If Tennessee is going to go bowling, Saturdayâ€™s home game against in-state rival Vanderbilt is a must win.
Provided they can slip by the Commodores, the Vols must also beat Kentucky in Lexington on the final game of the regular season.
Vanderbilt will be a tough out for the Vols. Tennessee has lost three games in a row and four of its last five games.
On the other hand, the Commodores are riding high after beating Kentucky Saturday. If Coach James Franklinâ€™s team can finish with wins over Tennessee and Wake Forest, it will boost its value as a bowl team searching for its ninth win of the season.
No doubt if Vanderbilt can finish 8-4, it will be more attractive to bowls such as the Chik-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta or the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. That would be a money upgrade over previous bowl trips to Nashville and Memphis.
The Vols will be happy just to get a bowl invitation. They will play anywhere, any time. Just let them know. It would be a feather in Vols Coach Butch Jonesâ€™ brick-by-brick rebuilding project.
It will help to get his younger players more practice time in order to improve weaknesses. It will help keep Jonesâ€™ 2014 recruiting class more interested in signing letter of intents. Jonesâ€™ main selling point is available playing time. A bowl trip wonâ€™t hurt.
Vanderbilt could use the publicity to make a strong finish in the recruiting race. Beating Georgia and Florida in the same season is also a plus in recruiting. It has never been done in Vanderbiltâ€™s history.
Both teams must adhere to Franklinâ€™s brand of math. Both will be shooting to be 1-0 this week.
Donâ€™t think Franklin will allow his team to rest on its laurels and show up flat against Tennessee. He will pound the positives of beating Georgia, Florida and Tennessee in the same season. So what if Georgia and Florida were ranked in the top 25 much of this season, but are currently unranked.
â€śCoach Franklin has an overall philosophy as to what will happen if we do as he asks and do what he says and those things just happen to come true because we listen to our coach," Vanderbilt quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels said after beating Kentucky, 22-6.
Tennessee is coming off a bye week and they will be rested. Vanderbilt will be playing its third straight game, looking to post its third straight win, all of them against SEC East opponents.
At this point in the season Vanderbilt appears to have the edge on the number of playmakers, especially All-American wide receiver Jordan Matthews. The Commodores also welcomed back Carta-Samuels against Kentucky. The senior should have removed all the rust acquired while out with a knee injury.
Tennesseeâ€™s defense continues to struggle. They are weak in the secondary, especially with their safeties that have difficulty staying with their opposing receivers. The Vols also need to learn how to tackle in the open field. Itâ€™s a major flaw in their game and someone like Franklin will exploit the weakness.
According to defensive backs coach Willie Martinez, the Vols used last week to work on fundamentals.
â€śOur main focus this whole week has been to focus on us," Martinez said last week. â€śWe know who weâ€™re playing next, but if we can just improve us from the standpoint whether it was leverage on defense, tackling, creating turnovers, thatâ€™s been the whole main focus. It was on us."
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