October 4, 2014
Overall Record: 54-19-2
Last 10 Meetings: 8-2
Richt vs. Vanderbilt: 11-2
For all of the wins James Franklin’s Vanderbilt teams had over the last two years, the Commodores didn’t figure out how to get out of fourth place in the SEC East. That came in a year where Vanderbilt won nine games, beat Georgia, Tennessee and Florida (albeit those teams combined to win only ten conference games) and won a bowl game.
So here is the question (and it is a meant in the least disrespectful way possible): Can Vanderbilt really ever win the SEC East – let alone the SEC? It sure doesn’t seem possible. The better question may be: What is the end goal of football at Vanderbilt? If Northwestern, Stanford and Baylor – all of which were once total jokes nationally – have all won major conferences and played in major bowl games in the last 20 years why hasn’t Vanderbilt?
The simple answer is that none of those teams play Florida, Georgia and Tennessee every single year; they don’t have to deal with the harsh reality that is playing football in the SEC. What Franklin did at Vanderbilt, for Vanderbilt, was impressive. I would submit that Bobby Johnson, in many ways, did a better job (it’s a long story that doesn’t matter, but Johnson actually beat teams that had winning records while in Nashville… that only happened three times for Franklin), but he wasn’t as media savvy, and perhaps didn’t always have one foot out the door the way Franklin did.
This past winter Penn State came calling, and Franklin decided it was the right time to leave. Which brings us back to the question about what is the point/goal of Vanderbilt football. If Stanford and the like win the way they do, Vanderbilt should be able to as well – at least that’s the thinking. So the Commodores went out and got themselves a Stanford man – Derek Mason.
In 2010, Jim Harbaugh hired Mason to coach defensive backs for the Cardinal (or Trees, whichever Stanford is going with these days). A year later Harbaugh left for the 49ers and defensive coordinator David Shaw was elevated to head coach. Mason took Shaw’s spot and a year later was a Broyles Award finalist as one of the best assistant coaches in the country. Two years later he took the job in Nashville.
Winning in the SEC isn’t easy for anyone – let alone Vanderbilt. In many ways the Commodores have benefited from a turbulent time locally with Tennessee being in flux – that won’t continue forever – but it is fun for Vandy fans now.
To elevate Vanderbilt over the midway point of the division, Mason will have to continue Vandy’s recent success against the Vols and Kentucky. But that won’t be nearly enough to get over the hump. Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Ole Miss are always on Vanderbilt’s schedule. Winning one of those games in a season (which has happened more often than you might think of late) has to be considered success in Nashville.
But the question remains: just what does Vanderbilt want its football program to be? That is the question.