Tennessee football: Vols rivalry vs. Vanderbilt meaningful in the saddest way

Tennessee football’s rivalry with the Vanderbilt adds a new, sad chapter when the Volunteers host the Commodores Saturday at Neyland Stadium.

All of a sudden, Tennessee football plays Vanderbilt in a meaningful match-up. Both teams are fighting for the same thing on Saturday, and that’s something that rarely happens when these two face off.

The only problem? What they’re fighting for is nothing to be proud of.

While the top two teams in the SEC are from Alabama and facing off Saturday in the Iron Bowl, the worst two are from Tennessee. And the Vols and Commodores are facing off in hopes of not being the worst.

Both are 4-7 overall and 0-7 in the SEC. So something’s got to give. But of all the times this rivalry has been played, you’d be hard-pressed to find a situation like this.

Unfortunately for the Vols, this isn’t new territory for them, though, even in recent years. In 2012, after they fired Derek Dooley, they faced the Kentucky Wildcats the final game of the year with both teams 0-7 in the SEC and looking to avoid finishing last place.

Tennessee football won that game under interim head coach Jim Cheney.

But the last time Tennessee and Vanderbilt played each other to avoid a winless season in the SEC? You have to go all the way back to 1977, by far the worst season in Tennessee football history.

It was Johnny Majors’s first year as head coach, and the Vols and Commodores faced off the final game of the year when both had 0-5 SEC records.

At no other point since the beginning of the SEC did Tennessee football enter the final game of the year winless in the conference. Yes, this is only the third time that has happened. And it’s only the second time they entered it 0-7.

So Tennessee football and Vanderbilt will face each other Saturday desperately hoping to win. They both just want to avoid the embarrassment of being the worst team in the SEC.

But honestly, in this sense, the rivalry favors the Commodores. After all, they expect to be the worst team in the conference. Beating Tennessee football salvages anything. But the Vols? This season is a failure no matter what. Losing to Vanderbilt only magnifies that in the worst way.