Friday, August 31, 2012

Message from SC game: "Good days are coming"

Sure, we got screwed by the officials last night on a do-or-die play, and it killed us. If you've been following Vandy football for any amount of time, it was impossible not to feel cursed.

It was a do-or-die play for us, but this was not a do-or-die game for us. James Franklin is building a winning program and it's not a matter of if he's going to knock off a big team but when. He's impatient but he's not desperate.

Listen to what he said at the post-game press conference:

"We gotta learn how to win... We have a blue-collar, fighter’s mentality... (but) we’ve got to find a way to win these close games we haven’t been able to win yet and that’s when we’ll be able to build a culture of winning here."

"That play didn’t define the game. When your opportunity comes you have to make the play. Our margin of error just isn’t that big."
And finally this: "Good days are coming."

That should be our motto and we should repeat it to ourselves this season when things like what happened last night happen. Because they will happen. 

Why do these things keep happening? Because we don't have the talent the other teams have and our margin of error is much lower than theirs. Bad things happened to South Carolina last night, but they overcame those. 

And when your margin of error is much lower than the other team's, then you're not in a position to win consistently and to build a tradition of winning. Right now, James Franklin has the mindset of a winner, which served us well last season, when we beat everybody we should have beaten and scared the daylights out of nearly everybody else. 

Now he's building the talent he needs to compete consistently. He's not doing it fast enough to please himself but he's doing it at a stunning pace. Consider this:

Currently, Vanderbilt has no upperclassmen who received a 4-star rating in high school from any of the top scouting services. 

Counting this year's verbal commitments and Franklin's last two recruiting classes, here's how many 4-star recruits we're looking to have on campus next season:

1. Dillon van der Wal, sophomore tight end
2. Brian Kimbrow, true freshman running back
3. Darreon Herring, true freshman linebacker 
4. Caleb Azubike, true freshman defensive end
5. Andrew Jelks, true freshman offensive tackle
6. Jacob Sealand, true freshman linebacker
7. Stephen Weatherly, true freshman defensive end
8. Jonathan McCrary, prep quarterback
9. Chad Kanoff, prep quarterback
10. Carlos Burse, prep wide receiver
11. Dominic Walker, prep wide receiver
12. Jay Woods, prep defensive tackle
13. Landon Stokes, prep defensive end
14. Mack Weaver, prep tight end/defensive end
15. Nigel Bowden, prep linebacker
16. Ryan White, prep cornerback
17. Tre Bell, prep cornerback
18. Malik Greaves, prep safety

 Amazing, huh? What you're seeing is an influx of talent that has recruiting insiders buzzing. How often in the past has Vandy ever signed a 4-star quarterback, receiver, cornerback or defensive tackle?


It will take a while for this talent to develop. The South Carolina game - and even this season - is not our only hope to produce a winner. It's not do-or-die. It's not a question of if, but a question of when, and I plan to be on board when it happens. How about you?

Good days are coming. Don't forget it.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Tonight not Franklin's best bet for first signature win

This time last season, James Franklin was preparing for his first game as a head coach. He beat Elon, of course, for his first win, and his first home win. Then he beat UConn for his first come-from-behind win. Then he beat Ole Miss for his first SEC win and his first D1 blowout. That season, he would also record his first win as a D1 favorite, against Army, and finally in the last contest of the regular season, his first road victory.

What he still doesn’t have is a signature win. He does have some signature losses – scaring the daylights out of Georgia and Arkansas at home – but those could fall under the category of Same Old Vanderbilt.

So does he get that signature win tonight against South Carolina? It’s possible, but we think other games this season are stronger possibilities.


1. Tennessee in Nashville on Nov. 17: Franklin’s teams last season played significantly better at home, and we think this year the Volunteers are going down. Despite all his talk about one week at a time, you got to believe he's got 11/17 circled on his calendar.

2. Florida in Nashville on Oct. 13: Another home game, and perhaps our best chance to beat the Gators in a long, long time, as they’re still breaking in a quarterback and developing a bunch of young talent.

3. Auburn in Nashville on Oct. 20: Who doesn’t believe we could beat the Tigers at home again? And like in 2008, they’ve got a new QB and a new offensive coordinator.

4. South Carolina in Nashville tonight: The Gamecocks are the best team we’ll face at home.

5. Missouri in Columbia on Oct. 6: Maybe this team will be different, but last year’s Commodores weren’t nearly as tough on the road in the SEC.

6. Georgia in Athens on Sept. 22: We beat Georgia at home when we sneak up on the Bulldogs. This year, they’ve got us circled on their calendar, and they’ve got significantly better talent and a seasoned QB to boot. That doesn’t bode well.


1. Kentucky in Lexington on Nov. 3: The Wildcats are always our best bet for an SEC win.

2. Ole Miss in Oxford on Nov. 10: The Rebels are always our second-best bet for an SEC win.

3. Wake Forest in Winston Salem on Nov. 24: We killed the Demon Deacs last season. A good coach like Jim Grobe doesn’t let that happen two years in a row.

4. Northwestern in Evanston on Sept. 8: The Wildcats were also 6-7, with an 11-point bowl loss to new SEC member Texas A&M. Thank goodness Dan Persa is gone.


1. Presbyterian in Nashville on Sept. 15: Wear your black and gold hose and pull against the Blue Hose.

2. UMass in Nashville on Oct. 27: Brand-new major college team is ripe for the picking.


It should be an interesting season, largely because we play most of our toughest games at home, and the games Vandy fans expect to win but won’t be heavily favored in are all played on the road.

We expect Vanderbilt to win seven games including:

• Two out of six signature wins. Our best guess is wins over Tennessee and Florida, with close home losses to Auburn and South Carolina, a close road loss to Missouri and a not-so-close road loss to Georgia.

• Three out of four wins that Vandy fans expect to win but maybe nobody else does: Our best guess would be rousing road wins over Kentucky, Ole Miss and Wake Forest, but a road loss in the second week of the season to Northwestern.

• Two out of two must-wins: We’ll beat Presbyterian and UMass. Take it to the bank.


• The best: We’re capable of beating any team on our schedule, but I don’t think we’re capable of winning all our games. Even with better athletes and a better frame of mind, we still have to play with an extremely low margin of error in order to win in the SEC. If we catch on fire and our opponents hit some bumps in the road, we could go 10-2 and land in a bowl like the Cotton our Capital One or at the worst the Chick-Fil-A.

• The worst: Looks like 4-8. I think we beat Presbyterian and UMass easily, and I’m counting on at least two out of four road wins over Northwestern, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Wake. But none of our SEC home games are slam dunks. If you think Tennessee is a slam dunk, you haven’t been following Vandy football very long.

Remember, kickoff is at 7 pm Eastern tonight on ESPN. Go Dores!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Yes, we're back for another season!

OK, we're back for another season. Hopefully, Vandy will start kicking people's butts on a consistent basis and the name Moral Victory! will become ironic instead of descriptive.

In case you're wondering, I landed my dream job in May as executive editor of my hometown newspaper and have been busy with that. If I start writing the long, analytical statistics-obsessed stuff that I've done here in the past, then I'm bombing my day job and will soon be living in the library and posting from there.

Tonight let's look at position groups, grouping them into "We're excited," "We're cautiously optimistic" and "We're kind of scared." Notice we're sticking with personnel here. No, I'm really not excited that we named the stadium foghorn "The Admiral." Here we go:


• Running backs: This is easy. The SEC's leading returning rusher (Zac Stacy) plus the fastest true freshman in college football (Brian Kimbrow) plus a healthy Jerron Seymour plus a hopefully healthy Warren Norman plus Wesley Tate suddenly and unexpectedly from the slot.

• Wide receivers: Jordan Matthews had a great preseason camp last season but took some time to get on track; expect him to come blasting out of the gate. Krause looks better than ever, Boyd looks as good as ever, redshirt frosh Jacquese Kirk will come out of nowhere, and Grady and Tate are capable of getting the ball anytime and anywhere. Should be fun.

 • Safeties: If they can stay healthy, Ladler and Marshall make a great combo, and senior Eric Samuels is primed for a breakout season before he rides off into the sunset. And you can expect Andrew Williamson to eventually be the latest 2-star Vandy DB to turn heads on the national stage.

• Punter: Has any punter in America seen more live game action than Richard Kent?


• Quarterbacks: James Franklin has said that QBs make a huge jump from their first season to their second. I've never thought Jordan Rodgers has a cannon, but with the Gamecocks' defensive ends he's not gonna have much time to drop back. Expect to see him throw a lot of screens and short stuff to the likes of Stacy, Norman, Kimbrow, Grady, Tate, Kirk and Kentera. Carta-Samuels should prove to be a capable backup in time, but let's hope he doesn't have to play any meaningful minutes Thursday night.

• Tight ends/fullbacks: Old man Monahan is back for his 17th season and will hold down the fort until van der Wal and Scheu take over. Kentera has made an astoundingly rapid conversion from quarterback and is an intriguing weapon. Lassing and Panu are solid. Lots of stuff to work with here, but as the departed Brandon Barden was prone to point out last season, we're not sure how any of it fits into the game plan.

• Defensive tackles: A nice mix of returning starters/seniors (Lohr/Nichter) and some young talent that's ready to take it to the next level (Morse, Taylor, Dixon). Heck, Taylor and Dixon are 300-pounders. One of Vandy's best D-lines in a long time, but still lacking the size and talent of most SEC teams.

• Defensive ends: One of Vandy's deepest and most versatile collections of ends in a while, but the best one (Azubike) is a true freshman. May and Thomas have starting experience, Woestmann continues to be a nice prospect, and Bryant and Stewart provide depth. Again, an interesting collection of talent, but it will take some time to gel, and does lack the size of other SEC units.

• Cornerbacks: OK, we've got the usual All-SEC candidate (Trey Wilson), the sleeper candidate (Andre Hal), the versatile vets (Foster and Clarke), the redshirted bluechipper (Derek King) and some talented true frosh (Head, McGaster and Banks). It's a nice collection of players, but again, we'll have to wait and see if they can shut down SEC opposition.


• Offensive line: Well, another season, another couple of starting offensive linemen booted off the team. That would be sophomores Mylon Brown and Logan Stewart. Junior Wesley Johnson is a rock here, and with senior Ryan Seymour forms a solid left side. Sophomore Spencer Pulley is the big question mark at center, and Josh Jelesky and Andrew Bridges are proving to be fast learners but maybe not fast enough. We'll see.

• Linebackers: We like Garnham at middle linebacker and Barnes outside, but wish we had some bigger boys at backer. The other starter and his backup (Butler and Franklin) are really safeties. The best one of the bunch (Herring) is a true freshman. Depth is coming from three more true freshmen (Sealand, Thomas and Harper), a walk-on (Williams), and the longsnapper (East). We could use engineer DeAndre Jones about now. In a couple years, this could be the strength of the team. But for now, these guys will be hanging on for dear life.

• Kickers: The good news is that Spear and Fowler staged a fierce competition, in the placekicking department but the bad news is that neither one emerged as the clear favorite. For now, we'll keep holding our breath.

It's good to be back. Let me know what you want to read about here.