Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt watches during the first half of the team's NCAA college football game against Florida on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Knoxville, Tenn. (Randy Sartin/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP, Pool)

Volunteers, Commodores conclude disappointing seasons

Disappointing might be an understatement for how things have gone in Nashville and Knoxville this season. With the Vanderbilt Commodores winless (0-8) and Tennessee only slightly ahead (2-6), there is not much on the line for the two on Saturday. However, a rivalry is still a rivalry. Bragging rights are on the line for a recently contested series.

Volunteers’ dominance slipping

FILE – In this Oct. 19, 2019, file photo, Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt yells at the officials during an NCAA college football game against Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Pruitt heads into his third season with the Vols’ first appearance in The Associated Press rankings since Sept. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt, File)

Vanderbilt is not an SEC Football powerhouse. The Commodores never have been. In fact, the University of Tennessee dominated this rivalry for decades. The Volunteers played Vandy every year from 1928 to 2011 (84 meetings). Vanderbilt won just nine of those meetings. However, in 2012, a shift in the rivalry occurred.

In Derek Dooley’s third year as head coach, the Vols limped into Vanderbilt stadium with a 4-6 record. Vandy’s record was 6-4, including a four-game win streak. Vanderbilt demolished Tennessee. A 41-18 drubbing led to Derek Dooley’s dismissal as head coach of Tennessee.

Since that  2012 game, the rivalry flips back and forth. In those seven games, Vanderbilt leads the series 4-3, even though Tennessee won last year’s game, 28-10.

Disappointing seasons for both

At the beginning of this college football season, experts picked Tennessee to finish third in the SEC behind Florida and Georgia. With Jeremy Pruitt entering his third season at the helm, many expected the Volunteers to make a jump into the SEC’s contenders. Things did not go to plan in 2020.

Tennessee is 2-6 this season. In their last game, they watched one of their biggest rivals clinch a spot in the SEC Championship Game in their own stadium. Simultaneously, Tennessee seems to have been eliminated from bowl contention with the loss to Florida. Tennessee’s offense posed no threat, amassing the third-worst yards per game in the conference. Defensively, Tennessee is middle of the pack in terms of points against per game and yards allowed per game. With this lack of improvement, pundits in Knoxville believe head coach Jeremy Pruitt is on the hot seat.

Vanderbilt’s Sarah Fuller, right, kicks off as Ryan McCord (27) holds to start the second half of an NCAA college football game against Missouri Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020, in Columbia, Mo. With the kick, Fuller became the first female to play in a Southeastern Conference football game. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

On the other side of the argument is Vanderbilt. In the same polls that claimed Tennessee would finish third, experts picked the Commodores to finish last in the SEC East. While the media was off with Tennessee, they are spot on with Vanderbilt. Vandy is winless this season. For the seventh-straight year, Vanderbilt will finish with a losing record. Despite making headlines for using a female in a ‘power-five’ football game, Vanderbilt fired head coach Derek Mason.

With interim head coach Todd Fitch, Vanderbilt remains a disappointing team. The Commodores still rank last in points per game and second-to-last in yards per game. Opponents have had ease against Ted Roof’s defense, as Vandy ranks second-to-last in points against and yards allowed per game.

Finish Strong?

Bluntly, there is not much to play for in this game. It is senior day in Nashville as the Commodores bid farewell to 20 players. Jeremy Pruitt will look to lessen the fire under his chair as he looks to avoid being Vanderbilt’s first and only win of the 2020 season.

Tennessee opens as a comfortable favorite (-16.5) at Vanderbilt Stadium. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. on SEC Network.

About Kyle Fansler

Originally from Seminole in the Tampa Bay area, Kyle is a contributor for ESPN Gainesville as well as local NPR and PBS affiliate WUFT. Kyle wants to get into sports with a lofty dream of being a sports broadcaster. He was raised playing soccer and baseball while watching hockey and football, so the knowledge about various sports is fairly extensive.

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