By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – I know what you must have been thinking after four games. The exact thing a fan shouted at Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin early last season. “Same Old Vanderbilt, Coach.”
That sentiment was wrong then and it’s wrong now.
On an impressive Saturday of football in the Southeastern Conference, where most of the storylines were centering on a game that was played in Tuscaloosa, the accomplishments of the Commodores need not be lost.
With Vanderbilt’s 27-26 comeback win against Ole Miss in Oxford, Vanderbilt is on pace to appear in a bowl game for the second year in a row for the first time in school history.
In his first season in Nashville, Franklin led the Commodores to a bowl game for the first time since 2008 and his team reached six wins for just the fifth time since 1955. His squad went a perfect 4-0 in non-conference play and won six games at Vanderbilt Stadium.
Excitement was running high heading into a Thursday night home game with then-No. 9 South Carolina to start the season, but Vanderbilt dropped a 17-13 decision to the Gamecocks. Losses to Northwestern and Georgia in two of their next three games left the Commodores’ record at 1-3 heading into a bye week.
Since that break from competition, Vanderbilt has won five of six games, with the only loss coming to then-No. 4 Florida. Along the way, the Commodores picked up three SEC road victories – at Missouri, Kentucky and Ole Miss – for the first time in program history.
Still, in the midst of the season, Franklin is only focused on the steady improvement of his team on a weekly basis.
“We hit 1-0 this week,” Franklin said following Saturday’s game. “I’m sticking to it. I’m going to be consistent with what I tell my team. Everything we do in our program is about a consistent positive message. We’ll enjoy it for 40 more minutes and we’ll get on to the next game.”
Just consider, for a moment, these facts:
• Vanderbilt has won six games for the second consecutive season. It marks the first time the Commodores have won six or more games in consecutive seasons since 1974 and 1975.
• Vanderbilt’s three SEC road wins are a first in school history.
• Vanderbilt’s four SEC wins are the most for the program since 2008. It marks just the second time since the SEC went to an eight-game league schedule that the Commodores have won four league contests in a single season.
Those milestones may have been possible because of Saturday’s win at Ole Miss, but Franklin says they are only a reflection of the direction the program has been headed since his hire.
“This win didn’t really have to do with the halftime, it didn’t have to do with this game, it’s had to do since December 18, 2010 that we’ve been getting better every single day,” Franklin said, noting his date of hire as the program’s head coach. “Kids have bought in, coaches have bought in, administration is right there to support us and have our back. The alumni, the fans and the community are all starting to rally behind us and the students are involved more and more every day.”
I wrote a column following the Commodores’ season-opening loss saying that the final step in the Vanderbilt turnaround would be to win the close games.
I was wrong.
The final step in the Vanderbilt turnaround will be for the milestones not to be milestones anymore.
“I’m looking forward to the day when I don’t have to stand up here and talk about first-ever, because things are starting to become routine,” Franklin said. “It’s a mentality; we have a culture of winning at Vanderbilt.”
This is the new Vanderbilt.