Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Different Kind of Statement Game

Vanderbilt's trip to Evanston this Saturday is a critical match-up for the Commodores' 2012 season.  The entire VSL Braintrust has picked Vanderbilt to win and three of four identified it as either a "must win" or a "swing game." Make no mistake about it, this is a big one.
Vanderbilt has had a number of close calls and heartbreaking losses in Franlkin's first 14 games. Whether it be the squandered opportunity against Arkansas, the ignored whistle in Knoxville, or the pass interferences that weren't called...twice (yeah, it's happened twice), the Commodores have yet to get over the hump in big situations.  Beating Northwestern won't be a "signature" win in the conventinoal sense, but it will serve as further evidence that Vanderbilt's program is developing under Frankin. 
Over the last 15-20 years, Northwestern football has been held up as an example of what Vanderbilt could be. The reasons for the comparison are obvious enough: both are elite academic institution with difficult admissions standards, both have significantly smaller student population than others in the conferences they play, and both are the only private school in their respective conferences. The comparison is apt enough, although it always fails to appreciate the seismic difference between the SEC and the Big Ten (for the latest example see Alabama's dismantling of Michigan on Saturday).
While the book is out on the SEC's supremacy, Vanderbilt has had to "look up" to Northwestern for some time. This game is an opportunity for the Commodores to begin to put the Wildcats in their rear view mirror.
I'm not as conversant on recruiting as Stanimal and Douglas James, but even I know James Franklin has greatly expanded the Commodores' recruiting universe. With that said, there are definitely players who are attracted to Vanderbilt and Northwestern for the same reasons. A win in Chicago might swing a few more scholar/athletes to West End.
Saturday's match-up is also a chance for Vanderbilt fans outside the Nashville area to see the program's development for themselves.  As a national university, Commodores are spread throughout the country.  In terms of filling the stadium and generating financial support for the National Commodore Club, the diffuse nature of the fan base has an impact.  Chicago is home to the 5th largest population of Vanderbilt alum in the country outside of Nashville, and is likely to draw a big crowd.  In what can only be seen as a positive sign, the Chicago Alumni Association has sold out of packages for the tailgate and game. Tickets for the tailgate are still available and those of you still without tickets can get them here. Vanderbilt isn't a national power (yet), but it is important for Commodore fans to support their teams whenever they come to town.

The importance of Saturday's game cannot be overstated.  It is not a stretch to say that the 2012 season hinges on it. Yet, Vanderbilt's trip to Evanston is not just critical for this year, but also for the program as it continues to move forward. Vanderbilt hasn't had a "signature" win in the Franlkin era and while beating the Wildcats won't remedy that, this game is yet another marker for charting the development of Commodores 2.0 under James Franklin's leadership. 

1 comment:

Douglas James said...

It not that I don't think this game is important believe me I do. It's more that the benefits of winning are much less than the negatives of losing. If (when?) we win, I think everyone will quickly move on by saying a good (but lower rated) SEC team should beat a good (middle of the road) Big-10 team. A loss is devastating to Vandy's chances this year. A win is ho-hum...