Let's go back to August, 2008. The Commodores were coming off a disappointing 5-7 year, and there were few reasons for optimism. The quarterback situation was muddled. Record-setting receiver Earl Bennett had turned pro. The offensive line was starting from scratch.
The magazines and prognosticators were all predicting pretty more of the same: another middling four- or five-win season.
Except yours truly! I boldly went on record saying the 'Dores would (A) win their first six games on the way to an 8-4 finish, and (B) break the hideous 25-year losing-season and bowl-less streaks. I even called the bowl that would issue a bid to Vandy: the Music City.
OK, it didn't happen quite that way, but I was closer than anyone in the local and national media. The college football world was stunned-- STUNNED!-- when the Commodores started 5-0 and rose to No. 13 in the nation. (Doggone it, they coulda shoulda won Game Six in Starkville, and woulda, had they been able to generate any semblance of an offense.)
And no, Vandy fans, what happened at LP Field last New Year's Eve wasn't just a dream. When last we parted, the team was hoisting aloft a Music City Bowl Championship trophy, as fireworks popped along the Cumberland. Not only did the 2008 'Dores earn a bowl invitation, they went out and won the darn thing.
How did I know, you ask? (A) I looked at the VU schedule, which was favorable. (B) I looked at the roster, and I knew the depth would be better than people thought. (C) I knew Chris Nickson's play had to improved over 2007. (D) OK, I got a little lucky. And so probably did the 2008 Commodores, for that matter.
But back to the present. Vanderbilt enters a season as winners for the first time since 1983, but with lots of questions. Will Larry Smith take over at quarterback? Can the team manufacture a passing game (and for that matter a running game)? Can D.J. Moore be replaced?
Will 2009 hold a second straight bowl trip for the team and its long-suffering fans?
Bottom line: the 2009 team should be improved-- somewhat-- but the record probably won't be. Here goes:
Sept. 5: The 'Dores unveil the no-huddle and enjoy a laugher against an outgunned Western Carolina team. Three quarterbacks all get reps, and the freshman running backs impress as the rushing game goes for well over 200 yards.
Sept. 12: What's this? The 'Dores have to open SEC play as the guests for LSU's home opener, before a crowd of bloodthirsty Cajuns who've been drinking all day? Yikes... make it 1-1, as Vandy's quarterbacks take a pounding. Les Miles' Tigers go on to win the West.
Sept. 19: Here's the key game of the season... Mississippi State. Lose this one, and a lot of hot air goes out of the balloon. 'Dores win by a touchdown, but their failure to dominate at home against a second-division team sends an ominous signal for games ahead.
Sept. 26: Last year in Nashville, Rice scared the pants off of Vandy. The VU coaches were so impressed by the Owls' hurry-up offense that they adopted elements of it for themselves. The 'Dores will need to score at least 31 points to win this game. They will.
Oct. 3: ESPN cameras should be in town as Vandy (3-1) faces an undefeated, Top Ten Ole Miss team. Can the 'Dores take down the Rebels, as they did Auburn last season? Nope. Jevan Snead gets revenge on Vandy's defense, and Houston Nutt's team emerges with a 10-point win.
Oct. 10: By now injuries are starting to mount. The Commodores play their first daytime game of the season at West Point. The offense appears disinterested and sleepwalks through the first three quarters. Vandy wins on a couple of Brett Upson field goals.
Oct. 17: Now 4-2, Bobby Johnson's team has a chance to redeem its season with a home win against Georgia. They get the Bulldogs under the lights at home. The contest goes into double-overtime in a game destined for ESPN Classic... but the Bulldogs prevail, sending a dagger into Vandy's hopes, and sending the season into a tailspin.
Oct. 24: OK, here's a prediction for you: With Stephen Garcia at quarterback, Steve Spurrier and South Carolina are going to finish 9-3 and go to the Cotton Bowl. On the way they'll shellac Vandy, still nursing its psychological wounds from the previous week's devastating loss.
Oct. 31: Badly needing a week off to recover from injuries, Vandy gets... Georgia Tech on Halloween night, a nasty trick played by the schedule-makers. The Jackets, en route to a BCS bowl, will prevail in a battle of the Johnsons.
Nov. 7: Nothing, yea nothing, is going to impede the Florida Gators on the way to their third SEC championship in four years-- let alone battered, bruised Vandy. (Not so sure about that BCS championship thing, though.)
Nov. 14: Playing its 11th game in 11 weeks without a break, with five defensive starters now out with injuries, the Commodores close their home schedule against Kentucky. On Senior Day they commit five turnovers, including two Trevard Lindley interceptions, as the losing streak reaches five.
Nov. 21: Just when you were ready to write off the season, Vandy finishes with a stirring fourth-quarter rally to beat a tepid Tennessee team. Mackenzi Adams, who's been written off more times than Rocky Balboa, leads the rally in his final game.
That adds up to 5-and-7, folks. That's not what you wanted to hear, and it's not what I wanted to predict.
But before you tar and feather me... it's coming from the same crystal ball that correctly forecast a Music City Bowl bid a year earlier.