Thursday, November 17, 2011

Vanderbilt at Tennessee: A Game That Can Change the Program

Vanderbilt's game on Saturday against the Volunteers is the most important game of James Franklin's early tenure with the Commodores. In fact, it might be the most impactful game he'll ever coach while at Vanderbilt. Here's why: if Vanderbilt wins at Neyland, those doubting that the first year Franklin truly has changed the Commodores culture, will have to acknowledge that this team is different. A win Saturday could be the death knell of "same of Vanderbilt." This is a game where Vanderbilt can announce they are relevant in the SEC.

Tennessee is reeling. The Volunteers are 0-6 in the SEC and need to beat the Commodores and Kentucky just to be bowl eligible. Tennessee fans are panicking, and find themselves in need of a pep-talk heading into a game they believe is their birthright to win.

Vanderbilt can ruin their nemesis' year and ensure Tennessee has their second consecutive losing season. To give you some context, the last time Tennessee had consecutive losing seasons was 1911 and 1912.

More importantly, Vanderbilt can guarantee a trip to a bowl game for only the second time since 1982, and the first time since 2008. Heading into the season, reasonable Commodore fans would have to happy with 4 wins and ecstatic with 5. A bowl appearance was almost unthinkable. Yet here we are. If the Commodores win Saturday, you can bet the analysis will be about programs headed in very different directions. Oh yeah, and almost none of Franklin's recruits have even played yet.

Most importantly, the Commodores beating the Volunteers in Knoxville will show recruits that Vanderbilt is a viable alternative to traditional SEC programs. As Clay Travis writes in his ode to James Franklin, CJF has already been the most prolific recruiter the program has ever had, and he is poised to have an even better haul with a full year (and hopefully a bowl ring) under his belt. Franklin is owning the State of Tennessee, landing the 5 of the 6 state's top recruits, several of whom choose the black and gold over the orange. Besting the Volunteers in Knoxville should certainly help Franklin and his staff snare a few more kids who have both Tennessee and Vanderbilt on their short list.

Now, although Saturday is a tremendous opportunity for the Commodores to take several steps forward, the upside of a win is more significant than the downside of a loss. Make no mistake about it, Vanderbilt is a better team than Tennessee, regardless of whether Tyler Bray plays. This is a game they should win, but winning games on the road in SEC is not easy, regardless of the opponent. Moreover, you can be certain Tennessee will be ready to play because they are embarrassed about being an underdog to their nerdy in-state rivals. Even if Tennessee doesn't respect Vanderbilt, they certainly don't want to lose to them.

The stakes are high, but if Vanderbilt becomes the program we all hope it will be, 10 years from now, you can circle this as the game where the Commodores and Coach Franklin took off.


Anonymous said...

This is the Super bowl. Hate to say it, but we lose this one are season was like some of the other ones came so close but came up short, this is our time to change that! Go Dores! BEAT UT . . . BEAT UT . . .BEAT UT!!!

Andrew Smith said...

Not to throw a downer on all this, but I think it's way more important that we handle the Simmons thing properly.

This is Franklin's test, a test that makes sure he will win in the right way. Not only does Simmons have to be gone forever but everyone on that team who knew he had a gun and was the sort to rob the campus drug dealer needs to be gone forever too.

Perhaps he was a loner who didn't share his thoughts with the others, and this need not go any further, but knowing the way people that age are, there have to be at least half a dozen kids on this team who knew but didn't tell. They need to be out, even if they are good.

Perhaps I'm behind on the news. I haven't seen much since the initial stories, but I'm terrified we're going to let the desire to have a memorable season here compromise us as a program. I really want to win, but given a choice between winning and having a program of something resembling actual student athletes, I'll take B.

Vandygal78 said...

Great writeup. This game is huge and I'm trying to stay calm. As for the players, well, I remember after the 2005 win, many of the players said they didn't realize how important that game was until after we won. I'm thinking CJF has this team extremely focused.

This win could be the program changer. One other thought: being able to say that in 4 years we have gone to 2 bowl games is amazing.

AD said...

Well written, Bobby

Anonymous said...

Andrew...please let VC Williams handle it. I am certain that no 1 athlete is bigger than the program. My guess is that after a fair hearing that the kid will be kicked off the team and likely kicked out of school. His act has only to do with himself; not other players. I read earlier that the other guy has been arrested, so lets let the legal system run its course and allow CJF and his team handle thier academic and football business. Go Dores !!

AspenVU said...

Bad day for the campus drug dealer too - he got a headache, lost $5000 and will probably get kicked out of school for practicing his trade in the dormitory.