The Commodores, 6-6 overall and 3-5 in the SEC, finished the season hot with two-straight wins over Ole Miss and rival Tennessee. That came after a close loss to Missouri and another win over Arkansas. Despite a talent disadvantage, Vanderbilt was playing good football at the end of the regular season, but was still beating bad teams.
The Baylor Bears have had some really good moments this season and have looked much improved in head coach Matt Rhule’s second season. The Bears finished with an overall record of 6-6 and a conference record of 4-5. While Baylor did improve both offensively and defensively, they did not defeat a single team that finished higher than them in the Big 12 conference rankings. That included a 35-24 win over Texas Tech in the season finale to get to bowl eligibility.
Vanderbilt’s greatest strength going into the matchup will be its defense. Both teams’ defenses give up similar yards passing and rushing, but Vanderbilt has a better scoring defense. The Commodores only allow an average of 25.1 points per game. Baylor gives up 31.2 points per game on average. Vanderbilt’s lethal weapon in running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn will be the key for the Commodores to score in the red zone and exploit this.
Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer has improved in his second year, throwing for 2,635 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. Not bad at all, but Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur has been a bit better. He has thrown for more yards, more touchdowns, and less picks than Brewer. With a veteran skill group on offense, Vanderbilt is equipped for battle if a shootout occurs with the Bears.
A bowl win would be huge for both programs. For both schools it would mark their head coach’s first bowl win at the school and their first winning season. Both teams are motivated to be there, but it’s a different kind of motivation. Baylor is a team built around developing youth, while Vanderbilt is upperclassmen-heavy. For the Commodores, it’s a chance for a battle-tested senior class to go out with a win. Their first bowl win.
The Commodores are favored and have advantages on defense and at the offensive skill positions with veteran players. Vanderbilt should start off SEC bowl action well with a win over the Bears.
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