Thrill of Victory

Vandy's blowout of Wake Forest highlights local football weekend

Vandy added to its impressive resume with a road blowout of Wake Forest, UT finally got a Southeastern Conference football win, and the Titans added another bad loss to the resume. Here’s more on that, and the other notable SEC happenings, that transpired on Saturday and Sunday.

Titans now playing for draft position
The worst thing about being an NFL fan comes about the time you realize your team’s not going to make the playoffs, because you’re then put in a position of choosing whether to root for your favorite team as usual (even though winning essentially gains you nothing) or pulling for your team to lose (since each loss generally bumps you hope a few spots in next April’s NFL Draft).

Well, Titans fans, that’s where you are once again, and if that feeling’s getting old… well, I can’t blame you for feeling that way, since there’s nothing worse than pulling for a team that’s not good enough to make the playoffs, and yet not bad enough to get a high draft pick. It seems that’s where the Titans consistently reside – they’re won between six and nine games each of the last three seasons and never made the playoffs, but also haven’t picked higher than eighth in any of those years.

Yes, the Titans are still technically just a couple games out of the wild-card race, but with just five to play (and two of them being the Packers and Texans), I think we all know that’s not happening.

Honestly, we all knew that the Titans were a bad team in September, but they kept teasing us with moments like the Thursday night win over the Steelers and the road blowout of the Dolphins. But margins of victory tell us something, and the Titans’ minus-97 screams “bad team,” as does yesterday’s 24-19 loss to the now-2-and-9 Jacksonville Jaguars.

Here comes the part where I talk about what happened in the game, but it’s hard to find much new ground here; the thing that probably stands out the most is that the Titans gave up 10 yards per pass attempt to perennial backup QB Chad Henne, but the fact that the Titans pass defense has been poor is no new news.

In any case, Titans fans, start sending Santa your wish list for April’s draft. The only problem will be knowing where to start, given that this team has a lot of needs.

Vandy now waits for bowl invite
On the other hand, there are the Commodores, who, since sealing their bowl eligibility by beating Ole Miss three weekends ago, have put a double-exclamation point on the season with back-to-back blowouts of Tennessee and Wake Forest. The latter came on the road by a 55-21 count, and was never really close after VU broke open a 7-all tie after the first quarter with three unanswered second-quarter touchdowns, plus another near the beginning of the second half. Jordan Matthews (10 catches, 144 yards) is now the school’s all-time leading receiver for a single season, and Zac Stacy (21 carries, 180 yards) became the first VU back to pass 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.

Now, the question is, what bowl will it be? The four possibilities are the Chick-Fil-A, Gator, Music City and Compass Bowls, with the middle two being the overwhelming favorites. Should the Gator Bowl be VU’s destination – and I’m starting to think that’s where the Commodores are headed – how surreal would be to see Vandy in a New Year’s Day bowl?

Now, it’s time for another discussion: this is the best Vandy team since (fill in the blank). Given that the Commodores are out-scoring teams by over 11 a game and have a defense ranked in the top 20, I’d probably fill than blank with the 1955 squad, which went 8-3, and (perhaps not coincidentally) happened to win the Gator Bowl that season.

Vols finally get that SEC win
Someone had to win as two of the league’s three winless teams in conference play did battle on Saturday, and not surprisingly, that was Tennessee, which disposed of Kentucky by a 37-17 score to put an ending to a miserable season that ended with a 5-7 record. It was almost certainly the final game for star receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter (the juniors may both be first-rounders in next year’s draft) and perhaps for QB Tyler Bray (20-of-34, 293 yards, four TDs) as well.

If those three leave, next year will almost certainly be a rebuilding year for the Vols – which might have been the case with them, anyway, given the state of UT’s defense. The only question seems to be who’ll do the rebuilding; Vol fans want John Gruden but that’s probably not realistic. There’s so much noise and so little news that it’s hard to tell who’ll be the next coach in Knoxville, and with athletic director Dave Hart seeming to keep his cards close to the vest, I wonder if we’ll have much clue until Hart himself makes an announcement.

Elsewhere in the SEC:
Florida 37, Florida State 26: The Gators showed surprising offensive punch by rolling up 394 yards (and 24 fourth-quarter points) against FSU’s stout defense. Florida, now No. 4 in the BCS rankings, is a virtual certainty to wind up in the Sugar Bowl.

Alabama 49, Auburn 0: As expected, ‘Bama disposed of Auburn in a game that wasn’t even as close as the score indicated; ‘Bama led 42-0 at half and took out its starters after it scored on its first possession of the third quarter. It was Alabama’s fourth shutout of the season. Auburn finishes 3-9, and officially ended Gene Chizik’s coaching career there by firing him after the game.

Georgia 42, Georgia Tech 10: UGA was out-gained 426-379, but this was not one of those final scores that was misleading, since UGA led 42-3 midway through the third quarter. Alabama now awaits in the SEC Championship Game, with the winner playing for the national title.

South Carolina 27, Clemson 17: I’m not sure what was more impressive; Carolina’s defense holding the high-powered Tiger offense to 17 points (Jadeveon Clowney and your 4 ½ sacks, thank you very much) or unheralded Dylan Thompson throwing for 310 yards and three scores in place of injured Connor Shaw. In any case, the Gamecocks have back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time in school history.

Ole Miss 41, Mississippi State 24: MSU coach Dan Mullen had earlier declared that he’d never lose to the Rebels as long as he was at MSU. Well, Dan, you got whipped in a big way, and Saturday night proved your team’s not nearly as good as its 8-4 record. As for Ole Miss, put Hugh Freeze on the short list for SEC Coach of the Year, for getting this Rebel squad to a bowl (Ole Miss is now 6-6) is a minor miracle given the talent (and lack of depth) on hand.

Texas A&M 59, Missouri 29: A&M’s complete dismantling of the Tigers (it was over after a quarter-and-a-half) eliminated Missouri from bowl consideration. It also should have made Johnny Manziel the Heisman winner; the freshman now has 4,600 yards of total offense and has broken Cam Newton’s single-season SEC record in that regard.