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Vanderbilt Vs. Tennessee Preview: The Commodores and Vols Battle for Bowl Position

Vanderbilt Commodores vs. Tennessee Volunteers, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU

Both of these teams are fighting for their bowl lives, with the loser either out of the hunt for the postseason if it's Tennessee or heading to Wake Forest for a make-or-break game there if it's Vanderbilt. James Franklin will take that, to be sure, but what about Derek Dooley?

On one level, Dooley hasn't exactly raised expectations for the season with his explanation of the Tennessee program under his leadership. The year he took over from Lane Kiffin, you see, was Year 0. That makes this season Year 1 and the second year, where some improvement might be expected from fans, will be pushed to 2011.

But it still seems kind of fair to wonder if the program is moving in the right direction. If Dooley made a bowl game in the year immediately after the wreckage of the Kiffin Era -- Year 0 -- shouldn't he be able to make it to the postseason in Year 1? Or do you give him a pass on the season because of the injuries to the passing game that have caused the entire offense to take a step back recently?

This week might give us a little bit of a hint. Justin Hunter is not going to make his return to the field, but Tyler Bray might very well make his way back, and a big showing by the Vols' quarterback could show us whether the Tennessee offense could have been more potent if Bray hadn't gone down in early October. And it might be enough to save the Vols season.

It would certainly be a problem for the Commodores, whose defense has been better against the run this year than against the pass. And while it's hard to know how this game goes until we know whether and how Bray shows up, let's give the edge to the Volunteers -- by the slimmest of margins.

Tennessee 24, Vanderbilt 23