The Daily Pulse:


A dramatically timed off week descends on Tennessee football, with only two games remaining in the 2013 regular season, and  still two wins needed for a return to bowl eligibility.

Historically, grabbing two punctuating wins against regularly-crappy rivals Kentucky and Vanderbilt have been a near automatic.

Since 1980, Tennessee holds a record of 60-6 over the two teams, combined.

Unfortunately, the days of the auto-win in the SEC are past, at least in regards to
the Vols' anchor-dropping (formerly) little brother to the west.

We now live in a world where Vanderbilt can unshockingly defeat the Florida Gators in Gainesville.

This is the moment in time where pride must be checked at the door and Tennessee must prepare for Vanderbilt as an exciting, must-win game against an (easily) worthy opponent and (for the first time in many decades) legitimate rival.  

Tennessee's notoriously prideful fans will climb the walls at the suggestion of being on a level with Vanderbilt, but coach James Franklin's transformation of the program cannot be denied.

The truth is, a loss to Vanderbilt next week would NOT be a huge upset. Yes, that is the world you live in, Tennessee fans. But, by the same token, a win next week is no longer the eyeroll it once was. A team/fanbase in Tennessee's position has to recognize opportunities, even as they clash with the Vols' historical self-image as "Tennessee State Champs."

In 2013, Tennessee and Vanderbilt have both had similar opportunities to steal wins from teams that are current SEC powerhouses. Vanderbilt succeeded in sneaking past Georgia, where Tennessee fell just short. Tennessee succeeded in sneaking past South Carolina, where Vanderbilt failed. The Commodores also, as mentioned, feasted on the broken-and-still-breaking Florida Gators last week.

In 2012, the world was collapsing around Derek Dooley, who was fired immediately after being unsurprisingly dismantled by Vanderbilt, in Nashville. That firing led, of course, to the arrival of Butch Jones in Knoxville, who has endured one of the most difficult schedules in all of college football, won the confidence of the Tennessee faithful (more or less, but they're a fickle bunch), and finds himself within reach of the post-season.

The question is: Will Tennessee fans let pride (read: the illusion of superiority) prevent them from recognizing the excitement that should surround the final home game of the year, simply because it is against Vanderbilt? Tennessee, versus an evenly-matched rival, on Senior Day, with "do or die" post-season implications, should be an automatic sell-out.

In the world we live in, Vanderbilt finally figured out how to play football, as Tennessee simultaneously went on a hiring/firing spree w/ coaches.

The result, though, is what should be a truly exciting, legitimate rivalry. And while fans of the Big Orange will dream of a quick return to superiority, it would be foolish not to enjoy this rare moment of excitement between Tennessee and Vanderbilt, where wins and losses mean more than just to extend streaks. 

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