Vandy game matters

It's not a joke or some kind of ruse. Tennessee's contest Saturday against Vanderbilt actually matters, and for all the wrong reasons.

The loser has a legitimate shot of finishing in the SEC East cellar, and the winner isn't much better off. But the Vols aren't mailing in their season-ending resignation just yet.

"This is definitely of great importance to me," said guard Cody Douglas, who will join 26 other UT seniors for their final game at Neyland Stadium. "I don't want my last memories of playing here to be a loss.

"Some day when I bring my kids back here to watch a game, I want to say, ‘Hey, we went out a winner.'"

The regionally-televised contest kicks off at 12:30 p.m. on Jefferson Pilot.

A win for Tennessee (4-5, 2-4 SEC) keeps its 16-year bowl streak alive. To get there, the Vols will have to continue two streaks that are even longer. Tennessee has beaten the Commodores (4-6, 2-5) every year since 1983, and next week's trip to Kentucky will put a 20-game series win streak on the line.

"When you play this game records never matter," said Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, who is 12-0 against the 'Dores. "They're always a tough, hard-fought football game.

"It's one of those things that when you get two in-state rivals together, anything can happen."

The Vols' current streak over Vandy is the second-longest active win mark by one team over another in Division I-A football.

Notre Dame holds the highest honors with 42 consecutive wins over Navy, and that streak is safe at least until next year after the Fighting Irish walloped the Midshipmen 42-21 last week. Kansas snapped Nebraska's 36-year series streak two weeks ago.

"We still got a lot to play for," said UT senior quarterback Rick Clausen, who was named as Saturday's starter for the third different time this season. "I think if you ask everybody in this football program and around town, one of the goals we set was to get to a good bowl game.

"This has not been the best year we hoped for, but we've got to keep playing. Lot's of people remember how you finish the season."

This game originally looked like it would be important, and for all the right reasons. The Volunteers opened the season ranked third in the country, and Vanderbilt won its first four games before beginning the current six-game skid it is now suffering through.

But regardless, the Vols aren't taking a win for granted, even if no Commodore was out of diapers the last time Vandy knocked off its rival.

"There are a lot of other things of importance this week, but the history of Tennessee versus Vanderbilt is a huge part of the rivalry," said Fulmer. "I would expect we will be motivated, for one thing, obviously, to keep the streak alive, and secondly, to continue to try to qualify for a bowl."

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