This Saturday, I traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, to experience some good ol’ fashioned Southern hospitality at Vanderbilt University.
I wasn’t disappointed.
A private research university—the only such institute in the SEC—Vanderbilt was founded by “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt, a Northern shipping and railroading tycoon hoping to make amends with the South for the Civil War.
With an enrollment of 6,000 undergraduates, Vanderbilt has thrived upon an ethos of “intellectual freedom that supports open inquiry, equality, compassion, and excellence in all endeavors.” Today, the school boasts a top-20 ranking from US News and World Report, and was named one of Newsweek’s 25 “New Ivies.”
Famous alumni from Vanderbilt include former Vice President Al Gore, also known as the Inventor of the Internet; current starting Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler (who hails from Santa Claus, Indiana); Chairman of the U.S. Air Force Memorial and of Perot Systems, H. Ross Perot Jr.; and the infamous, inflammatory, and irksome "journalist" Skip Bayless.
Former Vandy Chancellor Gordon E. Gee, well-liked for his laid-back, charismatic persona (to say nothing of his bow ties), made national headlines by eliminating the school's athletic department in 2003—and instead putting varsity athletics under the supervision of the Division of Student Life.
Whereas the athletes at most large institutions are never seen by the general public outside of game day, the Vanderbilt students and student athletes actually go to school together.
Certainly, this creates a much more cohesive, understanding environment.
On the whole, Vandy has a surprisingly strong athletic program—but as far as football goes...the school has one of the worst programs in the SEC.
The Commodores have gone 24 years without a winning season. So why would I travel all the way to Nashville to see them play?
For one thing, Vandy may finally have a shot at a bowl game this year. Perennial SEC powers Auburn, Georgia, and Tennessee look to be down, Florida is young, and Ole Miss is Ole Miss.
While Vandy QB Chris Nickson has struggled early, he's got plenty of potential—and plenty of help in junior wide receiver Earl Bennett, who's on pace for the best statistical career in SEC history.
Of course, I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say my primary interest at Vanderbilt was all of the gorgeous women in the stands. It didn’t hurt that Ole Miss brought some of their fans as well.
Heading into the weekend, the Ole Miss (formerly Runnin’) Rebels had won six of their last eight meetings with the Commodores—but the average margin of victory was only six points.
The arrival of head coach Ed Orgeron, an assistant from USC, was supposed to raise the Rebels to new heights. Orgeron was named National Recruiter of the Year in 2004, prompting ESPN writer Bruce Feldman to write a book about his tactics.
So far, though, the coach has produced an 8-17 record, with three of the wins coming against Memphis, two against Division I-AA schools, and there against the perennial SEC cellar-dwellers: Kentucky (in ’05), Mississippi State (in ’06), and Vanderbilt (in ’06).
Orgeron has also created some unwanted press for the Rebels, first by trying to lure Tulane players to Ole Miss after Hurricane Katrina, then by unleashing an expletive-filled rant, taking off his shirt, and challenging everyone in the room to a fight after his first game as head coach.
To his credit, no one took up the challenge.
The game was at 6:00 PM, so I made the five-hour trek from St. Louis to Nashville in the morning to tailgate with a couple of old friends. Vanderbilt's campus is striking for its beauty and seclusion, especially given how close it is downtown Nashville.
It's also striking for the beauties in sundresses. More on this later.
I met up with two of my friends—Josh and Mike—and we watched the Ohio State-Washington game before we were to go out. Josh is an OSU lifer, which says a lot about a typical Vanderbilt fan: If he has strong ties somewhere else, he'll stick to them.
There’s not too much pride in wearing the black and gold, but it's growing.
Vanderbilt Stadium at Dudley Field, located on campus and with a capacity of 30,000, is an ideal venue for a small college with big-time sports. The game was sold out, but a number of seats stayed empty throughout the game—partly because some Alabama fans bought season tickets just for their team's one game against the Commodores.
That shows how dedicated the Crimson Tide fans are. I was told that at the previous game, a Vanderbilt fan held up a sign saying, "If you can read this, you're not a Crimson Tide fan," so maybe they didn't quite understand what was going on.
As the game went on, I was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm of some of the Vandy fans, but the fanbase wasn't exactly robust. Cheers such as "V-A-N-D-Y! Go 'Dores! Go 'Dores! Give 'em hell!" weren't the greatest or most original, but the fans got pretty into it. Josh explained that people growing up in Nashville don’t really root for the Commodores, mostly because Vandy hasn’t won since the Nixon administration...and the big state school, University of Tennessee is a much more natural choice.
Still, the Commodore band was “crankin that soulja boy,” and the atmosphere got more electric as the day wore on—which had a lot do with the fact that the game was such a good one.
Vanderbilt scored the opening touchdown and Ole Miss answered with a field goal. Nickson made better decisions than he had in the last game—when he was benched—and sophomore Cassen Jackson-Garrison produced solid yards on the ground.
When Vandy went up 14-3 in the second quarter, I began to wonder if maybe Bleacher Report's Erick Blasco had been right about the Commodores making a bowl. Nickson to Bennett was a deadly combination , and the Vanderbilt offensive front was dominating the trenches.
It was also around this time that I began to consider the fans' game-day attire. Shirts and ties weren't required, but there were a number of dressed-up prepsters and pretty girls in sundresses. Mike told me that the girls wearing the sundresses were extremely intimidating—while the girl might be hot, the sundress implies that you have to work incredibly hard to even talk to her in the first place.
That fit the rich, pretentious vibe I was picking up from parts of the crowd.
In the fourth quarter, former Tennessee freshman sensation turned Ole Miss transfer Brent Schaeffer threw a beautiful touchdown ball on his first play from scrimmage to make the score 24-17 Vanderbilt. The Ole Miss faithful in their bright red pants went wild. A few misguided Rebel fans even decided to throw their drinks on the field—not realizing that they were falling on their own players.
I could generalize about the whole state of Mississippi here...but not today.
I was worried at that point about the Commodores losing the game in "typical Vanderbilt fashion"—i.e. finding a way to lose in the fourth quarter—but I forgot that the Ole Miss football team isn’t any good either.
Ultimately, Curtis Gatewood cemented the game with a crushing sack on Schaeffer, and Jackson-Garrison followed up with his third touchdown of the day, making it 31-17. It was impossible to lose at that point...even in typical Vanderbilt fashion.
I’d be lying to you if I told you what transpired after the Vanderbilt victory, so let me just say they party very hard in Nashville!
-The Kentucky-Louisville intrastate rivalry was possibly the best game of the year so far (aside from Appalachian State-Michigan upset). If you only saw the end of the fourth quarter, that was good enough. Brian Brohm and Anthony Allen led Louisville down the field for a touchdown that made the game 34-33 with about a minute and a half left. André Woodson proceeded to lead his team down the field and throw the game-winning touchdown, solidifying his status as one of the best NFL quarterback prospects next year and a potential Heisman prospect.
-The Alabama-Arkansas game was apparently really, really good—we saw the updates on this scoreboard. Alabama won 41-38. Arkansas must’ve not given Darren McFadden his mandated 60 touches a game.
-USC is really, really good, but you already knew that. I predicted them to go 12-0 on the year, but aren’t we all waiting for the annual trap game they somehow manage to lose? Who’s it going to be this year, Arizona State or Washington State?
-In my completely biased opinion, Ohio State looks like the new frontrunner in the Big 10. Although we were waiting for Todd Boeckman to screw up against Washington, he made a few good passes to “Robo” and Brian Hartline. Chris “Beanie” Wells looks like he’s going to be extraordinarily good in about a year. He’s a better version of Oregon’s 230-pounder Jonathan Stewart.
-As my friend Tim so eloquently put it, "Did I read this right? 11th-ranked UCLA loses to Utah 44-6???? Duke won???? What the f*** is wrong with the NCAA this year?" Apparently, I was wrong about UCLA having one of the top five defenses in the country; they lost 44-6 to Utah...the team that lost 24-7 to Oregon State...the team that lost 33-3 to Cincinnati. I guess all of us preseason analysts really did overrate the Bruins. My bad.
-I truly hope that Auburn has enjoyed the “Brandon Cox Experience.”
Washington University (MO) Watch: The Bears lost 55-14 in a Division III matchup with #10 Wheaton College (IL). Bears sophomore running back Matt Glenn had his second touchdown of the season.
-Stephon Marbury aka Starbury was interviewed on Mike’d up. It’s long, but it’s definitely worth watching. One of my favorite quotes from Starbury is about his predicted statistical output in the upcoming basketball season: “Man, I think I’m gonna average about 10 points, like 12-13 dimes, like…2-3 assists and about 4-5 rebounds.” And “I can’t teach all of the kids, it’s impossible, so I have to give the teachers the tools that they need to be able to help the little kids. I can’t give them what they need if they don’t have it.” Presumably, these tools that the little kids need are affordable yet stylish sneakers, of which I have three pairs and recommend that you buy a pair. Don’t buy it necessarily for Starbury, who goes absolutely insane at about the 8:05 mark in that clip...but think about the little kids.
-If you'e eating something, please finish and digest your food before continuing. A couple weeks ago a diehard/psychotic Buckeyes fan jumped into a pile of cow manure for the chance to win free tickets to an Ohio State game. Yep, they’re pretty hardcore in Columbus.
-Miami Hurricane mascot Sebastian the Ibis “crankin’ that Soulja Boy.”
-It’s been over two weeks since the historic Appalachian State upset, and while you probably have already seen this promotional video, it’s worth another look. Appalachian State is HOT! HOT! HOT!
-With great quotes such as “Tim Tebow has counted to infinity…twice” and “Life doesn’t give Tim Tebow lemons. Life asks him which fruit he wants,” check out Tim Tebow Facts.
-So that’s why everyone wants to play for Florida State.
-SPiN Columnist and author of Dixieland Delight (a great read, might I add) Clay Travis briefly mentioned me in ClayNation. All because of former LSU running back Justin Vincent, black people too can now wear boat shoes.
Have a great week everyone.