Vanderbilt mother at stake in showdown with rival Tennessee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A late-season surge has put Vanderbilt on the verge of bowl eligibility after black and gold consecutively upset Kentucky and Florida to move to 5-6 overall. That means the Commodores will host rival Tennessee, with the stakes high.

If Vanderbilt can pull the shocking upset, it would be playing in a bowl game for the first time under coach Clark Leah, who could even be named SEC Coach of the Year. Tennessee, currently ranked 5th, would miss the college football playoffs in such a scenario. If the Volunteers win as expected, they could celebrate a likely CFP spot on Vanderbilt’s home field, depending on other results.

Does all of this context add anything to next weekend’s matchup?

“No, it doesn’t,” Leah said after defeating Florida. “This is about us. It’s about our performance. We know the next opponents but we’re interested in playing at our highest level and that’s why we’re not going to add unnecessary emotion to that. We’re going to focus on things, that we can do better, and hopefully empower our team to thrive by being the best version of who we are.”

Tennessee fans have – not for the first time – launched an initiative via social media to “check out” FirstBank Stadium with orange and white. Some of Vanderbilt’s students will return from the Thanksgiving break, and the Commodores filled their stadium’s home team with a decent contingent of blacks and golds against Florida. Still, the Gators fans seemed to outnumber the hosts.

Vanderbilt hosted Tennessee with a bowl game on the line in both 2016 and 2018, winning both matchups. Lea was asked directly for his message to fans as the Commodores hope to avoid a home disadvantage against the Vols.