Friday, December 5, 2008

The expectations are different at Auburn than at Vanderbilt

Duh. You knew that already. But it bears repeating.

After the loss to Duke, a so-called long-time Vanderbilt posted an angry comment to a Tennessean story explaining that he was giving up on the Commodores forever. "Same old Vanderbilt," he wrote.

Goodbye, and good riddance.

But one question before you leave: What did you expect?

In August, everybody expected Vanderbilt to win a maximum of three games this season: Miami-Ohio, Rice and Duke. Sure, Commodore fans dreamed of six victories, and here's how we envisioned it happening:
• Beat Miami-Ohio, Rice and Duke.
• Beat Ole Miss and Kentucky.
• Upset either Miss State or Wake Forest.

Here's what happened:
• We did beat Miami and Rice, but not Duke. That's two victories instead of three.
• We did beat Ole Miss and Kentucky. That's four victories instead of five.
• We didn't upset either Miss State or Wake Forest. That's four victories instead of the six we dreamed about.

But that's not the end of the story, of course. We did what I never thought possible: • We beat Steve Spurrier for the second year in a row. That's five victories.
• We beat Auburn for the first time since 1955. That's six victories.

How is that a failure? Sure, a lot of us went crazy when we were 5-0 and started talking about BCS bowls. But in retrospect, we had to make a great run to end up with six victories. Think about it: We've got better depth and talent than we've had in a long time, but it's still not SEC-caliber. So our guys play out of their minds, we play to our strengths, we get some breaks, our coaches make some adjustments and we're 5-0. Then we lose guys to injuries, teams take us seriously, we don't get some breaks, we run out of tricks.

But we still get six victories. Would fans rather trade the Auburn and South Carolina victories for wins against, say, Duke and Miss State?

I wouldn't. Six wins is six wins. And as somebody who lives in Auburn country, it was beautiful beating the Tigers and precipitating their disastrous slide.

Speaking of Auburn, think about the expectations for that program. If Vanderbilt fans really expect to win more than three times as many games as the experts predicted (2), then think about Auburn fans. Experts predicted Auburn to go at least 10-2 and play in the SEC championship. That's why Tuberville just got fired/retired/was loyal to assistant coaches/refused to stay/whatever Auburn people are calling his recent firing.

That's why I'm glad Vanderbilt won six games this season. Bobby Johnson took the next step, which was six wins and bowl eligibility. His next step after this will be to maintain and then build. I think success would be winning six or seven the next year or two and then seven or eight for a couple of years after that. Maybe we have an off year — five wins — every now and then.

But do we really expect Vanderbilt to start winning nine or 10 games a year and challenging for a BCS bowl? Maybe if we leave the SEC and go to C-USA.

Remember that Tuberville averaged 8 wins over 10 seasons. Oh yeah, and he made four times as much money as Bobby Johnson.

Which brings me to another point: Sure, we could have beaten Miss State, Duke and Tennessee this season to go 9-3 and get a bid in the Outback or Cotton or maybe even the Capital One Bowl? We were that close. But then what would have happened?

Bobby Johnson would be gone to Clemson or Auburn or somewhere willing to throw a bunch of money at him.

Or Vanderbilt fans suddenly would have expected to win nine games every season, and then Johnson would have struggled as anybody who coaches Vanderbilt will do and then he's kicked to the curb — remember George MacIntyre? — and we return to the nightmarish days of Watson Brown, when we wouldn't just lose, we'd fail to cross midfield.

Think about all this the next time you decide to get into a urinating match online with a Tennessee fan. They have different expectations. They're supposed to play in the SEC championship every season and they're supposed to feel superior to us. I read a comment today from a UT fan asking when our commemorative six-win license plates were coming out to replace the commemorative Volunteer national championship plates.

I laughed. Not bad. Am I going to argue that we'll ever have a more storied program than the Vols? No way. I know who I am. I'm a Vanderbilt fan, and I'm proud we've won six games this season and I look forward to winning seven games in a season someday soon. (Hey, it might even be this season.)


Anonymous said...

Great post to put things in perspective. I must admit that my own expectations were raised to an unrealistically high level after the 5-0 start. But in retrospect, going to a bowl should be considered a successful season. And let's not forget that we finished ahead of LSU, Auburn, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Mississippi State (and tied with South Carolina) in the SEC. Not bad for a team that was predicted to finish at the bottom.

Stanimal said...

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Will do, Stanimal. Thanks.