The Game: Kentucky Wildcats at Vanderbilt Commodores, Nov. 14
What's at Stake: A bowl berth. It's easy to count to five wins for Kentucky before Nov. 14, and only slightly harder for Vanderbilt. But the remaining games on each team's schedule would require taking down programs that have traditional dominated the lower-tier SEC East teams. The Commodores' only remaining game is at Tennessee, a team that has defeated Vanderbilt 25 of the last 26 times the two have played. Kentucky plays at Georgia on Nov. 21 and then hosts the Vols, who have won 24 of their last 24 meetings with the Wildcats.
Where It Falls on Vanderbilt's Schedule: It's the next-to-last game of the season, obviously, coming right after the Dores travel to Gainesville for what should be a severe thrashing. One possible concern: It will mark the 11th straight week of football for Vanderbilt, who will play their schedule all the way through without a bye. Any nagging injuries could play a major role.
Where It Falls on Kentucky's Schedule: The Cats will have two more games left, but come in after a three-week string of cupcakes. Seriously -- even for Kentucky, it's an epically easy stretch. Louisiana-Monroe, Mississippi State and Eastern Kentucky -- all at home. Some on Vanderbilt's staff ought to complain to the conference office about that.
What Happened This Past Season: Vanderbilt finally clinched its first bowl berth in more than a quarter-century with a 31-24 win. This was at least in part because of Joker Phillips' stubborn insistence on having plays where a receiver covered by D.J. Moore was on the checkdown list.
What Will Decide the Game This Year: Not offense. The Wildcats failed to rank higher than 81st nationally in any major offensive category (rush offense, pass efficiency offense, pass offense, total offense); Vanderbilt ranked 73rd in one (rushing) and 110th or worse in the other three. Granted, both teams have reasons to believe that their offenses will be better this year, but not so much better than they'll surpass the 55 combined points from the 2008 game by a wide margin. Defense and a turnover here or there will likely be the difference.
Vanderbilt Will Probably Win If ... The QB situation has settled down enough to keep the offense from completely imploding, the long schedule doesn't leave the team battered and the returning starters on defense play up to last year's standards.
Kentucky Will Probably Win If ... The relative inexperience of the team doesn't cause problems, the QB situation has settled down enough to keep the offense from totally imploding and D.J. Moore doesn't find some way to regain his college eligibility.
Conclusion: This is a difficult game to call, in part because both teams have a number of question marks. Quite frankly, Vanderbilt owes a great deal of its success in 2008 to luck, though the Kentucky game might have been their most "honest" victory. We will hopefully have a better idea by November about who has the edge. But if this season resembles the past one for both teams, even that is a dubious notion.