By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
NASHVILLE – What a difference a year and a half has made for the Vanderbilt athletics program. The change in the Commodore culture became extremely evident on Monday when Vandy took down N.C. State 38-24 in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.
The remarkable thing wasn’t that Vanderbilt won a bowl game. It was, in fact, that the Commodores were expected to win the bowl game.
Earlier this season, I wrote a column in which Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin – very animated in Monday’s game - said that he was looking forward to that moment that great accomplishments became the norm for his program.
That moment has arrived for both the Vanderbilt football program and for the school’s entire athletics department.
Consider this: the Commodores concluded their second consecutive year in which they have had their baseball, men’s basketball and women’s basketball teams play in the NCAA Tournament and have had their football team invited to a bowl. In 2012, there were just six schools to accomplish that feat (joining Baylor, Florida, Louisville, Michigan State and Purdue) and Vanderbilt is the only school to do so in back-to-back years.
Let’s look at the football accomplishments by themselves:
• The Commodores appeared in their second consecutive bowl game for the first time in school history.
• Vanderbilt won its first bowl game since 2008, also claiming the Music City Bowl against Boston College.
• The Commodores tied the school record for wins at nine, matching the 1904 and 1915 teams.
• Vanderbilt’s 15 wins over the past two seasons are the most in back-to-back years since 1928-29.
• The Commodores closed the 2012 season on a seven-game winning streak, which marked the longest in program history since 1948.
But the change in culture has permeated across all of the Vanderbilt teams.
In 2011, the VU women’s cross country team captured its first-ever Southeastern Conference Championship and placed sixth at the NCAA Championships in its first-ever appearance at the national meet. The Commodores made a return trip to the NCAA Championships in 2012.
A year ago, the Vanderbilt men’s basketball program won the SEC Tournament and both the men and women advanced to the NCAA Second Round.
The 2011 season alone produced an NCAA semifinal appearance for the bowling program, a top-15 national finish for the women’s golf team and NCAA appearances for both the men’s and women’s tennis teams.
Vanderbilt finished the 2011-12 academic year placing 51st in the Directors’ Cup, marking its third consecutive year with an improvement in national finish, a program-first.
The lesson learned from the past year and a half from the Commodores is that the unexpected, when it comes to Vanderbilt, is now the expected.