Saturday, December 31, 2011

Vandy's Franklin is playing to win

I like the call on fourth and 3, when Zac Stacy ran toward the line and threw a jump pass to Brandon Barden who was turned the other way and missed the catch.

Cincy scored right before the half, but I still like the call. Franklin's playing to win, and we're having trouble stopping the run and moving the ball.

I look forward to seeing how we adjust. Sure, it would be nice to win and have a winning season, but our ultimate goal is not 7-6 seasons. We're building to something bigger.

Well, as long as Eric Samuels doesn't keep returning kicks. We start the second half in a huge hole after Samuels' fumble.

Go Dores.

Checking in at kickoff of the Liberty Bowl

Checking back in after a long winter's nap.

Looking forward to watching Vandy play in a bowl, and expecting our offense to be much better than it was three years ago in the Music City Bowl.

While Cincy has a pretty good run defense, it shouldn't be anywhere as stout as the Boston College front line in 2008, which was anchored by B.J. Raji.

Glad we're getting to face Cincy's normal starting quarterback.

Not so concerned about this game or the matchups, but am mainly focused on the positive direction in which our program's headed.

The thing I'm most excited about is our recruiting, which is shaping up nicely. Lots of sharp prospects visiting campus in the next three weeks, and in some cases Coach Franklin and our coaches will have their pick between a couple of prospects at key positions like receiver and linebacker. Word is that Franklin's still looking to recruit a quarterback, probably somebody who's verbally committed somewhere else.

As for Gunner Keil, it's a positive that the nation's No. 1 quarterback had Vandy in his top three. Some Vandy fans thought we didn't need a quarterback, and others thought Kiel had made a bad decision by choosing the Tigers over VU, which by all accounts is academically superior.

I disagree with both positions. Vandy still needs another quarterback, and still has a long way to go with its passing game. And if my kid's a quarterback with NFL potential, I'd rather he be playing behind 330-pound linemen, and heck, it'd be fun to go watch him play in front of crowds of 100,000. And as for education, you can get a good education anywhere, even Tennessee, especially if you know what you want to study. And sure, James Franklin's a great teacher, but so is Steve Kragthorpe at LSU.

So I'm not bitter at all. I wish Kiel the best, and I look forward to seeing who we sign. I'll have more on that later.

Go Dores!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Vandy's ranked a lot lower than Cincy, but still favored to win the Liberty Bowl

Vandy is a 3-point favorite over Cincinnati in the Liberty Bowl, which is kind of interesting because the Bearcats are ranked No. 27 in the BCS, 21 points higher in the BCS than the No. 48 Commodores.

No other team outranked by that much is favored to win. And only seven other matchups out of the 33 other bowls features a lower ranked team that’s favored in the opening line. Here are those seven matchups:

• No. 72 Utah State favored by 3.5 over No. 64 Ohio in the Potato Bowl.
• No. 74 Florida International favored by 4.5 over No. 60 Marshall in the St. Petersburg Bowl.
• No. 55 North Carolina State favored by 1.5 over No. 38 Louisville in the Belk Bowl.
• No. 61 Illinois favored by 3 over No. 54 UCLA in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
• No. 13 Michigan favored by 1.5 over No. 11 Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.
• No. 62 Pittsburgh favored by 5.5 over No. 57 SMU in the Compass Bowl.
• No. 35 Arkansas State favored by 1 over No. 34 Northern Illinois in the GoDaddy Bowl.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Vanderbilt's Lafonte Thourogood no longer a quarterback - making room for Gunner Kiel?

Lafonte Thourogood, the four-star athlete that Vandy stole from Virginia Tech on signing day, practiced last night at running back and will make the move from quarterback.

Thourogood was one of three players – Josh Grady and Kris Kentera being the others – to sign in February as a quarterback. Coach James Franklin emphatically stated on signing day that all three were quarterbacks.

That’s because he’d promised all of them the opportunity to compete for the quarterback job.

At the same time, he was telling reporters that Lafonte could change positions anytime Lafonte wanted. In other words, Lafonte came to Vanderbilt because he wanted to play quarterback, not because Vanderbilt wanted him to play quarterback.

Franklin said after last night’s practice that Thourogood came into his office and asked to change positions, but that it was something he wanted too.

“He wants an opportunity to play next year,” Franklin said, “and looking at our situation at quarterback he didn’t think that was going to happen.”

Smart kid. Jordan Rodgers grabbed the starting job this year and will only get better. Austyn Carta-Samuels, the transfer from Wyoming who was MVP of the New Mexico Bowl as a freshman and captain of the Cowboys as a sophomore, has been sharp on the scout team this year and will push Rodgers in the spring.

In fact, Grady and Kentera have been lining up at scout team receiver to catch passes from Carta-Samuels. But Grady is an impressive leader and continues to show potential to be a dual-threat quarterback in the SEC. Kentera, a wing-T quarterback in high school whose only major offer was from Vandy, is considered a project. Both will get some more time to develop as a signal-caller.

How much time?

It depends. For 2012, Vandy is set with Rodgers as its quarterback, with Carta-Samuels and Grady competing for the backup job as well as the starting job for 2013. Meanwhile, Kentera gets more time to develop as a quarterback.

But if Gunner Kiel, the nation’s No. 1 QB who by the way attended Vandy’s Liberty Bowl announcement party on Sunday night, shocks the world and signs with Vandy, then he’ll likely enroll early and play in the spring. That means everybody, even Rodgers, will feel the heat. Rodgers would likely start, but how sincere is Franklin’s sales pitch to “Come to Vanderbilt and play right away” if the nation’s No. 1 quarterback redshirts?

If Kiel did redshirt, he’d be groomed as a four-year starter, and suddenly Carta-Samuels is looking at finishing his career as a backup and Grady is switching to receiver or defensive back. Meanwhile, Kentera would likely fit whatever role – backup quarterback or maybe receiver or safety – in which he could most help the team.

Franklin is proving himself to be a shrewd collector of talent. We’ve said all along that he’s going to eventually get a blue chip quarterback to develop. It takes time to get one of those, and if he doesn’t get Kiel then Carta-Samuels and Grady will man the fort while Franklin keeps recruiting.

Neither Thourogood, Grady or Kentera was his quarterback of the future. As he said last night: “It wasn’t like we recruited three guys who could only play quarterback. We knew they’re athletic enough to play other positions and help us in other areas. You’re not gonna sign three drop-back quarterbacks where that’s the only position they can play.”

In other words, these guys can play quarterback if we don’t get our superstar drop-back passer, and they can change positions if we do.

Gunner Kiel would not be moving to wide receiver or safety. Ever.

As for Thourogood, Franklin said after practice that “he came out here and did a great job and the guys were very supportive of him and excited about watching him do some things… Instead of waiting till spring ball, I thought it was great on his part from a maturity standpoint to realize this is an opportunity to get some work in so when spring ball comes he’s further ahead.”

Now think about our running back situation for next year. We’ll have:

• Zac Stacy, senior, a 1,000-yard rusher and All-SEC performer
• Warren Norman, redshirt junior, former SEC freshman of the year who started his first two seasons ahead of Stacy
• Jerron Seymour, sophomore, who showed flashes of brilliance while rotating with Stacy
• Brian Kimbrow, freshman, the fastest man in high school football who’ll likely start his career as a return specialist and an all-purpose back for the Commodores
• Mitchell Hester, redshirt freshman, another speedster who was impressive in preseason camp
• Jaborian McKenzie, freshman, another solid recruit with speed and ball skills

Oh, and Thourogood, a big, strong athlete. And right now we’re the front-runner for Wes Brown, a big (at least by our standards) four-star running back.

Not all these guys will play running back, but they’ll play somewhere. Will Lafonte stick at quarterback? Who knows? Maybe he'll line up next year at wide receiver. Lots of folks think he'd make an outstanding outside linebacker. Can you imagine him at safety? The point is, Lafonte's position is now "not a quarterback," which means he's free to move around and find a home. He's a stud, and he's going to play somewhere.

Go back and watch Franklin’s signing day press conference and you’ll notice that he keeps repeating the word “flexible.” He wants athletes he can move around the field.

It’ll be fun to watch where all these guys play.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Vanderbilt's James Franklin records biggest first-season turnaround among current SEC football coaches

So James Franklin has a new contract and he’s getting new turf, a Jumbotron, and a 120-yard indoor facility.


While we celebrate the fact that we’ve held on to our head coach for at least another season – do you really believe anybody pays attention to contracts anymore? – let’s also celebrate the job he’s doing this season by looking at how his first year compares to that of current SEC head coaches.

Of the 10 other coaches currently in the SEC with at least one year under their belts (still waiting on Houston Nutt’s replacement), they inherited teams with an average of six wins, and they took their teams and they were able to improve their teams’ regular season records by an average of…

Well, actually, they didn’t improve at all. They took teams with an average of six wins and they won an average of six games.

Do you realize that James Franklin’s six wins in his first season surpasses the first-year records of Dan Mullen and Bobby Petrino (five wins each), and equals the six-win first seasons of Will Muschamp, Derek Dooley and – yes – Nick Saban.

But Franklin didn’t win six games with the talent, resources and winning history of Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, Arkansas or even Mississippi State. He inherited a Vanderbilt team that, as he is quick to remind us, had won two games in each of the past two seasons.

Here’s how Franklin ranks among current SEC coaches for team improvement in his first regular season:

1. James Franklin, Vanderbilt: +4 (6 wins with a two-win team)
2. Gene Chizik, Auburn: +2 (7 wins with a 5-win team)
3. Dan Mullen, Miss State: +1 (5 wins with a 4-win team)
4. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina: +1 (7 wins with a 6-win team)
5. Mark Richt, Georgia: +1 (8 wins with a 7-win team)
6. Les Miles, LSU: +1 (10 wins with a 9-win team)
7. Nick Saban, Alabama: Even (6 wins with a 6-win team)
8. Joker Phillips, Kentucky: -1 (6 wins with a 7-win team)
9. Derek Dooley, Tennessee: -1 (6 wins with a 7-win team)
10. Will Muschamp, Florida: -1 (6 wins with a 7-win team)
11. Bobby Petrino, Arkansas: -3 (5 wins with an 8-win team)

James Franklin stockpiles talent, but talent isn't everything - just ask Kevin Stallings

Remember all the pleasant surprises we got the week leading up to James Franklin's first signing day? Remember all the kids who'd made commitments to places like Virginia Tech who suddenly decided to commit to Vanderbilt?

Just wait to see what happens these next two months leading up to signing day. James Franklin is on a roll. The guy gets blown out by Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and on the way home he's calling recruits to ask them if they have what it takes to beat the Tide. Then he starts going toe-to-toe with Georgia and Arkansas and beating teams he should beat (Army) and walloping teams he's supposedly dead-even with (Kentucky and Wake Forest). He even turns a potentially demoralizing loss in Knoxville into a motivational tool.

Yes, he's leaving wounds open. No, this isn't the same old Vandy. Yes, he's staying in Nashville because he's creating a winning culture here and he loves his players.

Bobby Johnson steadily improved the quality and depth of talent at Vandy, and then Franklin arrived and said it wasn't good enough and now he's competing for players we never dreamed of getting, including the No. 1 quarterback in America.

And the exciting thing is, we believe he'll know what to do with all this talent when he gets it. Yes, it takes more than talent to win. Just ask the Vanderbilt basketball team, which is loaded with four- and five-star talent and doesn't know how to finish games, rise to the occasion, make clutch plays, or beat teams they're supposed to beat.

But that's another subject. There are no moral victories in Vanderbilt basketball, just like there will soon be no moral victories in Vanderbilt football.

(Sure, James Franklin says there are no moral victories, but the day he stops talking about how his margin of loss against top teams is getting smaller is the day when there are no more moral victories in Vanderbilt football, which will also be the day we'll need to reconsider the name of our blog.)

Anyway, we've got a big-league recruiter who plays to win. Is this a great time to be a Vandy football fan or what?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

James Franklin to Penn State rumors are good news for Vanderbilt

If you're freaking out over rumors of James Franklin jumping ship to Penn State, just stop it right now.

We want these rumors to heat up, and we want Penn State and any other powerhouse programs with coaching vacancies to think they have a shot at Franklin — why would they think otherwise? — and to come calling.

Why? Because it puts Vanderbilt and Franklin in the national spotlight. All those four-star verbal commitments suddenly want to know if Franklin's staying, because they're not signing with the Commodores if he's not. And all the other blue chippers that Franklin's trying to woo suddenly want to know the same thing.

I bet the kids are Twittering up a storm about now. Sure, kids are saying they'll de-commit if he leaves. But at the same time, I guarantee you that kids are deciding they'll commit if he stays. It's great publicity, and we want the rumors to run wild.

That's because I believe Franklin stays. For the past year, he's been doing a lot of talking about how he's changing the culture at Vanderbilt and especially how much he loves his players. A coach who leaves after one year hasn't changed the culture and he doesn't love his players. But if James Franklin is a legitimate candidate for one of the best jobs in college football — and in his home state, no less — and he stays, then he's sending a message that:

1. He's staying in Nashville for the foreseeable future, and he believes he can win here.
2. He believes he is changing the culture at Vanderbilt.
3. He does love his players.
4. Some of the best players in America will realize that and will sign with Vandy.
5. He's the real deal.

I believe Franklin is the real deal. Of course, the administration has to pony up with an indoor practice facility, stadium improvements and a new football marketing plan to send HIM the message that they're serious about winning. I believe it will do that.

Might we be having this same discussion in four years, which happens to be the same amount of time it took Jim Harbaugh to turn Stanford into a national contender? Absolutely. I think Franklin will eventually be an NFL head coach. But if we are having this same discussion in four years, then Franklin has proven that Vanderbilt can win big, and he'll be leaving the program in good shape and in good hands.

So rest easy. And if Franklin does jump ship, then those comparisons to Lane Kiffin (young guy who'll promise you everything and then leave in the night) are justified and we didn't want him anyway.

That's not the case, as we're about to find out.