When it comes to doormats, Vanderbilt University Commodores have certainly been near the bottom of the college football ladder. Those that have followed Vanderbilt for many years know full well that the school was dreadfully bad from the early ‘80s to just recently.
However, that may be changing after two bowl appearances in-a-row (first time in their history), nine wins and a #20 ranking at the end of this past season. Led by head coach James Franklin, there could be something in the works in Nashville, Tennessee, as the Vanderbilt Commodores of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) may be rising into a national power.
Vanderbilt is a relatively small college in Nashville, about a mile from downtown. The school was established 140 years ago in part by the richest man in the world -- the ‘Commodore’, Cornelius Vanderbilt -- to help the region rebuild during the Reconstruction Era. Hence, the school was named for the famous shipping and railroad industrialist.
Good early, but not lately
The school took up college football roughly 120 years ago and during the early years, the Commodores were successful. However, the school has not won a conference championship in their 80 years as a member of the SEC. In fact, Vanderbilt had been to only six bowls and three of those have been in the last five years. Which brings us to why we may be seeing the rise of new powerful private school capable of playing with any major power in the country.
Analyzing last year’s Commodores might provide insight into what may be offered in 2013. After a 1-3 start in 2012, it appeared Vanderbilt would be on the way to another ho-hum losing season, taking their rightful place at the bottom of the SEC. They beat a new SEC team in Missouri at Columbia but then lost at home to powerful Florida and sat at 2-4. However, there are two key areas to quickly examine.
First, the Commodores had not played that badly up to this halfway mark in the season. For starters, they had fought a Top 10 team in South Carolina very tough and led in the fourth quarter before losing to the Gamecocks. They lost on the road to another private school, Northwestern, but again, led in the fourth quarter before succumbing to a couple of late scores. They also battled Florida close -- still, close doesn’t count.
Yet, secondly, an easier remaining schedule would see Vanderbilt defeat Auburn, then except for a tight win over rival Mississippi, they ran roughshod over the rest of their opponents including in the Music City Bowl (pictured) and now sit on a seven game winning streak as they prepare for the 2013 season.
Speaking of 2013, the quarterback situation for the Commodores is questionable with a freshman and transfer battling for the top spot. Their defense looks stable if uncertain with possible depth issues. Although they weren’t great last year, Vanderbilt does return many of their key players.
Coach Franklin has built a solid base and it all starts with recruiting, where he has done a good job. For instance, Franklin has recruited bigger and stronger players across the board, so they can give a beating as well as take one in the hard hitting SEC. If the Commodores make another bowl game with a winning record, the foundation will be set and Vanderbilt may be able to have some regular success like other private institutions of higher learning such as Northwestern and perhaps even Stanford.
The issue for the school will then be can they retain Franklin who will have taken a traditional doormat and made it into a national contender. There will be plenty of interest in hiring the 41 year old who seems to have a ridiculous ability to make something out of nothing.
The Commodores went 5-3 in the SEC which is saying something and undoubtedly, teams will be more than ready for the upstart. Expectations are high in Tennessee and what has worked in Evanston and Palo Alto may be happening in Nashville.
Additional sources: Vanderbilt University