NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Vanderbilt Commodores have had nothing like the season first-year coach Derek Mason targeted during Southeastern Conference media days, and now they have only one game left before a merciful end to their season.
And as the old saying goes, misery loves company.
The Commodores' best hope is beating an SEC team once and avoiding becoming the first team in this league to lose all eight conference games by double digits. In-state rival Tennessee needs a win Saturday to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2010, while a loss would mean the fifth straight losing season — the first in school history.
Senior defensive tackle Vince Taylor said winning the state championship would bring the Commodores (3-8, 0-7) great satisfaction, especially with their streak of three straight bowls snapped.
"It'd be good for us both to be here watching a bowl game," Taylor said.
The Vols (5-6, 2-5) have lost two straight to Vanderbilt, something that hadn't happened since 1925-26. That's brought some life to a rivalry that had featured tight games over the years with Tennessee winning 28 of the last 31 games, and Mason added his own chapter by referring to the Vols as the "team out East" earlier this week.
Patton Robinette scored with 16 seconds left helping Vandy pull out a 14-10 win in Neyland Stadium, and the Commodores said they were pelted with water bottles after that victory. Robinette left last week's 51-0 loss at Mississippi State in a walking boot, but the sophomore quarterback who grew up 15 miles from Tennessee's campus said he'd have to be drugged not to play.
"It's time this week to go out and make new memories," Robinette said.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones said a win in Nashville gives his Vols a chance to build momentum. A win not only makes the Vols eligible for a bowl, they would notch their first winning record in November since going 4-0 in 2010.
"We are fighting for bowl eligibility," Jones said. "It is an instate rivalry game. So there is a lot on the line."
Here are a few things to know about the SEC's fourth-oldest rivalry:
VANDERBILT'S STRUGGLES: The Commodores have lost each SEC game by at least 10 points this season, and their last loss was the worst since 1994 when the Vols thumped them 65-0. Tennessee is a 17-point favorite Saturday, and a loss by double digits would make the Commodores the first Football Bowl Subdivision team to lose every conference game by 10 points or more in a season since Washington State in 2009, according to STATS Inc.
YOUNG TEAMS: Vanderbilt has played the most true and redshirt freshmen in the country this season with 31, and no team has played more first-time starters than the Commodores with 26. Tennessee can top Vanderbilt having played 22 true freshmen compared to 12 for the Commodores, and the Vols started seven true freshmen in last week's 29-21 loss to then-No. 19 Missouri. All that youthfulness means not some of the young Vols aren't caught up on this rivalry. "A lot of players haven't played against Vanderbilt," Vols linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin said. "Really, we're just trying to get the win. All that comes with it, but we're just focused on getting this win No. 6."
PROTECTING DOBBS: With center Mack Crowder out with a sprained knee and ankle last week, Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs was sacked six times. Getting to the quarterback hasn't been easy for Vanderbilt with only which has only 15 sacks this season.
WHICH QB: Jones said he expects Robinette to be Vanderbilt's quarterback, while Mason has said Johnny McCrary will start. That would be McCrary's fifth straight start, though Robinette is expected to come off the bench.
SENIOR NIGHT: This is the final game for one of the winningest senior classes in Vanderbilt history. A total of 21 seniors have gone 27-23, topping last year's seniors by one win, while their three straight bowl berths are the first in school history.
AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee in Knoxville contributed to this report.