Saturday, October 2, 2010

Right now, a Vandy win is important, but doesn't mean everything

Before the season started, we told you Vandy would lose a close one to Northwestern, get spanked by LSU and then beat Ole Miss. We also told you that the Commodores would beat UConn by 10 points, 31-21.

So we might as well stick with what's working, right?

After all, at this point Vandy is exactly where we expected them to be, and UConn is even a bit behind where we expected them to be.

You can discount the Ole Miss win, but when we made our preseason predictions, we expected to beat the Rebels precisely because we expected them to take some time to adjust to personnel losses and a new, albeit talented, quarterback. To win in the SEC, Vandy has always needed to take advantage of teams when they're down.

This year, we've predicted six wins, expecting to overpower one team (EMU) and catch three teams when they're down (Ole Miss, Tennessee and Wake Forest).

The other two teams? UConn and Kentucky, both with less than stellar traditions but a nice run of bowl games accomplished by soundly beating the bad teams on their schedule and then using solid players and capitalizing on a couple of star athletes to beat some teams they shouldn't.

Nearly every Vandy site and fan I know is picking the Commodores to beat the Huskies today, just like they pick us to beat Kentucky every year because it's the team closest to ours in terms of talent and tradition and stadium size.

And a lot of Vandy fans are saying we're being disrespected because we're a 7 or 10 point underdog or whatever. Disrespected? We went 2-10 last season and don't have a proven track record in games like this. Remember the Rutgers game we had in hand several years ago on the road?

I even hear Vandy fans saying we're more talented than UConn. This is a UConn team with a running back who averages 150 yards a game running behind an offensive line led by players on the Outland and Remington award lists. Last year, the Husky defense held South Carolina to seven points in the Birmingham Pizza Internet Bowl and won its EIGHTH game of the season.

What I'm saying is this: Yes, I've already predicted Vandy to win by 10 points; I'm sticking with a win but I don't think it'll be easy. I realize, and I think you should remember, that this is a game Vanderbilt should NOT win. I think somehow we figure out a way to win but it's not the end of the world if we lose.

Everybody, even some of the players, are saying we've got to win this game to go to a bowl. Perhaps that's true. But the season is not over if we lose. It's important that we keep building to the future. If UConn plays a great game and beats us, but we improve offensively, get Krause and Matthews some nice catches, contain a running quarterback and continue to show we can stop big-time tailbacks, then we'll have hope for the future. It's not out of the realm of possibility that we could lose to UConn and then turn around and upset South Carolina or Georgia.

We've predicted six wins, which is incredibly optimistic. A four-win season would be a vast improvement and put us in a position to get bowl bids in 2011 and 2012. I'm not saying we should expect to lose. I still think we can win, and I think we'll hang with them like we hung with Northwestern. But let's keep the big picture in mind. We feel terrible when we play a ridiculously talented LSU team and lose, and we're giddy with excitement when we beat a struggling Ole Miss team that can't catch the ball.

Beating a UConn team that comes out and, say, fumbles five times or throws seven interceptions may not be as important as narrowly losing to a UConn team that clicks and plays its best game ever and pushes us to learn something important about ourselves that helps us upset some teams later this season.

OK, we'll take three fumbles and four interceptions. I'll revise my prediction to say Vandy, 20-16.

Go Commodores.

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