When most SEC teams (and fans) see Vanderbilt on their schedule, they get excited. “Easy win,” they say. “When do we play LSU?” they say. But Vandy should take another giant step this year. Quick recap: In 2012, the ‘Dores went 9-4, losing to No. 4 Florida, No. 5 Georgia, Northwestern (who ended up ranked No. 17), and were an incorrect no-call away from beating No. 8 South Carolina. From doormat to contender, the Commodores are ready to wreck the fall. Here’s why.
Franklin is one of the most dynamic, high-spirited coaches in football, college or otherwise. The man is a force of nature on the sidelines and brought in a completely revamped coaching staff. More importantly, despite a number of offers, he retained a vast majority of his assistants. Want to know the true power of Franklin? Despite going 2-10 under one-and-done coach Robbie Caldwell, Franklin managed to recruit a powerful class for 2011 (where he 6-7) and its 2013 recruiting class was ranked #19 by Rivals. The man is for real and has undoubtedly received offers from dozens of other schools, but, at least for now, remains committed to Vandy.
Despite prestigious lineage, last year’s starting quarterback Jordan Rodgers (you might have heard of big brother Aaron), was average at best. This year, Franklin brought in a dual-threat senior from Wyoming who knows how to run and should be a good leader on the field. Vanderbilt, somehow, has managed to replace NFL draft pick Zac Stacy, with a couple backs including senior every down back Wesley Tate and fast-as-lightning Brian Kimbrow. All-SEC Jordan Matthews comes back for his senior year, despite being a projected 2nd or 3rd round draft pick. He joins Chris Boyd and, together, they were the most productive wide receiver tandem in the SEC.
Their defense allowed only six passing touchdowns last year, 3rd in the nation, and 15th in the nation in points against. Led by defense back Andre Hal, an outstanding corner back, their D is the real deal, even in the stacked SEC. While their offensive gave them momentum, their defense was what gave them critical wins over Tennessee and Missouri. Seven seniors return on defense this year.
Their schedule isn’t too tough
Let’s be real, the Commodores caught a break in having to face Ole Miss and Georgia instead of even bigger powerhouses Alabama or LSU. Although they play Florida and Texas A&M away, they should get revenge from the Georgia slaughter last year and could squeak out a win from a weak Florida or South Carolina. Franklin, luckily, managed to veto a cash grab that would have had Vandy opening their season at Ohio State. Coming off a seven-game win streak, Vanderbilt hasn’t lost since October 13 and, the momentum in Nashville couldn’t be hotter. They were ranked at the end of the season for the first time since 1948 and five of their first seven games are at home.
While they aren’t shooting for a national championship, Vandy has gone from punching bag to bruising glove. Under Franklin’s tutelage, Vanderbilt is turning into a legitimate threat in the best conference in college football.
Additional stat-checking by Nathan Kallison.