The Vanderbilt football program was the laughingstock of the SEC for years. Every one of their conference opponents looked at the schedule in the preseason and marked a “W’ next to the game against the Commodores.
Vanderbilt has only had five winning seasons in program history and from 1986-2001. The Commodores had only 18 wins against SEC competition.
The expectations have changed in Nashville. Here are three reasons why Vanderbilt football will be a force to be reckoned with in the SEC in the foreseeable future
Bobby Johnson was hired as the Vanderbilt coach in 2001 and, although he did not have immediate success, he began to change the football culture in Nashville; it was no longer acceptable to be the doormats of the SEC
The program grew under Johnson’s tutelage and had some noteworthy achievements. In 2005, quarterback Jay Cutler was named SEC Offensive Player of the Year, and in 2008, the Commodores finished with a 6-6 record, which earned them an appearance at the Music City Bowl—their first bowl game in 53 years. Vanderbilt defeated Boston College in that game 16-14.
Johnson retired in 2010, and after Robbie Caldwell finished out his interim tenure in 2010, Vanderbilt hired Maryland assistant coach James Franklin.
Franklin continued to build on the foundation formed by Johnson and has led Vanderbilt's charge as one of the rising programs in college football.
2012 was an even better year for Vanderbilt. It was the first time the Commodores had ever had back-to-back seasons reaching a bowl game. They finished the season with nine wins, including an impressive 38-24 defeat of N.C. State in the Music City Bowl. The nine wins Vanderbilt tallied in 2012 are the most for the program since 1915.
Franklin has been able to turn around Vanderbilt’s recruiting. He is a young, high-energy coach who can relate to players coming out of high school. The SEC is a hotbed for recruiting, and the Commodores have held their own.
According to ESPN, the Commodores have 12 4-star recruits and 13 3-star recruits in the 2013 recruiting class. ESPN also has the Vanderbilt class as the No. 22 ranked class, ahead of such powerhouses as Nebraska and Oregon.
Recruiting is the first step in building a program. Franklin has been able to garner interest in Vanderbilt, which will give the program momentum in the coming years.
The second step of building a program is developing that talent. Franklin has proven he can win with another coach’s players—now he has to prove he can win with his own.
Vanderbilt’s biggest obstacle in the coming years will not take place on the field. Instead, their biggest challenge will be keeping Franklin as their head coach.
How many games will Vanderbilt win in 2013?
If Franklin stays at the helm in Nashville, the Commodores will remain competitive in the SEC and become a fixture in bowl games. If the past two years are any indication, the Vanderbilt football program has a bright future.
The SEC provides their teams with a brutal schedule every year. With conference expansion and the manageable East Division, however, the Commodores will have plenty of opportunities to earn enough wins to become bowl eligible in the coming years.
By playing in the East, Vanderbilt avoids annual matchups against the likes of LSU, Alabama and Texas A&M.
Yes, the East has juggernauts like South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, but it also has down programs that Vanderbilt should be able to handle. Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri are all struggling, and they are all teams the Commodores beat rather handily in 2012.
Combine those three games with four win from a weak non-conference schedule, and Vanderbilt should be favored in at least seven games.
Looking at the 2013 slate, Vanderbilt will win at least eight games, and with a little luck, that number could be higher. Franklin has been able to do what was once thought to be impossible—build a consistent winner at Vanderbilt. In 2013, that trend will continue.