Fantasy Football: The Vanderbilt Way

What are you supposed to do, Mr. and Mrs. Commodore Fan? How do you handle this moment, this experience, this magic carpet ride through Autumn? You don't have much practice, after all. Here's a guide to handling your own hopes and emotions over the next two months, especially if you know a Vanderbilt player.

The first thing you need to know is that you're not committing a sin--or jinxing the Dores, or anything like that--by envisioning rosy scenarios. Every Vandy fan has already done plenty of dreaming ever since the clock struck triple-zero Saturday night against Auburn. When you've walked in the football wilderness for so long, to the point that a spot in the Independence Bowl feels like the achievement of a lifetime, you're going to play your own mental version of "fantasy football," Vanderbilt-style.

Just so you're not consumed and wracked by guilt in the nights ahead--Vanderbilt minds need adequate sleep in order to reside, as the College Gameday sign said, "In the top 25... of just about everything"--let's just acknowledge the fantasies that have sent the adorers of the Dores into fabulous flights of unexpected ecstasy.

You've fantasized about LSU taking down Florida and Georgia. It's okay. Admit it. Nothing wrong with that naughty imagination running wild.

You've had steamy thoughts about Georgia losing at Auburn in addition to LSU. Go with your feelings. We all have them.

You've gasped with almost perverse pleasure at the thought of Florida losing to Georgia after stumbling this upcoming Saturday against the Bayou Bengals. It's okay to go to that secret corner of your heart where forbidden desires linger, waiting to burst forth and be consummated.

Yes, your dirty little mind has thought about it: Florida and Georgia could both go 5-3 in the SEC. Just acknowledge it. Be a man. Or woman.

Then, what about your fantasy life with respect to this Vanderbilt club that keeps sailing along in the normally choppy waters of the SEC?

Whether your crush on this team is a man-crush or not, you know you've already done the planning. Florida is going down in Nashville. So actually, the Gators will go 4-4 in conference play, right? Sure. Of course they will. This is the year of belief in Music City U.S.A. Your feelings ought not remain repressed for another solitary second. Unleash them. It's all right.

On your schedule planner, you've also logged Mississippi State and Duke as definite victories. That's the magic seven-win mark. Bowl game. Yawn. On to bigger things.

And Kentucky? Everyone with a few brain cells knows that Alabama had a hangover... and still clawed past the Cats. UK's offense, objectively speaking, is dreary. Even in Lexington, Vandy should--on the strength of its defense--claim another SEC scalp. Eight wins. Oh, don't pretend you haven't already gone there. You know it, I know it, and the American people know it. What's more is that it's perfectly normal for a red-blooded human person--we're all biological animals in addition to being emotional creatures, you know--to have these kinds of visions fluttering through your mind at a time like this. Release your sense of guilt. Let go. Abandon yourself to Commodore football and the passions its stirring up inside you.

And then... then... just don't even bother trying to deny that you've thought about what will happen when the 2008 edition of the Dores tackles a certain team from Knoxville, a team in disarray, an offense in oblivion, a squad that's had more than its Phil of bad football this season.

Yes, you've already thought about taking down Tennessee and the coach who--as Chris Fowler noted from the Gameday set on Saturday morning--"could evacuate 100,000 people from Neyland Stadium" with remarkable efficiency, thereby qualifying him for the directorship of FEMA.

So there you go: Vanderbilt's gonna go 9-3, and 6-2 in the SEC at minimum. Maybe, VU will post a 10-2 mark with a 7-1 SEC record.

Either way, you've already mapped it out in your most appealing fantasies: You're headed for Atlanta to play LSU or Alabama on December 6. South Carolina, Ole Miss and Kentucky will be the only three programs left to have never reached the SEC Championship Game. Even with a loss to the Bayou Bengals or the Tide, a January bowl game--the Outback, perhaps--will be likely, and at the very worst, an appearance in The Bowl Formerly Known As Peach will land in Vandy's pocket. The Cotton Bowl, a New Year's Day classic, could also fall in the laps of the conquering Commodores.

Now that your fantasy lives have been exposed and laid out in cyberspace, VU crew, here's a note for those who know any Commodore player: If you talk to any single member of the Johnson Boys, hide these fantasies. You know you have them, and the Dores themselves know you have them, but when you approach one of these gridiron greats in the classroom or on the sidewalk, act like the world leader Vanderbilt University has taught you to become. Mean business. Keep the young player focused on the goals. Tell them to continue trusting Bobby Johnson with eyes fixed on the prize.

This is a time for football fantasies to run wild in the minds of fans, but that means it's precisely the point when players and coaches need to ramp up the focus all the more. Vandy fans know what's waiting to be attained, in a year that's been kissed by heaven thus far; but as the big boys in this sport know all too well, the higher you are, the more devastating--and lethal--your downfall becomes.

Vandy can do things in 2008 that no one has been able to even dream about... until right now. That's why this upcoming Mississippi State game--not the Tennessee tilt or the SEC Championship Game--is the only game the Commodores can worry about.

Note this quote from USC coach Pete Carroll from the past weekend. Despite drilling No. 23 Oregon by 34 points, Carroll couldn't stop thinking about the previous week's stunning loss to Oregon State, which was the result of his team's overconfidence after a thumping of Ohio State:

"That huge game against those guys [Ohio State] -- it was going to be talked about and all that, and as much of our philosophy and approach addresses that, it still fricking happened to us," Carroll said. "It was the fact I couldn't keep it from happening. I tried everything I could think of... It's about sensing your responsibility and to respect what we've been about through the years here," he said. "You could tell from the depth of the night that it made sense and they got it. They respected this opportunity to play here today."

That's Pete Carroll of USC, the best coach in college football, talking about one individual loss that is still stinging him to the core. Everything he said could apply to Vandy if this team reverts to its haunted past.

Hopefully, those words from a legendary sideline sultan won't have to apply to the Commodores. Focus must be their friend, and in public discourse with a VU player, you have to convey that impression.

But in private moments with family, friends or acquaintances? Go back to your fantasies, and let them run free. You've kept those secret thoughts locked in your mind long enough. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride, a ride that will remain rollicking as long as the Johnson Boys focus and finish.

Photo by Stan Jones.

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