Saturday, February 28, 2009

Face it, Vanderbilt's got a heck of an intramural program

The fellows over at VSL have declared, and I quote, a "jihad" on AJC columnist Mark Bradley for referring to the Commodores as an intramural team. You guys taking a class on the Middle East or just watching a lot of cable news?

I actually thought Bradley's comments were funny. Here's what he said about Bobby Johnson:

"Everybody likes him. Even rival coaches like him. Except when they lose to him and his intramural team. Then they hate him for getting them fired."

Yes, that's really how other universities and their coaches and fans think about Vanderbilt. We don't even have an athletic department. Instead of an athletic director, the football program falls under David Williams, the Vice Chancellor for University Affairs and Student Athletics. Vanderbilt has a different approach than other universities. Here's what Williams says in the football media guide:

"We believe in a well-rounded experience for our student-athletes that includes academics, athletics, community involvement, and a college social life. It will make them better in all areas. At Vanderbilt, while we strive to win, we define winning very broadly."

I promise you no one in the media guides for Florida, Georgia, Tennessee or Alabama says, "We define winning very broadly."

Nobody at any other SEC university expects to lose to Vanderbilt. And when they do lose to the Commodores or have worse records than the Commodores, their coaches do get fired. I've documented this pretty well in the past. You can ask Tommy Tuberville, Tony Franklin, Ray Goff, Ed Orgeron and the list goes on and on.

I don't always agree with Bradley. But what he says here, I think, is funny. And true. No, our football team's not wearing flags and playing the Buzz Kills for the championship. But our football team and football players are more a part of student life — on days other than Saturdays in the fall — than you'll find on any other SEC campus.

So lighten up, fellas. And let's all have a laugh when our intramural squad gets another coach fired.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Least irritating doesn't mean the best, but it doesn't mean the worst either

Obviously, Mark Bradley's list of most irritating coaches is just one of the many tricks sports writers employ to fill up space in February. And I agree with him that Bobby Johnson is one of the least irritating coaches. Which of course does not say anything about his performance on the field. In fact, guys are pretty much more irritating when they win and less irritating when they lose, which is why Steve Spurrier's pain in the butt stock has dropped so much since he moved to Columbia, and why Lane Kiffin will probably not stay at the top of the list.

But I still think Bobby Johnson is an excellent coach. He was pretty easy to like when he was 5-0 last year — in fact, he was the darling of college football — and I suspect he'll be pretty easy to like even if his Commodores go on another winning streak. Or even if he'd beaten Miss State and Duke last season and gotten a job offer from Clemson and gone there to coach.

At least he bears a passing resemblance to Steve Martin.

But it's late February and we're just taking up space until something real happens.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

At least we've got the least irritating coach in the SEC — Vanderbilt's Bobby Johnson

Boy, the accolades just keep rolling in for the football Commodores. Today Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution named Bobby Johnson the least irritating coach in the SEC. (No. 1 is Lane Kiffin, No. 2 Nick Saban. Expect Kiffin to drop down the irritating list once his team takes the field; you've got to win to be really irritating.)

Bad news for Vanderbilt: D.J. Moore slows down, Ted Cain's still calling plays, hoopsters might sneak into NIT

Yesterday was a blah day for Commodore fans.

For starters, D.J. Moore had a bad workout at the NFL combine and may have dropped out of the first round.

Then Bobby Johnson announced some "promotions" on the football coaching staff. Nope, none of them involve the offense. Bruce Fowler moves from defensive coordinator to assistant head coach in charge of the defense. Jamie Bryant, the secondary coach, moves from special teams coordinator to defensive coordinator. And defensive line coach Rick Logo and running backs coach Des Kitchings become special teams co-coordinators. Nice to see only minor adjustments to the defense. Maybe Johnson's now turning his thoughts to whether Ted Cain should still call the plays on offense. Doubt it.

Oh yeah, and then the basketball team goes down to Athens and loses to the Bulldogs, which previously had a single conference win on the season. So if Vanderbilt loses out the rest of the season, which is not beyond the realm of possibility, it'll be 16-15 on the season with a probable NIT bid.

Who would have thought the football team would have finished with a higher winning percentage than the basketball team?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

OK, go ahead and call Vanderbilt "Vandy"

Do you refer to Vanderbilt as "Vandy"?

It has half the letters and, if spoken, 33.3 percent fewer syllables. And it makes a terribly formal name familiar, affectionate. Like calling Archibald "Archie" or Elizabeth "Beth."

Of course it can be used disparagingly, and it's only one "C" away from "Candy." Just ask any Vol fan who visits Vandy message boards.

Anyway, last fall when the football Commodores were racing to 5-0, the Tennessean's Mo Patton opined on his blog that Vandy — I mean Vanderbilt — fans should stop calling their team "Vandy." Just didn't seem right to call a team as dangerous as the Commodores "Vandy."

"I've been waging my own personal crusade for as long as I've been on the beat," Mo wrote. "If the five-letter word is ever under my name, rest assured I didn't write it. Stop the madness. Stop 'Vandy'."

So moved was I by Mo's argument that I stopped calling Vanderbilt "Vandy," at least until the loss to Duke. But generally I've tried to avoid that term.

Then today I see the above photo of the Vanderbilt baseball team. I mean the Vandy baseball team. Tim Corbin's Commodores, as you know, are as close to a collegiate powerhouse as we've got. Well, outside of the women's bowling team.

So if Tim Corbin's willing to call his team Vandy, then I'm OK with it.

Oh, and it's too hard for the students to chant "Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt, oh hell yeah."

But maybe I should stop referring to Maurice as "Mo."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Vanderbilt's D.J. Moore speeding toward the NFL draft

D.J. Moore is still being projected to go in the first round of the NFL draft next month. No doubt we're going to miss him. It's almost funny, though, to read such hypercritical analysis of him. Most analysts are saying he'd be a high first-rounder if he were two inches taller. Sure, and Reshard Langford would be a first rounder if you shaved only two-tenths of a second off his 40 time. And Chris Nickson might be drafted if he could put the ball two feet closer to his receivers.

As it stands, D.J. should go in the bottom of the first round unless he wows the folks at the combine, which is highly possible. Here's a kid nobody but Vanderbilt wanted and he's been wowing the rest of the SEC since the day he hit the field. And he's got no shortage of confidence.

Yes, he's short, and nowhere was that more apparent than in the first quarter of the Georgia game when A.J. Green made him look about four feet tall. You could see the eyes of all those fans wearing red and black just light up. But then D.J. held him in check for the rest of the game and the Commodores actually had a chance in the end.

So if scouts are going to mention a couple of plays they saw on film, they should also go ahead and watch the entire game. And then they should watch the Kentucky game, in which D.J. caught two touchdown passes and grabbed two interceptions.

And who did he burn for one of those touchdowns?

Trevard Lindley, who enters next season as the No. 1 ranked cornerback prospect in the nation.

Monday, February 23, 2009

We're a national powerhouse... in women's bowling

Sure, I've been advising caution for Vanderbilt fans excited about the 2009 football season. And the basketball team appears headed to the NIT. And the baseball team is uncharacteristically unranked.

So can we gloat about anything?

Yes. Women's bowling.

Vanderbilt's women bowlers, the 2007 national champions and this year's favorite to win again, just finished a tournament in Indianapolis in which they finished third out of 27 club teams. They spanked Lindenwood to make the semi-finals and then faced Central Florida.

In the first round of the best-of-five contest, UCF got hot and rolled a 253 to win, then won 182-174. But then Vanderbilt won 176-173.

The fourth game went down to the 10th frame, but UCF prevailed 177-176. UCF went on to face powerhouse Pikeville in the championship match.

But these were club teams, not NCAA teams like Vanderbilt, so the statistics won't count. Thank heavens.

Anyway, just thought I'd give you a little bowling action on a Monday morning to get the blood flowing.

You're welcome.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Focus of Vanderbilt spring football: expounding on three points from Chris Low

You know I think Chris Low does a fine job tracking all the teams in the SEC on his blog. On Friday, he listed concerns for each SEC team going into spring practice. For Vanderbilt, those were finding replacements in the secondary, settling on a starting quarterback and improving the passing game, and helping the offensive line gel as a unit while finding punch in the running game.

Here's what I think:


I agree with Low that it'll be a challenge replacing corner D.J. Moore and safety Reshard Langford. I disagree with Low that it'll be a challenge replacing nickleback Darlron Spead, because Spead (above photo) is a redshirt junior who should return next season. Spead was dynamite last season until he broke his leg in the South Carolina game at the tail end of a 41-yard interception return. But yes, Myron Lewis can be an all-star cornerback, and yes, Ryan Hamilton was one of the league's most underrated players last season. And yes, Sean Richardson is the heir apparent to Langford at strong safety and Casey Hayward will get every chance to replace Moore at corner — both guys played as true freshmen and came up big in the Music City Bowl. And yes, redshirt sophomore Alan Strong will get a shot at cornerback too. I would add Brent Trice, a rare true senior who played linebacker last season and could always return to safety; senior Joel Caldwell, a returning backup safety; and two redshirt freshmen, cornerback Micah Powell and safety Al Owens. And don't be surprised to see true freshmen Eric Samuels and Trey Wilson get some playing time in the opener against Western Carolina. Also, don't be surprised if the Commodores give receiver Jamie Graham another look in the secondary during the spring — in addition to more practice time at tailback.


I agree that the quarterback race will be interesting and that Johnson has no qualms about playing a passel of quarterbacks if he has to. Expect Larry Smith to eventually get the nod, with Adams maintaining his reputation as the most battle-tested and game-ready backup in the SEC. Also, expect rising junior Jared Funk to get plenty of snaps in the spring and one last chance to compete for playing time. If he can't, it'll be Smith-Adams next season, with Charlie Goro getting every shot to earn the backup position as a redshirt freshman in 2010. As for targets, next year's quarterbacks will have plenty of them: Returning starters Graham and Justin Wheeler, backups Udom Umoh and Alex Washington, redshirt freshmen John Cole and Akeem Dunham, and transfers Terrence Jeffers and Tray Herndon. And don't forget true freshman Brady Brown. As for tight ends, Brandon Barden, Austin Monahan and Justin Green return, and true freshman Mason Johnston could get some playing time too. Running back Jared Hawkins does a nice job catching passes out of the backfield, too, which is also a strength of true freshman Warren Norman.


Of course, having all five starters returning on the offensive line should help the passing game. But the real concern — at least for anybody who witnessed the Commodores' pathetic performance on third and one in the Music City Bowl — is the power running game. I agree with Low that Coach Robbie Caldwell will help these guys get better. Center Bradley Vierling, tackle Thomas Welch and guard Eric Hensley provide senior leadership, and junior Reilly Lauer and sophomore Kyle Fischer round out the starting lineup. Depth and competition will come from junior Joey Bailey, senior Ryan Custer, sophomore Jamie Williams, and redshirt freshmen Michael Bryant, Richard Cagle and Caleb Welchans. Yes, while Jared Hawkins is sitting out the spring with a foot injury, expect to see lots of Gaston Miller, Kennard Reeves, Jermaine Doster and Ryan van Rensburg. Expect a healthy Hawkins to have a big senior season but are any of those other guys really the answer? And no, we won't miss Jeff Jennings. Expect Jamie Graham to get some spring snaps at tailback — in addition to just about everywhere else — and then in August expect to see at least one of the true freshmen — Wesley Tate, Zac Stacy or Warren Norman — challenge for serious playing time. There's been a lot of buzz about Stacy, who looks physically ready and who had stupendous schoolboy stats, but we'll have to wait and see.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Dores get chomped in Gainesville

We play a disappointing game against Florida, falling behind big in the first half then losing 82-68. This one's not worth analyzing. I still say we have a talented young team that will be a contender next season, and I still think Stallings has done a nice job bringing these guys together after a 1-5 start. We're now 5-7 (16-10 overall) with four league games left.

We can finish .500 in the SEC if we win out at home (South Carolina and Auburn) and win one out of two on the road (Georgia and LSU).

Don't take the Georgia game for granted. Remember that the Bulldogs beat this same Florida team in Athens last week.

Have a good Saturday night.

Saturday afternoon smackdown

Florida is beating the — um, how can I say this without using profanity? — Florida is beating the black and gold out of us right now in Gainesville. It's 30-17 late in the first half. Oh, make that 32-17. No, 34-17. I'd better sign off before it's 100-17.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Mark Richt and Bobby Johnson might resist the temptation to cheat — but Johnson's the true saint

In an interview on the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer's Georgia football blog, Georgia Athletic Director Damon Evans addresses all those rumors that crazed Vol fans have been spreading about Coach Mark Richt since Lane The Mouth said he was going to build a wall around Tennessee and then Richt jumped over the wall and grabbed 6-foot-5 wide receiver Marlon Brown, who by the way will make one heck of a scary bookend to Bulldog wideout A.J. Green.

You know how The Mouth tried to make calling a recruit while he was on a trip to another school sound like a death penalty violation? Apparently so is happening to love Jesus when a player's grandmother also happens to love Jesus.

Anyway, Evans said this about Richt:

"We have a guy leading us who has a high level of integrity."

And then he added this:

"And we're in a place where we don't need to cheat to have success here."

That makes for quite a motto: We don't cheat... and we don't even need to.

At Vanderbilt, the football team IS in a place where it needs to cheat to have success, at least the kind of success that teams like Georgia have.

I've been reading "The Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell and he asserts that many people appear to be good not because they are innately good but because they're not put in a situation in which they have to be bad.

I'm not trying to say whether Mark Richt is innately or situationally good. He's just not in a situation where he has to be bad.

But I am suggesting that in terms of running a college football program in a BCS conference, Bobby Johnson is a saint. He's resisted the temptation to try to find a quick fix. He does things the right way, and last season his team actually went to a bowl and had a winning season.

Johnson won't be rewarded every season. Vanderbilt fans need to remember that and be thankful that he's not going to cheat — even if he has to.

Vanderbilt continues domination over Auburn

Last night at Memorial, the Lady Commodores handed the Lady Tigers their second loss of the season, further establishing Vanderbilt's mastery over Auburn in the 2008-2009 sports season.

Less than a month ago, our male hoopsters beat Auburn. Of course, we're following this train of thought only so we can once again mention our 14-13 victory over the then-No. 13 football Tigers, who all but assumed they'd do to the Dores what they'd been doing to us since 1955. But the Tigers lost and were so psychologically devastated that the only team they beat for the rest of the season was Tennessee-Martin, and they struggled to do that. (Of course, you could argue that we had problems of our own after that game, winning only one of our next seven games. But we did go to a bowl and beat the team with the highest bowl winning percentage of all time.)

Anyway, we've thoroughly dominated the Tigers if you don't count indoor men's tennis and women's soccer.

But if Auburn had a women's bowling team, you can rest assured we'd kick their butts. Vanderbilt is to women's collegiate bowling what the Freaking Florida Gators are to college football.

We can continue our domination when the baseball team visits the Plains on March 27-29 (6 p.m. CT Friday, 3 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday). If you live in the area, you should go. Plainsman Park is nice and the Auburn folks are always warm and friendly.

Unless you mention the numbers 14 and 13.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Once again, Bobby Johnson shows he's the right coach for Vanderbilt

At halftime of the Kentucky game Tuesday night, Bobby Johnson stood at center court with his team and the Music City Bowl trophy. Memorial Gym was packed and the place was going nuts. Johnson was holding the microphone and he was supposed to say something to pump up the crowd even more.

It was one of those moments when a coach can let his words get away from him. When a coach might decide to tell 15,000 of his closest friends something they should all keep just between them. (See: Lane Kiffin at any booster function.)

What would Woody Widenhofer have done in this situation? Now that's an interesting question. Woody once actually guaranteed his Commodores were going to a bowl. But that wasn't before the season — it was in the middle of the season... when his team was 1-5... and their next game was against Steve Spurrier's undefeated Florida Gators.

On Tuesday night, Johnson held the microphone and absorbed the scene. You could see him scrolling down a list of things he could say, like Arnold Schwarzenegger's computer brain in the Terminator.

• More wins next year? Delete.

• Victory over Tennessee? Delete.

• A bigger and better bowl? Delete.

• Hello, BCS? Delete.

• Highest graduation rate in America? Select and activate voice modulation software.

Yes, Johnson mentioned that his team has the highest graduation rate in America. Here's what else he said:

• The team was fantastic.

• His coaching staff was fantastic.

• The students are the best in the conference.

• The fans are tremendous.

And then he finished up with "It's great to be a Commodore!"

Coach Johnson gets it. Last season wasn't easy and the next one won't be any easier. For all those Vandy fans who would like to hear Bobby Johnson predict a BCS bowl for the team and, I don't know, a Heisman trophy for Jared Hawkins, wake up and smell the coffee.

Remember that last season we caught four of our five counterparts from the SEC East — Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky — in rebuilding seasons and we managed to upset half of them. (The fifth team, Florida, won the national championship.) Don't pencil in any of those as wins. From the West, we get sudden powerhouse Ole Miss and a talented Miss State squad coached by Florida's offensive coordinator, and we trade Auburn at home for LSU in Baton Rouge. On the non-conference side, we face an extremely dangerous Georgia Tech team, as well as bowl champions Rice in Houston.

We'll be lucky if we're favored to win four games next season.

So Bobby Johnson thanks everybody for last season, and knows it has nothing to do with next season. His team will still be projected near the bottom of the SEC cellar.

Doing things the right way is what got him and his team out there on center court Tuesday.

And he's not going to stop doing — and saying — things the right way.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Big-Blue beatdown turns thoughts to the future

Ah, nothing has the healing powers of a win over Kentucky. Now Tennessee's Valentine's Day massacre feels like just a little bump in a six game stretch during which the Commodores have won five games.

And the 77-64 win makes it four straight over the Cats in Memorial, plus six wins against them in the last eight games.

The freshman Lance Goulbourne said the old gym was shaking. He’s going to help keep it that way. The kid scored 17 points in 22 minutes, including three treys and a stupendous dunk attempt — all with a hurt groin.

Throw in Jeffery Taylor, who had five offensive rebounds and 14 points, and we’ve got two long, athletic slashing wing men who can keep us from being the plodding thinking-man’s Dores of years gone by.

Of course, Jeff played some defense, too, helping hold Jodie Meeks to 26 points.

Let’s face it: Meeks is the real deal. When the opposing coach designs his whole game plan around you and shadows you with tall and quick defenders whose only mission is to deny you the ball and keep you from even attempting a shot and you still score 26 points, then you’re a big-time stud.

Coach Stallings was right to mention Patrick Patterson’s absence early in his post-game press conference. That certainly contributed to Vanderbilt’s victory.

Other highlights:
• Dolla Beal had a nice night with 17 points including a perfect 10 from the line and a very big driving bucket in the second half when the Cats seemed to be starting a little run.
• AJ got a little nasty out there. He’s not the most athletic guy in the world, but he seemed to enjoy banging around inside and he picked up tough rebounds and buckets and went to the line nine times, making seven of them. He finished with 15 points and eight boards. His technical was kind of weak, though — he was just trying to protect his chest region and couldn't help that he's so tall his elbow lined up near the other guy's head.
• Steve Tchiengang blocked two Jodie Meeks shots in the paint in a matter of seconds. Guys like him and Goulbourne are going to make it tough for guys like George Drake and Darshawn McClellan to maintain their minutes.

Stallings is doing a fine job with this team. Remember that three weeks ago we were 1-5 in the conference — with the seventh-youngest team in the nation out of more than 300 teams — and now we’re 5-6. If we can win our remaining home games (South Carolina on Feb. 28 and Arkansas on March 8), beat Georgia in Athens (Feb. 25) and steal one out of two more on the road (Florida on Saturday and LSU on March 4) then we’ll finish with a winning conference record. We’d probably still need to win one or maybe two in the tournament to get an NCAA bid, but you never know.

But the big thing to look forward to is next season, when we get everybody back from this team, plus super scorer John Jenkins, who rang up 60 points the other night, and the versatile sophomore Andre Walker, who’s taking a redshirt this season because of injury.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Kentucky no longer home to Vanderbilt players

When I first started following Vanderbilt basketball in 1986, the thing that made our rivalry with Kentucky so exciting was the fact that many of our players were from the Bluegrass State. Barry Goheen, a guy too goofy to play in his home state, became one of the greatest clutch shooters in college basketball history, not to mention my favorite Commodore hoopster. Other Kentucky guys to don black and gold included Scott Draud, Frank Kornet and Derrick Wilcox.

Ever since then, it seems like at least one go-to guy for the Commodores is from Kentucky, at least he becomes the go-to guy when he faces the vaunted boys in blue from his home state. Remember Ross Nelter, who single-handedly outscored the Cats during the first half in Nashville last season, prompting the crowd to chant "Nelter's winning."

Not this year. Nobody in Vanderbilt's 10-deep playing rotation is from Kentucky. We've got two walk-ons from KY, Aaron Noll and Jordan Smart. Smart, a freshman from Lexington, has received a scholarship "for 2008-2009," according to the media guide, implying that the scholarship may not be good beyond 2009.

Meanwhile, four Commodores who'll be on the court tonight are from foreign countries — starters A.J. Ogilvy of Australia, Jeffery Taylor of Sweden and Steve Tcheingang of Cameroon and backup Festus Ezeli of Nigeria.

In fact, Kentucky doesn't have any Bluegrass starters, only backups Jared Carter, a senior, and Darius Miller, a freshman.

When both teams tip off tonight, seven different states and three different countries will be represented in the starting lineups.

The world is flat indeed.

Anyway, tipoff's at 9 pm Eastern Time on ESPN.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Vanderbilt football takes the hardwood Tuesday night — hey, put Marve on Meeks

On Tuesday night during halftime of the Vanderbilt-Kentucky basketball game in Nashville, the football team will be honored for its Music City Bowl championship. Nice night for it, considering there will be a packed house because everybody loves either watching the Wildcats win or lose. And Kentucky's the team the Commodores beat to become bowl eligible.

Maybe Jodie Meeks will watch the ceremony and be so overcome with emotion by the story of the Music City Champion Dores that his jump shot will fall short for the rest of the evening. Or linebacker Chris Marve will suit up and strip the ball from him at the three-point line, though he'd almost surely be called for a foul.

Happy President's Day.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Freshmen carrying load for basketball Commodores

How young is Vanderbilt's basketball team this season? Well, five of the seven players with the most playing time in yesterday's beat-down in Knoxville were freshmen.

Brad Tinsley led all players with 36 minutes. Two upperclassmen — Jermaine Beal (31) and A.J. Ogilvy (27) were next in minutes, followed by four more freshmen: Steve Tchiengang (25), Jeffery Taylor (20), Lance Goulbourne (20) and Festus Ezeli (14).

Tchiengang and Ezeli would have likely played more if each hadn't rang up four fouls.

That's Tchiengang pictured above, just one of the many Dores taken to school Saturday by Tyler Smith.

Sophomore Darshawn McClellan was next with 12 minutes, followed by Charles Hinkle with 10. So six of the nine main guys on Saturday were freshmen.

Is there another team in America who plays as many frosh?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Did Vanderbilt play a basketball game today?

The Vanderbilt-Tennessee game didn't air in my part of Georgia. I had sort of planned to follow it online but then I took my kids to the ballfield and then to the library and then swam some laps and then ran some errands and then grilled some steaks and then ate a Valentine's dinner with my wife and then went to see "Slumdog Millionaire."

And somewhere during all that I remembered the basketball game and checked the score and saw that Vanderbilt had lost 69-50. Sounds a lot like the game in Nashville earlier this year.

Glad I missed it. Just saw where Bobby O'Shea over at VSL watched the game and live-blogged. Doh.

Hope you had a good day and missed the game too.

Yesterday, Vanderbilt-Tennessee rivalry was intense — today: still intense

On Thursday, Kevin Stallings and Bruce Pearl answered questions about the intensity of the rivalry between their two teams, and the effect Pearl has had on it.

On Friday, we went to the Commodores official site, took some of those quotes and used them here — postulating, of course, that the rivalry has always been intense.

Once again proving that full-time sports journalism is a sweet profession, at least until your big newspaper chain decides it would rather stay in business, Mo Patton has a story in today's Tennessean about how the rivalry between Vanderbilt and Tennessee is as intense as ever.

Mo's story consists of:

• Part of the quote I ran here yesterday from Stallings about Pearl being flamboyant. (But we here at Moral Victory! were careful to include with our quote a photo of Coach Pearl with an admirer on a boat to show that Stallings meant heterosexually flamboyant.)

• A quote from former Dore and current broadcaster Barry Booker, who by the way is one of the nicest people you'll ever meet, saying that the rivalry is indeed as intense as ever, in large part because of Pearl's orange jacket.

• A quote from VU guard Jermaine Beal talking about what a big game this is.

• A quote from VU guard George Drake talking about what a big game this is.

At least Mo had time to update his blog. Whoops. Just checked Mo's blog and the newest post is last week's piece about the Ole Miss game being televised.

By the way, today's VU-UT game is at 3 pm ET today in Knoxville, televised in random markets by Raycom.

Friday, February 13, 2009

How Bruce Pearl changed the world

At a press conference the other day, somebody asked Kevin Stallings how the presence of Bruce Pearl has intensified the Vanderbilt-Tennessee rivalry.

He had a pretty good answer:

"I don't know. I would say that the head coaches are more caretakers of it than anything else. I think that it's always been pretty intense. I think that any time the two teams play it's been intense. The 10 years that I've been here they've all been very intense games. Some have been blow outs in both directions, but they've been intense games. The crowds have been intense. I would imagine because of Bruce's personality and flamboyance there are a few Vanderbilt fans who like to dislike him more than maybe they have some other coaches. I don't think it's changed the nature of the rivalry, because the rivalry's intense no matter who's coaching the game, me or him or the people before us."

When it was Pearl's turn, somebody asked him the same question, if his presence has intensified the rivalry.

He had a pretty good answer:

"I don't know what the rivalry was like before I got here. I just know that historically... Vanderbilt's been a great rival... For me, it's always been out of respect for Vanderbilt's program. It's been out of respect for their tradition to honor them in a way by calling them a rival. I think now that we're in the SEC East and we play them twice a year and it's in-state, our fans live next door to their fans, I don't know how it could be any more of a rivalry with me than it's always been. Even though I don't know what it was like, I would imagine it's always been a great rival."

Vanderbilt fans are basketball fans, possibly because the football team has been so bad for so long and spawns such web sites as Moral Victory! And from a Vanderbilt basketball fan's perspective, it was a great rivalry when Barry Goheen was beating Don Devoe's Vols and it was a great rivalry when Billy McCaffrey was beating Wade Houston's Vols. And when we were beating Kevin O'Neill's Vols and Jerry Green's Vols and Buzz Peterson's Vols and now Bruce Pearl's Vols.

Are Bruce Pearl's Vols fun to beat? Absolutely. But any Vols are fun to beat.

Not that we're going to win tomorrow. But I'm looking forward to the game, and not because the head coach is Mr. Pearl, whom I prefer to refer to by his middle name, Dean-Fredrick.

Have a nice Friday.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Vanderbilt football schedule sees Mississippi flip-flop: It'll be Bulldogs before Rebels

Vanderbilt announced today that it's flip-flopping Ole Miss and Miss State on its schedule.

So instead of following up a road trip to Baton Rouge with a Sept. 19 home date with Ole Miss, which almost surely will be ranked in the preseason Top 10, the Commodores will face Miss State. Of course, facing the maroon dogs is never a walk in the park, as we proved last year, but I'd much rather follow a tough road game against LSU with a game against the lesser of the two teams from the Magnolia state. And I'd rather face a Dan Mullen-coached offense sooner rather than later in the season. The Bulldogs do have lots of talent, but it should take Mullen a while to get his team rolling. Aren't we glad we faced Ole Miss, with new coach Houston Nutt, early rather than late last season?

And we'll get the Bulldogs the week after they play at Auburn.

The Ole Miss game, still in Nashville, is now slated for Oct. 3. We'll be coming off a trip to Houston to face Rice, and we'll travel to Army the following week.

We'll face the Rebels nine days after they play South Carolina on the road in a Thursday night ESPN game — and moving that game to Thursday is what caused the Mississippi flip-flop in the first place. (We all bow down to ESPN.)

Speaking of ESPN games, we don't have any on the schedule so far, though most of the Army games are picked up by the ESPN family — expect our Oct. 10 game with Army to land on ESPNU.

Click here for the revised 2009 Vanderbilt football schedule.

Click here for the best and most quickly updated college football TV schedule I've found on the Web.

Jamie Graham: 100% football player — but where?

So Jamie Graham is no longer a basketball player. But where's he going to be on the football field?

Yesterday, the voice of the Commodores, Joe Fisher, reminded the guys on Nashville's 104.5 The Zone that Jamie's departure from the hoops squad will enable him to participate in spring football practice, where a bunch of wide receivers will be competing for future playing time.

Then Joe mentioned how good Jamie looked at running back in the Wake Forest game, and how he could have a future there.

I'm not so sure about that. Sure, he might run the ball a lot — you know how much Ted Cain loves reverses. And he's a playmaker, the only guy on the team last season to catch a pass, throw a pass, carry the ball and return the ball. But as far as Jamie lining up at tailback on a consistent basis, I hope it doesn't come to that.

Sure, we've got Jared Hawkins, a nice all-purpose back who gained slightly less than 600 yards last season, returning for his senior year. But after that we've got:
• Kennard Reeves, who showed some flashes against Wake Forest.
• Gaston Miller, who got some chances but had trouble holding onto the ball.
• Jermaine Doster, who's sat out the past two seasons.
• Ryan van Rensburg, a redshirt freshman last year and natural fullback who didn't get on the field.

But take away quarterback Chris Nickson, who was our leading rusher.

But add three promising recruits:
• Wesley Tate, a tall, fast back who could be an every down guy.
• Zac Stacy, a shifty, stout little fire plug who had stupendous stats in high school and knew how to find the end zone.
• Warren Norman, an all-purpose back with home-run potential and good pass-catching skills.

So maybe Jamie does make some cameo appearances behind the quarterback, especially if Hawkins gets injured and none of the freshmen make an immediate contribution in the fall. And with John Cole, Akeem Dunham, Terrance Jeffers, Tray Herndon and Brady Brown being added to the active-duty receiving corps, you can expect Graham to indeed have plenty of competition at receiver.

But he'll be on the field somewhere.

Where do you think he'll be?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Jamie Graham: 100% football player

Jamie Graham, Vanderbilt's exciting football freshman and basketball sophomore, has left the basketball team to concentrate on football.

He wasn't getting much PT this season, no surprise with all the talented young full-time basketball players on the floor and on the bench for the Commodores.

Coach Kevin Stallings says he's looking forward to following Jamie on the football field.

Me too.

Trey Wilson: The people's choice to play next season

Over at, Chris Low lists 20 SEC recruits he thinks will see action as true freshman next season.

From Vanderbilt? Running back Zac Stacy.

Maybe so, but fellow freshmen Wesley Tate and Warren Norman were also highly regarded running backs. With starter Jared Hawkins and reserves Kennard Reeves and Gaston Miller returning, expect just one of the freshmen — and maybe not Stacy — to be eased into the playing rotation. But he did have some sick numbers in high school (over 2,000 yards and 35 touchdowns).

I guarantee you at least one defensive back will see playing time early. With two starters (D.J. Moore and Reshard Langford) and two key reserves (Jared Fagan and Josh Allen) gone, you can probably expect to see two or three of them hit the field. Last season, with every starter and substitute returning in the secondary, Coach Bobby Johnson still put two true freshmen, Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson on the field.

So far, 39 people have responded to our poll about which freshmen will play next season.

The clear winner? Trey Wilson, the cornerback from Louisiana, who gets 69 percent of the vote. Eric Samuels, the athlete from Florida who's listed by the Commodores as a cornerback, gets 48 percent of the vote. You can count on both of those guys seeing the field this season.

As far as other defensive backs go, the light but speedy corner Eddie Foster got 15 percent of the votes, hard-hitting safety Javon Marshall 10 percent, and Jay Fullam, the safety from Chattanooga, 2 percent.

You guys were split on the running backs, liking both Stacy and Tate. Tate has a slight lead at 58 percent, followed by Stacy at 56 percent. The third runner, Norman, gets 17 percent.

Tall receiver Brady Brown, another popular choice to play early, hauls in 46 percent of the votes.

The only other guy to move the needle is defensive end Thad McHaney, with 12 percent. Tight end Mason Johnston, with only 7 percent, may have a shot at playing time this season.

Receiving one vote apiece are three guys who'll almost surely be redshirted: tackle Mylon Brown, quarterback Charlie Goro and linebacker Blake Southerland.

Justin Cabbagestalk, Wesley Johnson and Walker May failed to receive a vote, because they need to put on some serious weight before seeing SEC play.

But we're not done with voting yet. Cast your vote if you haven't yet.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Commodores still dead last in talent — but what exactly does it mean?

Chris Low, ESPN's outstanding SEC blogger, just released his spring power rankings, and Vanderbilt is No. 10.

The Commodores are ahead of Auburn (11th) and Miss State (12th), and within striking distance of South Carolina (7th), Tennessee (8th) and Kentucky (9th). The king, as it should be, is Florida, followed by Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU, Georgia and Arkansas.

Vanderbilt's ranking is about right. Unlike many sportswriters, Low appreciates Vanderbilt's mission and recognizes the excellence of Bobby Johnson, his staff and the way the program is run in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges. If anything, putting the Commodores at No. 10 was a nod to their recent winning season and bowl victory.

But make no mistake, the talent at Vanderbilt remains dead last. The Commodores' size and depth and speed is far better than it's ever been, and it puts them in striking distance of a win if everything goes their way. But they're not going to beat anybody on an off day (Exhibit A: Miss State; Exhibit B: Duke).

Don't try to tell me that the Commodores have better talent than a single team in the league. I went back to and tallied up the average rating of a recruit in each SEC program over the past four years. Here's how they rank, on a 5-star system:

1. Florida: 3.872
2. LSU: 3.723
3. Georgia: 3.641
4. Alabama: 3.613
5. Tennessee: 3.378
6. South Carolina: 3.262
7. Auburn: 3.171
8. Ole Miss: 3.017
9. Arkansas: 2.927
10. Miss State: 2.748
11. Kentucky: 2.561
12. Vanderbilt: 2.377

And don't try to tell me that stars don't matter. The team with the most talent, Florida, has won two out of the last three national championships. And the one the Gators didn't win was captured by LSU, the team with the second-most talent. Last year's pre-season No. 1 team was Georgia, the third-most talented team, but the top spot was held most of the season by Alabama, the fourth-most talented team.

Fortunately, coaching counts for something. So do intangibles that can't be rated by stars. Look at Vanderbilt's victory over South Carolina. Or Auburn. Or Ole Miss. Or Kentucky. Johnson outcoached the guy on the other sideline. The players kept their cool — I can still see the Gamecocks' Captain Munnerlyn melting down in Nashville and sending yellow flags flying. The bend-but-don't-break defense and the numerous goal-line stands. The No. 117 offense that was nearly unstoppable in the red zone.

And what happens when Vanderbilt's two-star kids play as a team and get some breaks and beat some of the big boys? Other coaches in the league get fired. Last season, the Commodores finished with a better record than four teams with more talent: Auburn, Tennessee, Mississippi State and Arkansas. Three of those coaches got fired. The fourth, Bobby Petrino, had a freshman-laden squad and finished strong with a win over LSU and lots of hope for his second season.

That's why Vanderbilt fans are so excited about this recruiting class. If Bobby Johnson can take a bunch of two-star student/athletes and turn them over to his world-class food coach and strength coach and then coach them up and every now and then beat a bunch of four- and five-star athletes, then imagine what he might do with a bunch of three-star student/athletes.

Last year's Vanderbilt team defied logic. Maybe this year's will too.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Did you know Brady Brown could juggle? Meet the Vanderbilt recruits, but forget their 40 times for a moment

Are you tired of hearing how much an 18-year-old kid can squat or bench? How fast he can run the 40? His shuttle times? How many stars he got from some geek watching film online? References to his quick-twitch muscles or his good hips?

Me too. After all that talk and all those stats, there's nothing left to do but wait and see what these kids can do on a real college football field.

In the meantime, let's learn something interesting or unusual about each of Vanderbilt's recruits. You know, who in addition to playing football are also people.

While you can probably stereotype Vanderbilt students, you can't stereotype Vanderbilt students who play football. For example, the fathers of three recruits (Justin Cabbagestalk, Mylon Brown and Warren Norman) are truck drivers.

Here we go:

• BRADY BROWN, 17: One of Brady's hobbies is juggling. He also likes to fish and race go-karts. And study — he's in the National Honor Society. No, he's not from Mayberry and his father is not Sheriff Andy Taylor.

• MYLON BROWN, 17: "Mylo" likes to sing and play the saxophone and drums. He's got four siblings. He's also the youngest of the recruits, turning 18 on July 18.

• JUSTIN CABBAGESTALK, 17: "Cab," a member of Student Government and National Honor Society, wants to major in economics. He likes to swim and hunt, and as a wrestler he once pinned a guy in 11 seconds.

• EDDIE FOSTER, 18: Both of Eddie's parents came to America from Congo. He speaks French — a guy who averages 32 yards a catch should know how to say "Au revoir." His dad is an airline mechanic.

• JAY FULLAM, 18: Though Jay turned down a scholarship to Air Force, he still hasn't given up on his dream of being a fighter jock. His grandfather gave his life serving our nation as a fighter pilot in Vietnam. The oldest recruit, he turns 19 in June.

• CHARLIE GORO, 18: Charlie is known for his leadership — his teammates would say, "We've got Goro." A member of the 2002 national championship Pop Warner team, Charlie enjoys fishing, snow skiing and wakeboarding.

• WESLEY JOHNSON, 18: Wesley is a maniacal weight lifter who also hurled the discus and was a Fellowship of Christian Athletes leader at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville.

• MASON JOHNSTON, 18: A Florida boy, Mason enjoys scuba diving, surfing and skiing. Three of his Bolles School teammates are already at Vanderbilt: Ryan van Rensburg, Michael Garcia and Tray Herndon, the recent transfer from Minnesota.

• THAD MCHANEY, 18: Thad enjoys drawing. He was active in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program in his community and with FCA. He originally committed to Ole Miss. His Dad works for Napa Auto Parts and his mother works for UPS.

• JAVON MARSHALL, 18: Javon had the least amount of personal information, outside of "he likes to hit people on the football field." His dad is a teen mentor and his mom works in hospital human resources.

• WALKER MAY, 18: Walker went to Briarwood Christian in Birmingham, home of the Crimson Tide's Castille Brothers. In the summer, Walker is a lifeguard.

• WARREN NORMAN, 18: Warren was a teammate of his brother, Art, at Chamblee High near Atlanta. He enjoys playing videogames. I imagine he's not the only one of these kids who does, but he cares enough to say he does.

• ERIC SAMUELS, 17: Eric was homecoming king of his high school in Florida, where he was also recognized as a Top Ten student. He's friends with Commodore redshirt receiver Akeem Dunham.

• BLAKE SOUTHERLAND, 18: Blake's another FCA guy. Like a true Georgia boy, he enjoys hunting. He also enjoys coin collecting, which may not be said of any of Tennessee's new recruits.

• ZAC STACY, 17: I know we're not supposed to be talking about numbers, but "Z-Man" scored 35 touchdowns this past season. Oh, and he wants to be an entrepreneur.

• WESLEY TATE, 18: Wesley plays piano and sings in his school's chorus. Naturally, he also likes to play Guitar Hero. Maybe he can join the Guitar Hero program at Blair School of Music.

• TREY WILSON, 18: The son of a math teacher, Trey is on the student council and is a member of the National Honor Society. And he's the latest in the Evangel Christian legacy — every year since 1997, a cornerback from that school has signed to play major college football.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Mylon Brown just one Vanderbilt football recruit with good bloodlines

As I guess you would expect, Vanderbilt's new football recruits come from a long line of folks who got game.

For example, OL Mylon Brown is the nephew of the late great Jerome Brown, an All-Pro for the Eagles. Mylon, 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds with a 7-foot wingspan, played basketball in high school and once scored 32 points in a game.

Here's some more VU signees with athletic kinfolk:

• RB Wesley Tate's brother is Notre Dame wideout Golden Tate III, and their dad Golden played at Tennessee State.

• LB Blake Southerland's brother Brannon just finished his playing career at Georgia, where he started at fullback.

• QB Charlie Goro's dad played defensive back at Southern Illinois.

• LB Walker May's granddad played basketball and ran track at Villanova.

• OL Wesley Johnson's dad played baseball at Louisiana Tech and his grandfather played for the Baltimore Colts.

• WR Brady Brown's dad played football at North Texas.

• DB Eddie Foster's brother Dante was a cornerback at Texas Tech.

• TE Mason Johnston's sister Courtney plays volleyball at North Carolina.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Vanderbilt makes it three in a row in the SEC

The Dores stick it to the Rebels today in Nashville, 71-61. The game was never that close, but we followed our tradition of late of letting teams creep back into it after we've seized control.

We were winning by 20 points, 66-46, with five minutes remaining. For the rest of the game, we were outscored 15-5, surrendered three three-pointers, turned the ball over twice (Taylor and Ogilvy) and were 1-2 from the charity stripe (Goulbourne).

But hey, we've won three in a row and have really gotten back on track after falling to 1-5 in the conference. And last week's win over Auburn looks even better after the Tigers hit a shot with seconds left today to beat Tennessee by one point.

We were better from the line today, but we only got there 12 times, hitting eight. A.J. had 17 points and nine rebounds, Jeffery Taylor had 14 and Brad Tinsley had 12. After lighting it up the last couple of games, Jermaine Beal took a break with eight points. Freshman Lance Goulbourne had 11 points in 12 minutes, including another monster dunk.

With George Drake coming off injury, freshman Steve Tchiengang started and chipped in five points and seven rebounds. He's an extremely long, athletic fellow who's a threat from inside and outside. That makes four freshmen who made big-time contributions today. Oh yeah, Festus is a freshman too. So make it five.

So we're 15-8 and 4-5 in the SEC. The Vols are up next in Knoxville.

If you can believe it, there's only seven games left in the regular season. And unfortunately for us, four of those are on the road (Knoxville, Gainesville, Athens, Baton Rouge).

OK, Athens doesn't strike fear in the heart of man, but the other three might.

Speaking of fear, after Thursday's victory in Nashville over Bama, Coach Stallings was scratching his head over his players' bout with nerves early in games at Memorial. It's supposed to be home court ADVANTAGE, guys. Hopefully they got over that today.

Like everybody's saying, this team is a work in progress, and lately it's been fun to watch.

That's all for now. Have a good Saturday evening.

Friday, February 6, 2009

I'd love Lane Kiffin if I were a Tennessee Volunteer fan

Yep, I'd love Lane Kiffin if I were a Tennessee fan.

He talks a bigger game than any Volunteer in any Internet chat room. He's already fired shots across the bow of no less than Urban Meyer and Nick Saban. How sweet is that? And when he says something's gonna happen and it doesn't, then he's got a pretty good explanation.

Like when he said he was building a fence around the state of Tennessee and then his main target, wide receiver Marlon Brown of Memphis, signed with Georgia. So he wished Marlon the best. And then he said that Marlon wanted to go to Tennessee but he couldn't say no to his grandmother, who liked Georgia better.

Don't hate Marlon, hate his grandmother.

And then he told an intimate gathering of Vol fans that Meyer was cheating. Actually, it was a thousand people, and the TV stations were there. Except that Meyer wasn't cheating, and the SEC commissioner released a statement saying, "We expect our coaches to have an understanding and knowledge of conference and NCAA rules."

Forced to apologize, Kiffin said he was just trying to increase the "enthusiasm" of all those Volunteer fans.

If he'll say anything to people already wearing orange to get them to be enthusiastic then imagine what he'll say to high school kids who are considering going to another university.

Which is why I'd love Lane Kiffin if I were a Tennessee Volunteer fan. He's going to get you some great, great players. Look at all the great, great players at Ole Miss right now because of the efforts of his recruiting coordinator, Ed Orgeron, a man so dedicated that he went to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to encourage Tulane's best players to move inland to Oxford.

Speaking of Orgeron, I love his approach to recruiting, at least I would if I were a Tennessee Volunteer fan. "I was an offensive lineman," he explained in a press conference Wednesday. "I wasn't a quarterback. I'm used to hearing 'no.'" In other words, recruiting is a lot like scoring with cheerleaders. You keep asking until they say yes. Or until they send you a fax with their signature on it.

So rejoice, Volunteer fans, you're going to get some great, great players. Not sure what kind of people they'll be, but they'll be great, great players.

And then you'll win way more than five games a season, unless Kiffin turns out to be a worse game coach than Orgeron, which I really don't think is possible.

So get ready to be winners again, and I look forward to hearing some more trash talk from you on those college football chat boards.

Over at Vanderbilt, we'll keep signing kids who play piano and speak Japanese and try not to drink and drive or shoot people, and maybe we'll beat you in another 20 years.

And I'm OK with that. Because I'm not a Tennessee Volunteer fan.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Hoop Dores creep closer to .500 in the SEC

We tried everything we could to lose at home to Bama, following the disturbing trends of going cold down the stretch from the charity stripe (13-24 for the game) and allowing opposing bricklayers to gun in threes like they're throwing it in a lake.

Alas, no matter. We won 79-74. Now we're 3-5 in the SEC and 14-8 overall.

Between bricking pairs of free throws, A.J. Ogilvy played hard, intimidating the Crimson Tide down low, grabbing rebounds and even stealing a ball in the open court and driving for the layup (which he missed but was fouled but missed both free throws). He shot 4-10 from the free throw line but we couldn't have won without him.

He finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Jermaine Beal hit for 20 too, and had eight assists. He played the entire game — "I'm in good shape," he shrugged afterward — and he did seal the game with a pair of free throws.

As for the nice lineup that Stallings used and the nice rotation he followed against Auburn, that was shot to heck when George Drake was scratched from the lineup after sustaining a hip pointer in Wednesday's practice. Festus Ezeli started and Charles Hinkle got some minutes and played well despite missing practice this week due to illness.

Have a good Thursday night.

Members of Vanderbilt's clean plate club — a new recruit's job is to gain weight

Ah, a new group of recruits are headed to Nashville, which means Food Coach Magic Noori has his work cut out for him. Guys like Eddie Foster, Walker May and especially Wesley Johnson and Justin Cabbagestalk will be strapping on the feedbag.

After he gains 40 pounds and tops 300 pounds, maybe Cabbagestalk will change his name to Justin Oxenshank.

Anyway, here are some current Commodores who've packed on the pounds since they were recruited:

• 70 pounds: OT Thomas Welch, now 305, who was recruited as a tight end (that's him in the photo as a high school quarterback in 2004)

• 40 pounds: DT Greg Billinger, now 290, and C/OG Joey Bailey, now 280

• 38 pounds: DE Steven Stone, now 268

• 35 pounds: DE Theron Kadri, now 270; OT Reilly Lauer, now 275; and Brandon Stewart, now 230.

• 32 pounds: QB Mackenzi Adams, now 215

• 30 pounds: DE Tim Fugger, now 255

• 27 pounds: RB Jared Hawkins, now 202

Here are some guys who've actually lost weight since they arrived on campus: RB Ryan van Rensburg (10 pounds), LB Chris Marve (5 pounds), WR Justin Wheeler (2 pounds), and RB Jeff Jennings and S/LB Brent Trice (1 pound each).

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Highlights from Bobby Johnson's post-signing press conference

In his press conference today, Vanderbilt Coach Bobby Johnson said this year's recruiting haul met some priorities for the team at defensive back, offensive line and running back. "Offensive linemen were extremely important for us," he said.

He said he thinks the bowl berth and victory will help more with next year's recruiting, which will start this spring. Most of this year's class — 12 out of 17 — had already signed before Vanderbilt went on its 5-0 tear to start the 2008 season.

More juniors are already inquiring about the Vanderbilt program, he said: "They’re quicker to call in here and ask for information or set up unofficial visits, inquire about camp — all those are great indications that the bowl has helped a great deal, the season has helped a great deal, and our success in the SEC has helped a great deal.

He used recruits Trey Wilson and Eric Samuels as examples of "the kind of guys you have to recruit to compete in the SEC."

On signing Wesley Tate, Warren Norman and Zac Stacy, he said, "We probably didn’t need three tailbacks but we had an opportunity to sign three very good ones so we took advantage of it. All three of them are very versatile — they could probably play someplace else. But as history has shown us, we're gonna probably need all three of them at tailback — it’s a tough position to play in the SEC, you get hit a lot.

What's the significance of getting 12 players with 3-star ratings? "Not much with me. I think all of them have 5-star capabilities. A lot of guys come out of high school and never get better and a lot of guys come out of high school and improve a great deal and I think we probably have a bigger history of guys coming out and getting better here and thriving in our system and taking advantage of the coaching they get here and they get better. We’re looking for the stars when they get here."

Vanderbilt football recruits who will, won't and might play right away — Eric Samuels will

You've seen our list of signees. So which ones might you see on the field next season?

Keep in mind that Vanderbilt played only three freshmen last season — defensive backs Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson and receiver John Cole, who was injured for the season in the first game. What follows is only a guess, but I'm predicting we'll play at least five true freshmen this season. Here goes:


• ERIC SAMUELS, DB (6-0, 185; 3 stars)(photo above): Last season, we returned all our defensive backs and reserves, and still played true freshmen Sean Richardson and Casey Hayward. In the Music City Bowl, Richardson scored our only touchdown and Hayward played a mean shut-down corner after D.J. Moore got hurt. So expect to see our most athletic, dynamic DBs on the field as true freshmen, especially with Moore, Reshard Langford and reserves Jared Fagan and Josh Allen gone. Samuels, a top running back prospect already being listed by Vanderbilt as a DB, is one of those guys. Expect him to be put on the D.J. Plan: Play a lot as a true freshman, excel on special teams and position himself to help out some on offense as an upperclassman.

• WESLEY TATE, RB (6-2, 210; 3 stars): We've missed having a breakaway threat at tailback since Cassen Jackson-Garrison left, and Tate is a rich man's Jackson-Garrison. Kennard Reeves looked good against Wake Forest and will get some playing time next season, and Jared Hawkins will be our go-to guy, but expect to see Tate get some snaps in the Western Carolina game, which is our only sure-fire cupcake opponent, and then play more and more for us as the season progresses.

• TREY WILSON, CB (5-11, 182; 3 stars): He's already a lockdown corner like Casey Hayward was as a true freshman. Expect him to be a special teams demon early on and then build up some serious playing time.

• BRADY BROWN, WR (6-5, 200; 3 stars): We need two things at wide receiver: A possession receiver and a deep threat. Hopefully redshirt freshmen John Cole and Akeem Dunham will be the deep guys, maybe sophomore Udom Umoh too. Jamie Graham can do a bit of both. But at 6-foot-5, Brady Brown will be given every opportunity to be the possession guy.

• JAVON MARSHALL, S (5-10, 180; 2 stars): Last year the Dores began grooming a true freshman, Richardson, to take Reshard Langford's place. Expect them to start grooming Marshall to replace Ryan Hamilton. He's a raw, tough hitter whom his coach says will find a way to get on the field, kind of like Richardson did last season. And he's one of our two-star recruits, just like Richardson was. But I'm less sure about Marshall than the four guys listed above — if the coaches are comfortable enough with redshirt freshman Al Owens, they may redshirt Marshall.


• MASON JOHNSTON, TE (6-4, 235; 3 stars): With outstanding sophomores Branden Barden and Austin Monahan returning, we're covered at tight end. But it's nice to have more than two, and third-teamer Justin Green is still awfully thin and unimposing. Johnston is stout and athletic. If he shows up ready to play and turns heads in practice, he could see some meaningful playing time next season.

• THAD MCHANEY, DE (6-5, 235; 3 stars): We've got Brandon Stewart and Steven Stone returning as starters, and Theron Kadri, Teriall Brannon and Tim Fugger with big-game experience. But if Thad McHaney can come in and display Stewart-like athleticism, then I don't see how we can keep him off the field. And it's not like he needs to add bulk — he already weighs five more pounds than Stewart.

• EDDIE FOSTER, DB (5-10, 165; 3 stars). At 165 pounds, he needs to put on some weight. But if he shows toughness right away, then it might be hard to keep one of our fastest players off the field. And as I've said already, we're gonna need to replace Moore, Fagan and Allen on the two-deep chart at corner. Besides, it'd be nice to have a 4.3 guy covering kickoffs and punts, huh?

• ZAC STACY, RB (5-9, 192; 3 stars): With Hawkins, Reeves, Gaston Miller and untested Ryan van Rensburg returning, we probably won't play two true freshmen running backs. But Stacy could surprise people early on and might be one of those guys who sticks around on the depth chart and then needs to be pressed into action because of injury. Sure, he's short, but he's stout.


• WARREN NORMAN, RB (5-10, 188; 3 stars): The biggest thing he's got going for him is his pass-catching ability out of the backfield. In that respect, he could be a nice backup to Hawkins. But if Tate fills the bill as a big-time SEC back, then we can use guys like Reeves and Miller as situational guys and red-shirt Norman. And Norman's own high school coach says he needs to get bigger and stronger.

• MYLON BROWN, OT (6-5, 300; 2 stars): Jerome's nephew is recovering from injury. With everybody returning on the two-deep at offensive line, expect to see the 300-pound Mylon take a redshirt, get stronger and even bigger, and compete to be a starter in 2010.

• WALKER MAY, DE (6-5, 210; 2 stars): At 210 pounds, he'll probably be living in the weight room and dining hall for the next 18 months. But if the coaches want to play one of the true freshmen ends and May can outplay Thad McHaney early, he may have a shot. But don't bet on it, especially with the Dores already five-deep at end. As for playing linebacker next season, he can forget it. Sure, John Stokes was this size when he showed up in Nashville, but he also had those four stars.


• BLAKE SOUTHERLAND, LB (6-2, 235; 3 stars): With all three starters returning at linebacker, super-talented Brandon Bryant hopefully rebounding from injury, and promising DeAndre Jones, Tristan Strong and Dexter Daniels coming off redshirt seasons, expect Southerland to sit for a year.

• CHARLIE GORO, QB (6-2, 192; 3 stars): Let's see... Sophomore Larry Smith and Senior Mackenzi Adams are competing to start, and former three-star recruit Jared Funk, already a junior, is hungrier than ever for some playing time. Goro will redshirt, but could be a special player for us when he hits the field.

• WESLEY JOHNSON, OL (6-5, 250; 3 stars): A great talent who'd probably be signing with somebody like Alabama or USC if he was 30 pounds heavier. So he'll have the enviable task of strapping on the feedbag for the next 18 months.

• JAY FULLAM, S (6-1, 190; 2 stars): A smart, tough kid with good instincts. But with Al Owens and Micah Powell coming off redshirt years and the four aforementioned DB recruits showing more speed and athleticism, expect Fullam to sit a year.

• JUSTIN CABBAGESTALK, OL (6-3, 265; 2 stars): Needs to add 30 pounds or so. Probably will play guard.

No surprises: Vanderbilt gets its 17 recruits as expected

On recruiting sites, Vanderbilt has had 17 commitments for a couple of weeks now. But everybody pretty much knew that one of those WASN'T going to happen. That, of course, was Darrius McMullin, who was a soft commitment and then got a phone call from Urban Meyer and then visited Lexington and now doesn't meet Vanderbilt's academic standards.

I'm guessing Darrius wasn't in the school chorus or plays the piano.

So subtract Darrius McMullin but add Wesley Tate, a tough and game-ready running back for the Dores, who actually was in the school chorus and actually does play the piano. And that adds up to 17 recruits for the Vanderbilt.

Click here for lots of great stuff about these young men on the official VU site.

Here's all 17 in the order in which they signed today:

• Mason Johnson, TE, 6-4, 235, Jacksonville, Fla.
• Brady Brown, WR, 6-5, 200, Argyle, Texas
• Eric Samuels, DB, 6-0, 185, Eustis, Fla.
• Wesley Johnson, OL, 6-5, 250, Nashville, Tenn.
• Warren Norman, RB, 5-10, 188, Stone Mountain, Ga.
• Walker May, DE/LB, 6-5, 210, Birmingham, Ala.
• Zac Stacy, RB, 5-9, 192, Centreville, Ala.
• Charlie Goro, QB, 6-2, 192, Park Ridge, Ill.
• Blake Southerland, LB, 6-2, 235, Lawrenceville, Ga.
• Trey Wilson, DB, 5-11, 182, Shreveport, La.
• Jay Fullam, S, 6-1, 190, Chattanooga, Tenn.
• Mylon Brown, OL, 6-5, 300, Trilby, Fla.
• Javon Marshall, DB, 5-10, 180, Huber Heights, Ohio
• Eddie Foster, DB, 5-10, 165, Colleyville, Texas
• Justin Cabbagestalk, 6-3, 265, Tampa, Fla.
• Thad McHaney, DE/TE, 6-5, 235, Brentwood, Tenn.
• Wesley Tate, RB, 6-2, 210, Hendersonville, Tenn.

And yes, it would have been nice on paper to add McMullin. But I think these 17 guys will do just fine, especially after strength coach John Sisk and food coach Magic Noori get ahold of them.

Vanderbilt signs Wesley Tate — new recruit is golden, er, Golden's brother

It's official: Less than half an hour ago, running back Wesley Tate of Pope John Paul II High School north of Nashville, signed with Vanderbilt.

That's great news. We desperately needed some powerful runners, and we got four with Tate, Eric Samuels, Warren Norman and Zac Stacy. All were three-star guys. Some of them, like Samuels, may shift over to defense, but expect Tate to stick at RB.

Tate's a big back — 6-foot-2, 210 pounds with room for some bulk, and he was the Tennessee 100-meter champion with a personal best of 10.8 seconds. He got three stars from

And of course he was a member of the school chorus and plays the piano. That explains why he narrowed his choices down to VU, Georgia Tech, Purdue and Stanford. It'd be cool if he majored in music instead of the popular football major Human & Organizational Management, but for some reason the recruiting Web sites don't list a player's academic interests.

His big brother, Golden Tate III, is a star wide receiver and centerfielder at Notre Dame and his dad — you got it, Golden Tate II, played at Tennessee State.

Anyway, here's what Tate's coach, Jeff Brothers, says about him:

"Wesley is a prototypical SEC tailback. He gives them a very powerful running back, an explosive, downhill runner. When teams played us, Wesley was our marquee player on offense.

"Wesley has tremendous strength in his lower body and is a durable running back. He's just as strong in the fourth quarter as he is in the first quarter. Physically, he'll be about ready to play when he gets to college.

"Wesley is also a young man of the highest character, very coachable, and willing to do anything and everything to help the team succeed."

"About ready to play when he gets to college." Ya hear that? That's what we want to hear.

And Brothers should know. He played safety for the Commodores and almost singlehandedly beat Ole Miss in 1992 when he had 146 total return yards on an interception, a blocked field goal and a punt return.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Darrius McMullin officially slips off the Vanderbilt commitment list

Late last week, the Tennessean's Mo Patton reported that DT Darrius McMullin didn't qualify academically for Vanderbilt. And I imagine the reason he remained on our list of commitments for so long was because he most certainly qualified athletically.

Athletic defensive tackles are gold, and McMullin also had offers from Kentucky, Florida and Ole Miss.

Anyway, McMullin is still listed as a Vanderbilt verbal commitment on ESPN's site, but he just fell off the list.

Easy come, easy go.

McMullin committed in June with a soft verbal, and he would have been a big addition to our recruiting class. We've got a Parade All-American quarterback, a nice stable of running backs (that will get even nicer if Wesley Tate signs with us tomorrow), a tall receiver who can play right away, a highly regarded prospect and a couple of interesting projects at offensive line, another athletic tight end, some tall defensive ends, a hard-nosed linebacker and a whole stable of speedy and/or hard-hitting defensive backs.

In other words, everything but a defensive lineman.

But don't forget that we've got three good ones returning and five of them who'll be redshirt freshmen next season.

Reshard gets dissed — Vanderbilt's Langford not invited to combine

ESPN's Chris Low points out that Vanderbilt safety Reshard Langford was left off the invitation list for the NFL combine. He says it's a glaring omission, and he's right.

Five SEC safeties were on the list — South Carolina's Emanuel Cook, Ole Miss' Jamarca Sanford, Miss State's Derrick Pegues, LSU's Curtis Taylor and Alabama's Rashad Johnson.

Maybe they confused Rashad with Reshard.

Maybe not.

Reshard was a monster late in games. I think about all our big victories this season — especially Ole Miss and Boston College — and I can still see Reshard laying the wood to people and leaping to get a hand on a pass. Even down in Starkville at the end of a disheartening loss, Reshard was diving for balls, trying desperately to make something happen.

It's a joke that he's not joining D.J. Moore at the combine. Remember he came into college as a running back. He's not exactly big at 6-2, 212, but he's strong and tough and a devastating hitter and I could see him even playing at linebacker.

Low says he was also surprised that Kentucky offensive tackle Garry Williams and Mississippi State linebacker Dominic Douglas also weren't invited.

Notice that Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Miss State had worthy players left off the list. Those three schools are sending a total of two players to the combine.

Which says one of two things:

• There's a bias against the players at traditionally weaker schools — in fact, a player at Vanderbilt has to set the league on fire (Earl Bennett) or make All-American (D.J. Moore) in order to get invited.

• Or the big schools really do have more talent and more players deserving of combine invitations.

Though Reshard definitely got snubbed, I think the second explanation is closer to the truth. We're a day before signing day and who's leading the nation in recruiting? LSU, who's sending 10 players to the NFL combine. Barrett Bailey, a three-star high school quarterback in Baton Rouge, has decided to stay in town and walk on at LSU instead of accepting a scholarship to a "lesser" program (and Vanderbilt was reportedly one of those lesser program).

The rich keep getting richer. Which makes it so much sweeter when the poor guys beat them on the football field.

But sometimes the poor guys make it to the big show. You know James Harrison, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year and the guy who scored the longest touchdown in Super Bowl history for the Steelers on Sunday night?

Played at Kent State. Wasn't drafted. Was training to be a bus driver.

Hang in there, Reshard. You can do it.

Monday, February 2, 2009

New guy on the recruiting radar for Vanderbilt

According to, the list of players considering Vanderbilt has a new addition. Steven Sumpter — a 5-11, 185-pound safety from Oklahoma — has the Commodores high on his list. He gets three stars from, which lists Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas A&M and Tulsa as other possibilities.

Here are the other players with three or more stars still considering Vanderbilt:

• Kinsman Thomas, a wide receiver from South Carolina with offers from the Gamecocks and NC State. Three stars.

• Wesley Tate, a running back from Tennessee with offers from Georgia Tech, Stanford and Purdue. Three stars.

• Michael Buchanan, a defensive end from Illinois with offers from the Fighting Illini and Purdue. Four stars.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Vanderbilt football fans shouldn't count on Darrius McMullin

Along with athlete Eric Samuels and offensive lineman Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt's top-ranked verbal commitment this recruiting season has been Darrius McMullin of Hoover, Ala.

Don't count on McMullin ever playing for the Commodores. In fact, his commitment has been shaky since the beginning.

• In June, he made a "soft" verbal commitment.

• In December, Urban the Conqueror came calling and McMullin told a reporter that he was going to make a visit to Florida and if the Gators offered him a scholarship he would take it. Vanderbilt coaches told him they'd have his scholarship waiting but they were going to be looking for some more D-linemen.

• On Jan. 16, McMullin made a visit to Kentucky.

• On Friday, Chris Low reported McMullin was deciding between the Wildcats and the Commodores and predicted that McMullin would choose the Dores.

• That same day, Mo Patton of the Tennessean wrote on his blog that McMullin was not accepted academically to Vanderbilt and is now deciding between Kentucky and UAB.

ESPN and still list McMullin as a Commodore.

I've been putting a mental asterick next to McMullin since this fall. Big D-lineman are gold — look what Mount Cody did for Bama and those two Boston College tackles did to us on third and short in the Music City Bowl. So valuable are guys like McMullin, who packs about 280 pounds on a 6-2 frame and benches 400 pounds, that an academic school like Vanderbilt is willing to take a chance on him... if he meets minimum requirements, which apparently he does not.

But we'll wait and see.

In the meantime, remember that Vanderbilt has SEVEN red-shirt freshmen D-linemen waiting in the wings: tackles Taylor Loftley, Rob Lohr, Colt Nichter, Ryan Seymour and Johnell Thomas and ends John Burrow and Josh Jelesky. Lohr and Nichter were both listed on the two-deep last season, but never got pressed into duty and were able to redshirt. Also remember that starting tackles Greg Billinger and Adam Smotherman return, as does backup T.J. Greenstone, who was an all-SEC freshman selection. As for ends, starters Brandon Stewart and Steven Stone return, as do part-time starters/ frequent backups Teriall Brannon, Theron Kadri and Tim Fugger.

We also plan to make commitment Thad McHaney a defensive end, and four-star end Michael Buchanan of Illinois is still considering us.