-proud Volunteer fan base and they'll never forget it.
Then came Derek Dooley. Boy, that was good for some laughs. He has the honorable distinction of losing to Kentucky for the first time in 28 matchups. If anyone's missed Dooley, he can now be seen getting yelled at on NFL sidelines by Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys.
And now there's bUTch Jones. Even I will admit that the jury's still out on him, but it doesn't bode well that the only time this season that anyone outside of Knoxville has come close to paying any attention to the Vawls was when they were getting obliterated by Nick Saban's boys.
So we're looking at two teams who are essentially opposite images of each other.
One is vastly outperforming several decades of lost seasons. The other is struggling mightily to regain previous heights in a beefed-up SEC.
One has an NFL first-round wide receiver who recently became the conference’s all-time leader in yardage. The other is in danger of missing a bowl game for the third straight year.
You do the math. Who’s going to win on Saturday?
-- David Schuman is a Vanderbilt alum and an aspiring TV news reporter looking for his first job so if you know anyone in the business, give him a holler via Twitter @david_schuman.
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