You Don't Need to Ask: Vanderbilt Knows It Needs to Beat Rice

David RutzCorrespondent ISeptember 24, 2009

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 10: Jared Hawkins #31 of the Vanderbilt Commodores carries the ball against the Kentucky Wildcats at Vanderbilt Stadium November 10, 2007 in Nashville, Tennessee. Kentucky defeated Vanderbilt 27-20. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

I've never liked when people use the term "must-win."

Does that mean if you're playing in a game that isn't a must-win, you're not going to give maximum effort? Come on, every team is trying to win every game it can.

You think the Ole Miss Rebels circled Florida on their schedule last year and thought, 'Well, we don't need to win that one because it's such a long shot and not crucial to our year-end goals?" I doubt it.

Of course, we all know why and when the term is applied. Fans love looking at their team's schedules and circling the hardest and easiest matchups, the latter being "must-wins."

My point is that the term is ridiculous.

With regards to Vanderbilt, fresh off a 15-3 beating by Mississippi State, and every other team for that matter, every game should be viewed as a must-win. What are you preparing hard all week in practice for otherwise? To cover the spread?

So there's no one who has to ask any of the Commodores, or head coach Bobby Johnson, whether they're looking at Rice this Saturday as a game that they absolutely have to get.

Of course they do.

Lose to Rice, you're staring at a 1-3 record. Lose to Rice and you have to wonder whether 2008 was a total aberration. Lose to Rice and you're imploding.

Losing to Rice also means you need a 5-3 record, at minimum, the rest of the way to gain bowl eligibility, and during that time you've got Ole Miss, Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Florida on tap.

South Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee aren't exactly slouches either. No team in the SEC East is.

In fact, no team in the SEC, period, is; Vanderbilt certainly learned that last weekend when Mississippi State came to town and pushed the Commodores around for 60 minutes.

But first things first.

Rice is a very beatable team. Its porous defense and lack of a lot of the playmakers who made last year's game in Nashville a little too close for comfort (Vanderbilt came from down seven last year to win 38-21) are encouraging factors.  

The Owls are 0-3 and have lost by at least 17 points in every game. Vanderbilt may have just lost the past two games but still has a very good defense, and it looks to be getting back the services of last year's leading rusher, tailback Jared Hawkins (pictured), who missed the first three games with a nagging foot injury.

Despite this, the Commodores are just seven-point favorites, which should tell you something about the way the oddsmakers are looking at this team, an SEC squad coming off a bowl appearance going against a winless group from Conference USA.

They're not impressed.

They shouldn't be. The Commodore offense over the past eight quarters has essentially produced seven points, a touchdown against LSU. I don't count getting a field goal when you started on Mississippi State's six-yard line.

Think they want to make up for it? You betcha.

I don't care how lousy Rice is this year; this game might as well be the Super Bowl as far as the Commodores are concerned.

They need this not just to get to .500. They need this for their confidence. They need this to remind themselves of who they are. They need this for their season.

So you don't need to ask them if it's a must. Trust me, they know.