Sunday, October 26, 2008
IS VANDERBILT'S DREAM SEASON TURNING INTO A NIGHTMARE?
Help me figure out what just happened.
Three weeks ago, we were 5-0. Ranked No. 13 in the nation. Everybody was saying, "This is not your father's Vanderbilt."
And they were right. We'd taken care of scrappy Miami Ohio and Rice. We'd packed Vanderbilt Stadium for ESPN night games with No. 24 South Carolina and No. 13 Auburn and humbled both of them. We'd gone to Oxford and pulled off a miracle against Ole Miss the week before the Rebels stunned Florida in Gainesville.
Remember the incredible adjustments our coaches made at every halftime? Remember the way we'd stick around until we could get the big break or the big play — and we always did? Remember how Chris Nickson was shredding defenses and stepping up to make the clutch throw?
That was a different team. It was a team Vanderbilt fans had dreamed about.
That was a long time ago. In the past three weeks, we've been the same old Vanderbilt:
• A disappointing performance against a bad Mississippi State team.
• A nice little moral victory in Athens.
• A horrible performance on homecoming against Duke.
Now nobody expects us to win another game this season. Right after the game yesterday, I was as hopeless as anybody. Go back and read my live posts from the game. Desperate, angry stuff.
But here's the deal: We were way better than we were supposed to be in our first five games. It was a magical run that defies logic, especially now.
We never expected to be 5-3 after eight games. What if we had beaten Miss State and Duke instead of South Carolina and Auburn?
We wouldn't be psychologically devastated right now. We'd be better than we thought we'd be. We'd be mentally prepared to try to win one of our next four games and go to a bowl.
Instead, we almost got six wins without even thinking about it. Now the magic is gone and we're one win short and it seems like one big nightmare.
And it will probably seem like even more of one after we get blasted by Florida in two weeks.
But hang on. This team surprised us at the beginning of the season and now that nobody believes we can win another game, it can surprise us again.
Sure, the Commodore offense is deeply disturbing. I like to say we should start thinking about next season and play Larry Smith. Other people are saying we should fire Ted Cain.
I don't know. But you know what? I'm going to let the coaches figure it out and I'm going to sit back and watch this team for the rest of the season. It will be fascinating, that's for sure. We look like the best team in the nation one minute and the worst team in the nation the next. Our running quarterback is the one player we can't afford to lose one minute and the one player we need to get rid of the next. We expect to beat Auburn one minute and we expect to lose to Duke the next.
I have no idea if our players are underachievers or overachievers. I have no idea if we're going to win six or even seven games, though history has taught me to be a pessimist when it comes to the Commodores.
But I'm keeping an open mind. The Duke loss still stings. But I'm keeping an open mind.