As of Wednesday afternoon the spread for Saturday’s match-up was -17 to Tennessee. That’s the most the Volunteers have been favored all season against FBS opponents.
The Volunteer players may not pay too much attention to betting odds but they are aware that the Commodores have yet to win a game in league play. Although many fans and reporters have already started to speculate where Tennessee is going to do their bowling, they must first avoid a major letdown in the Music City.
“It’s a rivalry game. It’s gonna be a tough game,” senior defensive tackle Jordan Williams said. “It’s an SEC game and we can’t take any team lightly. It’s another game we got to prepare for like any other week."
The senior may be repeating some of what he has heard his coaches tell the media but also keep in mind that Williams has been on the last two Vol teams that have lost to Vanderbilt.
“Some of the guys on our team have never beaten Vanderbilt,” linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen said. “So there is not an overconfidence at all."
As a coach talking to the media, there are things that are always said. 'They’re well coached,’ ‘they play hard,’ etc. Coach speak is used more-so in games that are projected blow-outs. What is not exactly known is the coaches tell the players to make sure they are prepared while still keeping it real with them.
“The kids know if you’re trying to “sugar coat” so to speak,” offensive-line coach Don Mahoney said. "I just tell them the facts. The facts are we haven’t gotten it done against them the last two years.”
That would certainly add inspiration to returning players but what about the new guys who have read or heard the media writing this game off as an automatic win for the Vols?
“We are telling them to completely block things out of what’s being said,” Mahoney said. “We haven’t heard any of that from the kids. It’s not allowed nor is it the mindset. We got a pretty young bunch but a pretty grounded bunch.”
A young group full of freshman that have experienced plenty of ups and downs in their first season. The Commodores do have a more experienced team but offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said there the Vols are taking the 3 and 8 ‘Dores just as serious.
“There is no danger of us taking them lightly because we have a lot at stake and we know they will bring their best game.”
Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason has tried to spice things up a bit by refusing to say “Tennessee” and instead “the team from the east.” Mason’s strategy might possibly be to hype this game up in the media to make a Vanderbilt win overshadow the struggles Vandy has had all season.
Even without any extra hype from their head coach, some VU fans would go as far as to call a 4-8 season a success if they prevented Tennessee from going to a bowl. That’s what the rivalry means to them.
This is Vanderbilt's bowl game.
This is Vanderbilt's national championship.
"You’re talking about going out and playing an in-state rival,” Bajakian said. "You know they’re going to bring their best game no matter what.”
It will be the first sellout of the season at Commodore Stadium and it is expected to be a sea of orange. There is a reason Tennessee is favored by as much as they are. Vanderbilt is not good. Tennessee is not bad.
Crazier things have happened and they happen in rivalry games more often. Butch Jones explained after the Missouri loss about how fragile winning is. Coach Mahoney shares that mindset.
"“I tell my guys that winning is hard to do,” Mahoney said. "Winning is hard.You’ve got to earn wins every single week that you go out there."
Vanderbilt will do all they can to make the Vols earn it but if all goes to plan the Volunteer fans making the trip to Nashville may be celebrating a postseason berth in the same city they will participate in a bowl.