Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports
Back-to-back bowl games and a nine-win season in 2012 have elevated the Vanderbilt football program to a level that was previously thought to be unattainable in the SEC.
In two short seasons, head coach James Franklin has shed the "pushover" label from the program and transformed the Commodores into a team to be reckoned with.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Will they take a step forward in 2013? That remains to be seen. If they don't in 2014 though, something's terribly wrong.
After much anticipation, the SEC released the 2014 football schedule on Wednesday and it was sure to bring smiles to the administration in Nashville. The SEC's schedule is constructed in a 6-1-1 format that features six division games, one permanent cross-division rivalry and one rotating opponent from the other division.
Vanderbilt's permanent cross-division rivalry is with Ole Miss, which should be a contender in 2014. But for the second straight season, that game will be in Nashville. Sure, Vanderbilt Stadium isn't the most intimidating atmosphere in the SEC, but it certainly helps. The 'Dores will have a tuneup with Temple at home to open the season before the Rebels roll into town.
Their other cross-division game will be a trip to Starkville to take on Mississippi State. Whether you think the Bulldogs are on the rise, taking a dive or somewhere in between, it's certainly a more favorable matchup than playing one of the SEC West's big boys. Vandy will have a bye week before the road trip to Starkville.
Tough SEC East matchups? Vanderbilt can't avoid those.
But the 'Dores get South Carolina at home on Sept. 20 following a visit from UMass, play Florida at home on Nov. 8 following a visit from Old Dominion and face Georgia on the road on Oct. 4 a week after playing at Kentucky.
How many wins will Vanderbilt have in 2014?
Getting two of the big three in the East at home is nice, and it's not exactly like Vanderbilt has major hurdles in the weeks prior to those games.
There's not one to be found on this slate. In fact, it's hard to find a place where Vanderbilt could realistically lose back-to-back games, much less get into a prolonged losing streak.
Toss in a meeting with FCS opponent Charleston Southern in addition to the games with Temple, Old Dominion and UMass, and Vanderbilt's out-of-conference schedule is a joke.
Will 2014 be the year that Vanderbilt elevates itself from competitor to contender?
With this schedule, it'd almost be hard not to.