This is the Saturday Vanderbilt fans have been looking forward to experience for several years. The 1988 team started 2-0 thanks to one great play (and his only play that night) by backup quarterback John Gromos against Mississippi State and a win over a weak Rutgers team.
PiRates For September 17 SEC Games
Ole Miss @ Vanderbilt
This is the Saturday Vanderbilt fans have been looking forward to experience for several years. The 1988 team started 2-0 thanks to one great play (and his only play that night) by backup quarterback John Gromos against Mississippi State and a win over a weak Rutgers team. At this point in that season, Commodore faithful thought our Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Eric Jones would lead us to a bowl game. Ahead on the schedule were what looked like seven more winnable games. Only Alabama and Georgia looked like sure losses. If you remember, Tennessee started that year losing their first six games. Florida, whom Vandy beat handily that year, was at the end of the Galen Hall tenure and struggling to finish 6-5. Ole Miss and Kentucky were losing teams. Army, Duke, and Memphis were enjoying good years, but it was thought we were stronger. So did we go 9-2, or even just 6-5 that year? No. The season fell apart, and we finished 3-8. It was the beginning of the end for Coach Watson Brown, who would go 3-28 after those opening two wins of 1988.
1984 was even worse for the Commodore faithful. We won our first four games with an experienced senior quarterback, including a trouncing of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. It brought us a top 20 ranking. On the first Saturday in October, an 0-4 Tulane team came to Nashville as a double digit dog. They had been slaughtered by a weak Mississippi State team and lost to below average Ole Miss and Kentucky teams. Vandy should have beaten the Green Wave by four touchdowns or more to improve to 5-0, but instead they lost 27-23. They had a first and goal at the Tulane 10 late in the game and couldn't close the deal. From that 4-0 start, Coach George MacIntyre went 4-13-1 and resigned following the 1985 season.
Yes, this week is the pivotal week in the Commodores season and possibly in the Coach Bobby Johnson era. It will be the decisive game for our future. Can the Commodores erase the bugaboos of yesteryear? Absolutely! Let's look at a year things went the right way.
1982 promised to be a great year. We had the talent to win 6 or more games and challenge for a bowl. The season started with an all-around balanced offensive effort against Memphis State; Vandy won at the Liberty Bowl 24-14. The next two games were also road games against top 20 teams. We lost handily at North Carolina, and we narrowly missed upsetting Bear Bryant's Tide. Vandy won its home opener in a squeaker over another weak Tulane team. At 2-2,
Florida came to town for an October 9 night game. The Gators had already beaten Miami, Southern Cal, and Mississippi State. They lost to LSU and came to Nashville looking for a blowout win. Senior Quarterback Whit Taylor played a great game, but Florida led early and looked like they might hold off Vandy's upset plans. A late Commodore drive looked to have ended with a fumble into the end zone. Out of nowhere, Commodore star
offensive lineman Rob Monaco raced past a couple of Gator defenders and pounced on the ball just before it rolled out of the back of the end zone. Touchdown! Vandy won 31-29, and that momentum carried them over the hump. A near upset at Georgia and then five straight wins followed as the ‘Dores went 8-3.
So, how do the PiRate ratings see Saturday's big game? Ratings alone show Vanderbilt to be a favorite in this game by exactly the same amount of points as the Vegas line. The Commodores are favored by three points. I highly advise leaving this game alone. Don't even consider it on a teaser. If Vanderbilt plays a poor game, they could lose by more than seven, something like 20-10. If they play just as good as last week, they could win by one to six points or lose a heartbreaker. If they come out all fired up and play as good as they possibly can (an effort like last year's Tennessee game), The Commodores could win by two touchdowns. At one sports book, over 90% of the money line wagers on this game (Vandy -150/Ole Miss +130) are on the Rebels, but more than half of the point spread wagers are on Vandy. Go figure.
Let's just enjoy this game as it is and root like crazy for our first 2-0 conference record since 1956! But, let's root like crazy for no repeat of that second conference win that year. In slaughtering Alabama 32-7, we lost our All-Conference quarterback Don Orr for the season on a cheap shot blow to the face by a Tide player. That team, considered only a little less talented than powers Georgia Tech and Tennessee and expected to win eight regular season games, collapsed without Orr and finished 5-5.
PiRate Prediction: Vanderbilt 24 Ole Miss 21 (Vandy players, don't let this jinx you; get the job done; 23 years are long enough!)
Alabama @ South Carolina
Alabama is a two-point favorite. Again, I do not like this line and don't recommend any action on it. The Tide defense should contain Carolina even more than Georgia did last week. The Gamecocks cannot run, and Alabama doesn't allow teams to run. I could see a final stat line for USC of 30 yards rushing and 220 yards passing. Alabama won't put up 400 yards in this game. Look for 125-150 yards rushing and 200-225 yards passing. The extra 100 total yards may not produce the desired results on the scoreboard, so I cannot see this game as a play, even though some of the wise guys are picking Bama as their big money game of the week.
PiRate Prediction: Alabama 21 South Carolina 20
Ball State @ Auburn
Auburn is a 37-point pick to win, and they could win by 50 to 60 points if they decided to run up the score. That makes this game dangerous. Tommy Turbeville isn't about to come out and announce whether he plans to do just that or play his scout team in the fourth quarter. I highly advise against taking Auburn by 37 or Ball State and getting 27. I also recommend against using Ball State in a teaser,
since +47 or +50 could still get you beat. Auburn at -27 or -24 on a teaser is the only logical play, but it isn't a strong one. I picked Ball State to go 0-11 this year, and the suspension of multiple players didn't make them any better. However, they gave Bowling Green a good game last week. Auburn could take a 35-0 lead into the third quarter and then watch the subs play the Cardinals to a standoff from there, winning by 35 and failing to cover. The Tigers
could run the ball 90% of the time and control it for 35-40 minutes.
PiRate Prediction: Auburn 49 Ball State 14
Kentucky @ Indiana
Quietly, thanks to Notre Dame and Vanderbilt, Terry Hoeppner has begun his regime in Bloomington at 2-0. The win over Central Michigan looked a little better when the Chippewas beat Miami (O) last week. The come from behind win over Nicholls State wasn't anything to remember though. Meanwhile, Kentucky played impressively against Louisville and, like I predicted, had to struggle to against Idaho State. The line in this game is Indiana by 2 ½, and it is too close to my ratings. Once again, I recommend against playing this game. This game will be lost by someone more than it will be won. The team that commits the crucial turnover will be kicking itself in the pants on Monday when they return to practice. If it's Kentucky, look for www.firerichbrooks.com to quickly go online. The domain name has been taken by someone in Louisville, but no action has appeared as of yet.
PiRate Prediction: Kentucky 31 Indiana 30
Mississippi State vs. Tulane @ Shreveport
There is no way to gauge Tulane. Even more so than LSU and Southern Mississippi, this is uncharted territory. We are talking about a team of refugees. Have they been able to concentrate these last three weeks? Have they been able to eat three meals a day and stay hydrated? Have they stayed in shape? Do the players even care about football any more? If I lost everything I owned as well as some of my friends and relatives, playing a football game would rank on my priority list just below reading a 1,200-page biography of Dag Hammarskjold. TU has not played a game yet, while Mississippi State has played twice. If State were any better than they are, I would recommend the Bulldogs. I'm leaving this one alone.
PiRate Prediction: Mississippi State 24 Tulane 22 (no way to properly apply intangibles; this is purely by the raw ratings)
Arkansas @ Southern California
A loss to Vanderbilt has put Houston Nutt on the hot seat in Hog land. Jay Cutler and his black and gold cohorts picked up the blitz enough times to burn the Razorbacks. USC will annihilate them. Arkansas won't run the ball for 300 yards. They won't get 200 either. They may be lucky to rush for 150, and the passing game isn't good enough to exploit the Trojans' Achilles heel. Southern Cal will match Arkansas yard for yard on the ground, so that leaves Matt Leinert against Arkansas's pass defense. Checkmate! Leinert will have a field day, passing for 300 yards and four touchdowns. USC wins with ease. The point spread is 31, and that's asking too much. With the 10 or 13-point teaser, we have a possible play. USC by 21 or just 18 is legitimate. This game is full of system plays as well: USC is playing their second game of the year, when a team usually sees the most improvement in a season; USC has enjoyed an extra week to prepare for this game; it is the Trojans' home opener after winning big on the road; Arkansas lost in a surprise at home and must play on the road
a week later; and Arkansas must travel two times zones and 1,500 miles west.
PiRate Prediction: Southern Cal 38 Arkansas 10
Louisiana Monroe @ Georgia
Georgia is a 38 ½-point pick in this game. It could be a trap. They could win by 50-60, just like Auburn, but Coach Mark Richt has shown a propensity for calling off his dogs. Looking at Georgia's patsies in the Richt era, none of them have lost by this week's spread. Thus, it is too dangerous to be a chalk player here. The teaser makes it playable. Wyoming shut out the
Indians 38-0, so Georgia should win this one by enough to cover at -28 ½ or -25 ½.
PiRate Prediction: Georgia 42 Louisiana Monroe 6
Tennessee @ Florida
The marquee game of the week is this prime-time nationally televised battle at The Swamp. The Volunteers have come away from Gainesville with wins the last two times they were there and narrowly missed in 1999. That doesn't mean I like them to cover the spread this week. On the other hand, Florida has not played a conference game under Urban Meyer, let alone against one of the other big two teams in their division. The win over Wyoming deserves more praise than most people realize. On the
other hand, Tennessee beat a bowl-probable UAB team.
Here's where I see this game being decided—Tennessee's secondary versus Chris Leak. I don't see either team's running game dominating the opposing team's rush defense. Florida's secondary should hold Tennessee's passing game to about 175 yards. Look for Leak to torch the Vol secondary for 250 or more yards, and that will be the difference in this game. Florida should win at home, but will it be enough to cover the 6 ½-point spread? That I
don't know. Just like most of this week's SEC games, I advise risking an investment here. There is one possible teaser play, but it's on the total and not a side. The over/under is 49. Raising it to 59 or 62 makes it a possible play because I think this game will be lower scoring than usual. The old adage that the team with the most rushing yardage will win this game will hold true once again, but only because the winner will try to control the ball once they have the lead.
PiRate Prediction: Florida 24 Tennessee 20
What will my tailgating recipe be for the Ole Miss-Vanderbilt morning kickoff? Two clues: It will be breakfast/brunch food, and it will have something to do with the Johnny Rebs. If you are interested in Civil War food, this is one you cannot miss.