After my most recent article, which featured a small tirade against Vanderbilt, I simply couldn't help myself from dedicating an entire piece to the "rivalry" between Vandy and the Tennessee Volunteers. The Vols will travel to Nashville on Nov. 17 and will be looking to build on their six-year winning streak.
I've got five reasons why the streak will be extended to seven years.
However, just to be fair to the Commodores out there (who tend to find their way to the Vols area more often than the 'Dores), let me list the things that I respectfully recognize as Vanderbilt's strengths:
1. Strong academics.
Alright, that's it. Let the smack begin.
The last time the Vols had the kind of veterans that they now have was 2009 under Lane Kiffin.
Behind such seniors as Jonathan Crompton, Montario Hardesty and Wes Brown, Tennessee ransacked Vanderbilt 31-16. Since then, a flurry of coaching changes and general uncertainty (not to be confused with "General uncertainty", which is non-existent) has led to a lack of talented upperclassmen.
After all, what good is a pack of seniors that have been riding the pine their entire careers? What sophomore is going to pay them much attention?
With Tyler Bray, Prentiss Waggner and basically the entire two-deep depth chart offensive line, the Vols finally have juniors and seniors that can provide the kick to a huge victory over Tennessee's in-state foe.
If 2009 was any indication of what a talented group of experienced Volunteers can do to a Vanderbilt squad, Nov. 17 could be a fun day for the Big Orange.
Can you believe the Vols have a distinct coaching advantage over anyone right now? Derek Dooley is definitely on the hot seat in Knoxville, and yet he's still a superior coach to James Franklin.
Let's look at the pedigrees: Dooley was a graduate assistant at Georgia and then spent three years at SMU before being hired away to LSU by Nick Saban in 2000. Saban took him to the NFL during his brief tenure as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins.
When Saban returned to the college ranks, no doubt Dooley was asked to stay on, but he chose to begin the challenge of running his own boat at Louisiana Tech in 2007. I can't stand Alabama, but any friend of Saban is a coach of mine.
Then there's Franklin. He began his coaching career in 1995 with Kutztown. He never stayed at a job more than one year—from Kutztown to East Stroudsburg to the Roskilde Kings (a Danish football team) to James Madison to Washington State to Idaho State—until he reached Maryland in 2000.
He coached wide receivers there for five years before bouncing to the Green Bay Packers for a year, Kansas State for two years, back to Maryland for three years, and finally to Vanderbilt.
Each coach earned the same 6-7 record in the first year with his respective program. Both played teams with clearly better talent to close losses.
However, Dooley is 2-0 against Vanderbilt, while Franklin is 0-1 against Tennessee. The defensive mindset instilled in Dooley from his time with Saban is simply not seen in Franklin's 10 different coaching positions.
Dooley isn't going to outcoach a huge number of SEC staffs, but Vandy's is certainly one.
This one is just too easy.
I'll admit Vanderbilt has picked up its recruiting recently. In fact, the 2012 signing class was the best in history, according to Rivals, at No. 29 nationally. The only thing is Tennessee's was a slightly below-average year in terms of national ranking at No. 17.
(More on expectation differences later.)
Not only is Tennessee's offense better than Vanderbilt's, it's going to be one of the best in the SEC. Sports Illustrated is already projecting two top-18 picks in the 2013 NFL draft from the Volunteer offense, and summer has barely begun.
However, Vandy will field a solid offense led by seniors Jordan Rodgers and Zac Stacy. The entire attack is opened up by the running ability of Rodgers, much like big brother Aaron. So the question is, will Tennessee have the players to limit his mobility?
The answer isn't, "Yes," but, "Hell yes."
The switch to the 3-4 defense, if nothing else, puts more speed onto the field for the Vols. If Rodgers can outflank Curt Maggitt or Jacques Smith on the outside before A.J. Johnson has a chance to get in and level a huge blow, then all bets are off. Then again, Rodgers doesn't have the lateral quickness of Barry Sanders.
In last year's overtime thriller, Prentiss Waggner was playing safety because Brent Brewer was out with a torn ACL. Herman Lathers missed the game (and the season) from a summer injury. Justin Hunter was also out with a torn ACL.
This year, things will be different from a players standpoint for Tennessee.
Any honest Vanderbilt fan would concede this point outright. The support of the Tennessee Volunteers trumps that of the Vandy football team every year.
That kind of support can make a difference, too. If professionals who have played football their entire lives can feed off the energy from a stadium at age 30, don't you think amateurs still riding high on waves of emotions feed off the fans even more at age 20?
If so, the only other thing I need to convince you of is that the Vols are superior in this regard. This certainly doesn't paint the whole picture, but it makes the point:
Neyland Stadium: 102,455 seats, 94,642 average attendance in 2011, 92 percent capacity.
Vanderbilt Stadium: 39,790 seats, 32,873 average attendance in 2011, 83 percent capacity.
So in one of Vandy's most exciting and successful seasons in recent memory, the Vols, who were going through an undeniable down year, still showed greater fan support.
All of my points really direct toward this final reason that Tennessee will destroy Vanderbilt in November later this year.
There is a huge difference in the level of expectations put upon the Vols versus what's put upon Vandy. Indeed, I'm quite certain that a competitive, .500-level team would make most Commodore fans pretty happy, while the same would get Derek Dooley fired this year.
And it's not necessarily a bad thing. It's perfectly reasonable for different schools to weigh different programs according their likelihood of sustained competitiveness. Apologies to the young Vanderbilt fans reading this, but it's never going to happen—a conference title, that is.
Not to worry, though, because I'm not positive the Vols are going to get back to the Promised Land anytime soon, either. Misery loves company.
However, one thing the Vols won't be miserable about when the 2012 season concludes is a loss to Vanderbilt. The urgency with which they will undoubtedly play will give them any sort of edge that they need to pull out the victory.
From a Tennessee fan, it won't get that close.