Looking back at Vanderbilt Football’s history with the University of Tennessee, we see some iconic moments. This rivalry features the last football game of Vanderbilt legend Jay Cutler’s collegiate career. In the final matchup of 2005, he hit Earl Bennett for a 5-yard touchdown with 1:11 to go in the fourth quarter to beat the Vols 28-24. Since this game, the record between the Vols and the Commodores is 8-4 in Tennessee’s favor, and Vanderbilt has won four of the past six. However, prior to 2005, Vanderbilt had not beaten the Volunteers in football since 1982.
Tennessee has brought us good competition and memorable moments. They trade places with us for the top college sports program in the state. We’re both clawing to take the unofficial title of King of the Volunteer State. With this in mind, can we declare the University of Tennessee to be Vanderbilt’s biggest rival? Given the other candidates, we don’t have much choice.
The only other team up for contention in football is Ole Miss, who boast a 51-39-2 record against Vandy overall. While this may seem close, since 1953 the Rebels have been a dominant 47-14-1 against us. Yes, there have been some close games: in 2013, in a heartbreaker, Vanderbilt allowed the Rebels’ Jeff Scott to run the ball from his own 25 to the end zone with 1:08 left in the fourth to take down the ‘Dores 39-35. Regardless, this displays Ole Miss’s utter dominance in this “rivalry.”
To contrast, the Vanderbilt Baseball team has developed a strong reputation at and cannot be overlooked in this conversation. But this creates a problem: Tennessee is not Vandy Baseball’s top rival. It’s Florida. Vanderbilt has had many tough games against the Gators in the tournament, including the 2012 SEC tournament where Vandy squeaked by twice, 2-1 and 8-6.
Of course, LSU should still be in the contention for the baseball rivalry: they stopped Vanderbilt from winning the SEC tournament in 2014. Additionally, in 2013, Vanderbilt fell to them in the championship game 5-4 in extras.
However, both of these rivalries lack a crucial piece: a defining moment. Even Louisville, who is not even in the SEC, has a stand-out moment in their rivalry with the ‘Dores. On May 11, 2010, following a flood in Nashville, Vanderbilt held a relief game against Louisville in the Battle of the Barrel. For former Commodore Bat Boy, Riley McCormick, this contentious day stuck in his mind.
“I think it was the first game with red, white and blue uniforms. The game went on for 17 innings with Jason Esposito hitting a walk-off homerun over the monster and did a bat flip out to the pitcher. They didn’t shake hands after the game,” said McCormick.
None of this, however, changes who Vanderbilt’s biggest rival is. Louisville, despite their frequent appearances against the Commodore in the NCAA tournament, is, at the end of the day, in the ACC.
This of course brings Tennessee back on the table. Despite Vanderbilt Baseball’s dominance in recent years, there has been some great competition. This was highlighted in the 2014 SEC 3-2 SEC tournament win where Vandy third baseman Xavier Turner tagged out the Vols’s Nick Senzel at third with nobody out in the 9th. Overall, Tennessee still leads the all time series 176-155-2.
while the rivalry with Tennessee is only sufficient in football, it will have to do.
Additionally, the Men’s Basketball rivalry has, admittedly, been lacking, but is still Vanderbilt’s best. It was highlighted this year when the Vols held off a ferocious second-half ‘Dores comeback for a gritty 67-62 win, breaking Vandy’s three-game win streak.
Unfortunately, while the rivalry with Tennessee is only sufficient in football, it will have to do. Given the lack of history with significant teams and few off-the-field tensions, Vanderbilt simply lacks any better contenders. Therefore, through the process of elimination, we can only conclude that Tennessee is Vanderbilt’s biggest rival. It’s not a great rivalry, but it’s the best one we’ve got for now.
We face off against the Vols at Vanderbilt Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 24. If you can, try to come down from Thanksgiving a bit early and catch the game.