Vanderbilt and Wake Forest can’t seem to get it together at the same time.
The Deacons won 33 games from 2006-09, a run that started with an 11-win season and an ACC championship. Lately, though, the results have been less compelling while the Commodores have made a big jump. They have won 22 times since the start of 2011 and have earned bowl eligibility for the third consecutive season.
The teams come into Saturday’s regular-season finale at Vanderbilt Stadium (11:21 a.m., SEC Network) with 11 combined victories and defeats – Vanderbilt is 7-4, Wake Forest is 4-7.
Three reasons to believe the Commodores will succeed Saturday
• It’s the SEC: Based on the latest conference RPI numbers, the SEC is number one (no shock there) while the ACC is fifth, last among the major conferences. Vanderbilt is in the middle of the SEC, having climbed to sole possession of fourth place in the East, and is one of eight SEC teams at .500 or better for the season. Wake Forest is sixth in the ACC’s Atlantic Division at 2-6 in conference play. It just doesn’t add up for the Deacons.
• Experience counts: The Commodores have eight players with 25 or more career starts (six of them have 30 or more) and although the career record of seniors such as left tackle Wesley Johnson, wide receiver Jordan Matthews, safety Kenny Ladler and defensive end Walker May is sub-.500 (21-25) they have won a lot the last two seasons and, no doubt, want to make their final home game a pleasant experience.
• The most wonderful time of the year: Vanderbilt has won nine straight November games, including two against Wake Forest. In fact, that streak started with a 41-7 rout of the Deacons on Nov. 26, 2011. The average margin of victory in those nine games has been 17.1 points. Four times, including both games against Wake Forest, the Commodores score 40 or more. Clearly, this is a team that gets better as it goes.
Three reasons to believe the Commodores will struggle Saturday
• Price is right: Four times this season Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price has had at least one rushing and one passing touchdown in the same game, the most recent of which was last Saturday against Duke. For the season he has passed for more than 2,000 yards and rushed for nearly 200. The Commodores have been better the last two weeks against running quarterbacks but those were young players working with limited playbooks under first-year coaching staffs. Price is a senior and his 64 career touchdowns are one short of the school’s career record.
• One more: Jim Grobe is tied with “Peahead” Walker for the most wins by a Wake Forest coach. Now in his 13th season, he already has led the team to more bowl games, more bowl wins and more eight-win seasons than any coach in program history. Chances are his 15 seniors would like push him over the top in their final game. The Deacons have nothing to play for in terms of bowl eligibility but they have nothing to lose either, which might make them unpredictable.
• On the road: It is not an annual series and the location does not alternate from year to year but this will the 12th meeting between the schools since 1990. Nine times in the previous 11, the road team has won – a lot of times by a comfortable margin. This stretch started with the Deacons’ 56-28 victory at Vanderbilt Stadium in 1990. Last season, the Commodores went on the road and won 55-21. The last time the game was played in Nashville was 2010 and – you guessed – Wake Forest won.
The bottom line
Vanderbilt is the better team and should win easily. But with the fact that a bowl berth and a winning season are assured at this point, the possibility of an emotional letdown is tough to ignore. After all, it did not exactly produce a spirited effort against Kentucky following the triumph over Florida. Beating Tennessee was an even bigger deal.
Still, if the Commodores don’t win it will be a big upset – not to mention a really disappointing way to end the regular season.
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