A wild, wacky college football year, except at VU

It's been a wild, wacky college football season-- everywhere except Norman, Okla., and Nashville. No one's gone broke predicting Vanderbilt games this season-- the Commodores have been more predictable than a Henny Youngman punch line. As Vanderbilt (1-9, 0-6 SEC) prepares to host Kentucky (4-5, 1-4) in a 1 pm CT game at Vanderbilt Stadium (no local TV, WSM-AM 650), the Commodores wish to goodness a little of that wackiness would hover over Vanderbilt Stadium.

It's been a wild, wacky, unpredictable college football season thus far... except, perhaps, at Oklahoma and Vanderbilt.

Tennessee goes to Miami and snaps the Hurricanes' amazing 33-game home winning streak. Clemson's Tommy Bowden finally gets a win over his famous dad, and in the process saves his job. Notre Dame is 3-6, and Penn State is 2-8. Meanwhile TCU, which beat Vanderbilt but not convincingly, is undefeated and trying to crash the BCS party. Northern Illinois, Miami (Ohio) and Boise State are all in the Top 25.

On a weekend where all kinds of craziness erupted around the country, Vanderbilt fans cast an envious eye over toward Durham, N.C. last Saturday, where Duke unleashed years of pent-up tension in an astonishing 41-17 win over Georgia Tech. The Blue Devils snapped a 33-game conference winning streak, as jubilant fans paraded the goalposts out of Wallace Wade Stadium (much as Vanderbilt fans had done after a win over Duke in '98).

The SEC certainly hasn't been immune. Ole Miss, a team that squeaked by Vandy 24-21 back in August, is atop the SEC West. Auburn, which looked like the cream of the SEC back on Sept. 13 when it spanked Vanderbilt 49-7, is just about ready to fire its coach. Alabama is 3-6. Several key games have gone to multi-overtime marathons. The BCS computers could determine which of three teams represents the SEC East in the Championship Game.

It's been the kind of season to make Pete the Pigskin Prognosticator pull out what little hair he has left.

Yeah, college football is crazy, ain't it? And that's why we love it. If only a little bit of that zaniness could be visited upon Vanderbilt.

Seems the only two places in the country where things have been entirely predictable this season are Norman, Okla., and Nashville. The No. 1 Oklahoma Sooners have mowed down everything in their path with machine-like precision.

And let's face it... no one's gone broke predicting Vanderbilt games this season either-- the Commodores have been more predictable than a Henny Youngman punch line. As Vanderbilt (1-9, 0-6 SEC) prepares to host Kentucky (4-5, 1-4) in a 1 p.m. CT game at Vanderbilt Stadium (no local TV, WSM-AM 650), the Commodores wish to goodness a little of that craziness would hover over Vanderbilt Stadium.

The Commodores demolished Division I-AA Chattanooga 51-6 back on Sept. 6, and since then have proceeded to drop eight games in a row. The Commodores have lost 13 in a row to Division I-A foes, and 23 in a row to Southeastern Conference foes. Bobby Johnson is still looking for his first SEC win.

Making it worse is that Vanderbilt has been in almost every game in the fourth quarter, except for Auburn. It's been a season of missed opportunities, of woulda-shoulda-couldas. A fumble here, a botched kick there, an interception over there. A marvelous quarter of football here, but a failure so far to assemble a complete game.

Making it even worse is that Duke's victory means that Vanderbilt now owns the nation's longest conference losing streak. It sits at 23 games, and it has eclipsed the 22-game streak that endured from 1995-98. It's become almost impossible to compose a story about Vanderbilt football without mentioning "the streak."

Thankfully, Head Coach Bobby Johnson has kept his players from focusing on or even thinking about "the streak."

"We don't talk about the streak," Johnson said Monday at his weekly press conference. "I can't worry about the other 23 games that happened before. We can't do anything about them. We can't go back and win those. We can just try to win the next one."

Kentucky was the last SEC team to fall to Vanderbilt, back in November of 2000 when Woody Widenhofer and Hal Mumme were still coaching. The game ended with UK quarterback Jared Lorenzen, then only a freshman, throwing toward the end zone at Commonwealth Stadium. He never connected, and the Dores won, 24-20.

SENIOR DAY: Thirteen seniors will be recognized before Saturday's game, as they play their last game at Vanderbilt Stadium.

Those seniors taking part in the ceremonies are: Curtis Brancheau, tight end, Greenville, Tex.; Zeke Brandon, fullback, Copperas Cove, Tex.; Pat Brunner, linebacker, Cincinnati, Ohio; Jason Daniels, snapper / tight end, Southlake, Tex.; Nick Getter, Tight End, Round Rock, Tex.; Ian Gaines, safety, Denton, Tex.; Abtin Iranmanesh, kicker/punter, Madison, Ala.; Nick Lyle, safety, Cincinnati, Ohio; Dan Murphy, tight end, Shaker Heights, Ohio; Jordan Pettit, offensive guard, Olive Branch, Miss.; Greg Robson, offensive line, Schaumburg, Ill.; Libnir Telusca, defensive end, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Benji Walker, quarterback, Brentwood, Tenn.

ALL-TIME SERIES AT STAKE: Vanderbilt entered 2003 with advantages in the all-time series against two SEC teams: Auburn and Kentucky. But the Commodores are in danger of losing their edge in both series, in the same season.

Vanderbilt led the all-time series with Auburn, 19-18-1, going into the 2003 meeting on Sept. 13, but the Tigers tied that series with a 49-7 victory.

The Commodores still lead the all-time series vs. Kentucky, 36-35-4, but the Wildcats could even the series with a win Saturday.

UNDERRATED ABNEY: In Wildcat senior receiver and kick return specialist Derek Abney, Vanderbilt fans will get to see one of the greatest-- and one of most undersung-- return men in SEC history. With at least three games left in a stellar four-year career, Abney ranks in fifth place on the SEC career all-purpose list with 5,499 yards.

Vanderbilt fans should be very familiar with Abney by now, though. Last year in Lexington he returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown on his way to 178 all-purpose yards. In 2001, he racked up 244 all-purpose yards vs. the Commodores.

Abney could easily have taken his talents to the NFL after last season, but elected instead to return for another year of SEC wars.

"With that punt return record, he has my respect, because most of those records were set back in the days when you couldn't substitute freely and you had offensive linemen covering punts," Bobby Johnson said. "Nowadays, when he's been doing it, everybody gets their very best athletes on the field on punt teams and kickoff teams, so he's done it against the very best. It's a remarkable record."


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