I'll be the first to admit it -- when Vandy lost to Northwestern, it felt like some of the air was taken out of this football season.
A week later, when Rodgers was benched against Presbyterian, it started to smell a bit like scapegoating (never a good sign, but especially so early in the year).
On the heels of the Rodgers/Carta-Samuels drama, the Dores simply failed to show up in Athens and things were starting to look ugly. Was SOV back in the saddle again? Did CJF, for all his passion and salesmanship, have the ability to manage and unite a team through the inevitable ups and downs of a season? Was he trying to fit a square peg into a round hole with his offensive game-planning? Were we destined to retake our seat in the cellar of the SEC East?
Ancient history. Take a look at what's happened since: Wins over Missouri, Auburn and Ole Miss that an awful lot of people would not have predicted at the start of the season. Four straight victories heading into the final conference game. A 6-4 record and bowl eligible with two games to spare.
In short, Vanderbilt has been quietly putting together the kind of season that we in the Braintrust (recall that 3 of 4 of us predicted an 8-4 record or better) had hoped for given the way the schedule set up and the backfield talent that was just waiting to be unleashed. And it's been accomplished by winning close games down the stretch, which was the hump that everyone agreed Vandy would have to get over if we wanted to take the program to the next level. Credit where due -- there's been a lot to get excited about over the past month.
But here's the thing. For me, and I suspect for many others, the success or failure of this season hinges on one thing and one thing only: what happens tonight at Dudley Field.
Let's face it, whether we finish 8-4 or 7-5 or 6-6, the bowl selection isn't likely to be all that different. Sure, we've got an outside shot at the Gator Bowl if we get some help from the likes of Arkansas or Ole Miss (Mississippi State's remaining opponents), but realistically Vanderbilt seems to be headed for something a tad less glamorous and a lot closer in proximity to Nashville, TN.
So while I have no idea how effective Zac Stacy is going to be coming off the leg injury; while I'm not quite sure how Jordan Rodgers will handle the pressure coming off a game-winning drive against Ole Miss but surely still haunted by memories of what happened in Knoxville last year; and while I have no clue what CJF has been doing (other than apparently not showing the infamous Derek Dooley tape) to get his team mentally prepared, I do know this:
Beating the Vols would make my year.