At one point in the season, the Vanderbilt Commodores had lost five of six and a .500 season was something of a reach with four games remaining, all against conference rivals. But better late than never, because Vanderbilt went on to defeat Arkansas, Ole Miss and Tennessee, with their only loss coming on the road to Missouri as 14½-point underdogs. That got Vandy bowl-eligible at 6-6 and perhaps saved Derek Mason’s job.
Speaking of point spreads, the best online sportsbooks, found all at one convenient site, Sportsbook Review, have tagged Vandy as 4-point favorites for the Dec. 27 Texas Bowl against the Big 12’s Baylor. It’s technically a neutral site, but Baylor’s campus in Waco is about a three-hour drive to NRG Stadium in Houston compared to an 800-mile trek from Nashville. Nevertheless, Commodores fans should be in abundance when these teams meet.
The Bears were not nearly as successful in the homestretch of their season, dropping two of three, but thanks to a robust start they ended the season with the same 6-6 record as their Texas Bowl opponents. Baylor became bowl-eligible with a 35-24 upset win over Texas Tech as seven-point underdogs thanks to the heroics of sophomore quarterback Charlie Brewer. It was a stellar way to end the regular season for the native of Austin, Texas, who tossed for 308 yards with three touchdowns and added a 1-yard plunge into the end zone.
Although Baylor ended this year with a middling .500 record, it was a quantum leap over their horrendous 1-11 mark from last season as Coach Matt Rhule rebuilt the program after the sexual assault scandal on campus.
Vanderbilt did not improve nearly as dramatically over last year but just enough to get them bowling as they were absent from the postseason with a 5-7 mark in 2017. The Commodores capped the 2018 season with their third straight victory over in-state rival Tennessee, a feat not accomplished in 92 years, thanks to an absolutely surgical performance by senior quarterback Kyle Shurmur. There were few passes that landed anywhere other than in the hands of a Shurmur target as he went 31-of-35 with three TD strikes, 367 passing yards, and a mind-boggling 204.9 passer rating. Shurmur broke his own school record by completing 88.6 percent of his passes.
Mason had this to say about Shurmur’s herculean performance, “Kyle Shurmur had the game of his life, the game we knew he was capable of. We were able to take advantage because they kept loading the box. Late in the ballgame, they wouldn’t allow us to run so we said keep throwing it. If that’s what they’re going to do, if they’re going to give us the pass, then we got the right guy to light you up.”
The matchup between these teams pits offenses that are capable of lighting up the scoreboard, but the Bears’ defense may not be able to withstand the Commodores’ passing attack led by Shurmur. Let’s also not forget that Vandy plays in the toughest conference in the land and although they were only 3-5 against SEC competition, they did cover the number that the best online sportsbooks, featured at Sportsbook Review, were hanging in their last five games of the season. There are several trends working in favor of Vanderbilt and against Baylor illustrated below:
- Commodores are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 games following an ATS win.
- Commodores are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 games after accumulating more than 450 total yards in their previous game.
- Bears are 1-6 ATS in their last 7 games following an ATS
- Bears are 0-5-1 ATS in their last 6 non-conference games.
Mason celebrated at midfield with his players in the win over the Vols, and we suspect he will do just that after this one is through. Vanderbilt 38, Baylor 24 in the first meeting between the schools since 1954.