Vanderbilt fans are disappointed to be in this game. Let that sink in a moment. As the rumors about other jobs and other schools' interest inwhiz around, that is the biggest reason why a state of semi-panic at times seems to have gripped the Vanderbilt fan base. They are disappointed in their bowl destination. This wasn't a problem several years ago, because Vanderbilt didn't often have a bowl destination to be disappointed in.
How did the Commodores get here? Well, the schedule didn't hurt. One of Vanderbilt's eight wins came against a team that finished the year at or above .500 (Georgia), while four of the wins came against teams that have two or fewer victories of their own (UMass, UAB, Kentucky and even FCS program Austin Peay). That doesn't diminish what Vanderbilt has done; it didn't get to the postseason in the past regardless of schedule shenanigans, and eight wins is still eight wins.
By those measures, Houston has done better than the 'Dores, though we should keep in mind that the Cougars play in the American Athletic Conference. It's not exactly an apples to apples comparison here. SMU and Tennessee have identical 5-7 records; anyone taking the Mustangs if the two teams were to play tomorrow?
Statistically, this appears to be a classic strength-on-strength match-up. Houston is better on offense, thought not as high-powered as you might remember, and Vanderbilt is better on defense. The one stat that I do find remarkable is that the Cougars are tops in the country at turnover margin, with an average of +2.1. That's right, Houston gets the ball on turnovers two more times per game than its opponent. Even if some of that is skill, some of it is luck, and that could catch up in the end.
As long as James Franklin can keep his players from realizing how disappointed they're supposed to be, at least. Win here, and the better bowl invitations will come as long as the team keeps doing what it has to do to get there. On the field and in the scheduling department.
Vanderbilt 28, Houston 22