Another SEC football season ends, another disappointing season for the Vanderbilt Commodores. Vandy tripped, stumbled, and fell to a 2-10 (0-8) record. Head Coach Clark Lea once had high hopes for this squad coming off a 5-7 record in 2022, but the next step towards bowl eligibility was too tall of a task. From the beginning, it was always going to be a long season for the Dores, winning just two non-conference games against much inferior opponents by a combined five points – these guys were fortunate not to put up a goose egg in the win column this year.
To make matters worse, the outlook for 2024 does not look any brighter as Texas and Oklahoma join the SEC party all while Clark Lea sits squarely on the hot seat. Looking ahead, another 2-10 season is quite plausible as the Commodores will likely only be favored in a home game against Norfolk State and on the road at Georgia State. As I firmly anticipate Vandy to be in the market for a new head coach this time next year, it is noteworthy that rumors have grown from a swirl to a snowball that the university will fire Lea in the coming days and replace him with a grand slam hire—Jimbo Fisher.
Vanderbilt’s main rival and opponent on Saturday, Tennessee, ended things on a better note despite also not meeting expectations for 2023. The Vols surprised no one when they doubled up the Dores, 48-24, and moved to 8-4 (4-4). Ten or eleven wins was the goal for this season, but this team under Josh Heupel still needs to work through a plethora of growing pains and maturing before challenging the likes of Georgia and Alabama for SEC supremacy. Tennessee has not appeared in the conference championship game since 2007 and this coming Saturday’s title game between UGA and Bama yet again serves as a reminder of the strides left to be made by the Vols program.
The beauty of bowl season from UT’s point of view goes far beyond playing one more game and leveraging a nationally televised contest into marketing the school’s brand. For the underclassmen, they will now get an extra month of practice. College coaches across the nation cannot stress enough how vital this is for the growth of their future team. Sure, everyone wants to win their bowl game – blah, blah, blah – but those that have been around the sport know the biggest win is the additional reps prior to spring practice. Furthermore, common trends have persuaded upperclassmen to forgo their last game and focus on preparing for the NFL Draft. Does this piss off a lot of diehard college football fans? Of course! But when you dig deeper, you will find many more minutes capped by the next-in-liners in the bowl game.
Tennessee will have to wait until Sunday to discover their bowl destination. However, most talking heads believe Jacksonville will be the location. A possible date with North Carolina in the Gator Bowl would be among the sexiest postseason matchups outside the New Year’s Six Bowls. The Vols have a long history with the Gator Bowl, most recently in 2019. Despite having the win vacated – thanks, Jeremy Pruitt – the game still very much happened and will live in Tennessee lore forever as an all-time great comeback versus the Indiana Hoosiers.