Sitting 4-6 a year ago, Vanderbilt knocked off Ole Miss 38-17 and Tennessee 45-34 in the final two regular season games to finish 6-6 and earn the Commodores a spot in the Liberty Bowl.
Derek Mason’s team is in a similar position this year. Heading into Saturday’s game with visiting Kentucky, Vanderbilt is 4-5 overall with home games against UK and Missouri and a road game at Tennessee remaining on the schedule.
“They’re battling like heck,” said UK coach Mark Stoops on Thursday. “They did it a year ago and won some games late to get to bowl eligibility. I’m sure they’re working hard to get there again this year.”
Indeed, you can make the case that Vandy has more to play for on Saturday. Kentucky reached bowl eligibility two weeks ago with its 29-26 win over Tennessee. Last week’s 37-34 loss to Ole Miss, coupled with Georgia’s 24-10 win over South Carolina, eliminated UK from contention for the SEC title.
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Kentucky’s players have said they are playing to go to the best bowl possible. And with three games left, UK could still achieve the program’s first nine-win regular season since 1977. The Cats will be a sizable underdog at Georgia next week, but a win over Vandy and a win over Louisville on Nov. 25 would give UK an 8-4 season, its best regular season record since going 8-3 in 1984.
If you look at comparative scores -- always dangerous -- both teams lost to Florida and both teams lost to Ole Miss. Florida beat UK 28-27 in Lexington and Vandy 38-24 in Gainesville. Ole Miss beat Vandy 57-35 in Oxford and 37-34 in Lexington.
The only other common foe is South Carolina, which lost to UK 23-13 in Columbia back in September. The Gamecocks beat Vanderbilt 34-27 on Oct. 28 in Columbia.
On our Kentucky football podcast, I talked with my colleague and Herald-Leader UK football beat writer Jennifer Smith about Saturday’s game at Vanderbilt Stadium.
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