We'll wrap up our opponent previews with Vanderbilt and Kentucky this morning, before turning our attention to the final competitive scrimmage of fall camp, which kicks at 12:21 this afternoon to simulate conditions for Western Kentucky. Look for our contribution to Team Speed Kills' SEC Preview tomorrow.
Once General Neyland showed up with the mandate to beat the Commodores, the Vols have mostly done just that: Tennessee leads 70-27-5 against the Commodores, and Vandy has won only once since 1982, in the infamous 2005 season.
The downward spiral of Tennessee's season finally stopped in Nashville, though Fulmer's fate was already sealed and there would be no bowl game in UT's future. Still, the Vols used key interceptions from Brent Vinson and Eric Berry to keep Vanderbilt's offense at bay, and despite more mistakes from every quarterback who touched the ball, the Vols found enough offense to score a 20-10 win. Still, Vanderbilt found a way to win six games - including wins over South Carolina, Ole Miss and Auburn that put the Dores in the Top 25 early on - and play in (and win) their first bowl game in decades. Bobby Johnson has raised the bar. The next goal is consistency.
Mackenzi Adams returns at quarterback, though if he struggles with consistency again you might see others get a shot under center. And Jared Hawkins has experience in the backfield. There are several question marks at wide receiver, but the Dores do get Terence Jeffers, a UCONN transfer who led the Huskies in receptions in 2007. All five starters return on the offensive line...there's potential here.
The defense was a big reason the Dores found success last year, and they'll have a chance to duplicate that feat in 2009, perhaps with an additional boost from the offense. Three players with starting experience return up front, and linebackers Patrick Benoist and Chris Marve are both playmakers. DJ Moore is in the NFL, but Myron Lewis is back at the other corner spot and could fill Moore's role as the best player on this team.
Best Case Scenario for the Vols
On Senior Day, the Vols score a big win over Vanderbilt and send the seniors off in style. Simply put, if the Vols could beat Vanderbilt last year, there's no reason they can't overwhelm them again this year. The Dores may have gotten bowl eligible last year and could sneak in there again this year, but Kiffin can keep them squarely as an afterthought in the minds of Vol fans.
Worst Case Scenario for the Vols
Vanderbilt gets bowl eligible again, the Vols stay home again, and both feats are accomplished with a VU win in Knoxville. There's enough experience in Nashville from guys who are all more and more accustomed to winning to make Vanderbilt no longer a sure W. There would still be no more embarrassing SEC loss than this one for Tennessee.
Game Importance Ranking: 7.4
Vanderbilt knows its place behind the Vols right now - no reason for things to be any different under Kiffin. No matter how much the Vols may struggle this season, this is not a game any Tennessee fan would excuse away.