The Vanderbilt faithful began this season brimming with more optimism than had been seen in a generation.
25 straight losing seasons can have that effect, after all, and it looks like the Commodores' only role this year may be the one of spoiler.
And that's kind of a downer.
After the Commodores ended the 2008 season with only their second bowl win ever and the most conference wins since the Southeastern Conference split into two divisions, fans around Nashville dared to predict another bowl for Bobby Johnson's team returning 18 starters from last season.
Three pretty ugly losses in four weeks have put more than put a damper on those hopes, however. An offense that hasn't mustered double digits in a single SEC game can also have that kind of effect.
The grim reality of a brutal second half of the season is right in Vanderbilt's face. After September, since 2004, the Commodores are sporting a record of 9-29.
That's not a coincidence; as the weather cools down, the competitions heats up, with annual games with the likes of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee and Kentucky. Throw Georgia Tech into the mix, and there's not a single cookie-cutter team the Commodores can beat up on like they did/should the first half of the season.
What kills, though, is Vanderbilt has the talent to be winning these games. The defense has been terrific, keeping opponents to a 30 percent conversion rate on third downs, and not allowing more than 23 points in a game this season.
They've also produced a +7 turnover ratio. The only other team in the nation with a losing record and a positive turnover ratio is San Jose State. That's the company you want to be in, for sure.
Obviously, it's the offense's inability to not only produce, but just to stay on the field, that's been killing the Commodores.
An alarming statistic discovered by the Nashville City Paper: on 37 possessions in SEC play, the Commodores have only had four that lasted more than three minutes.
With that kind of inefficiency, it's hard to see Vanderbilt beating another team after Army.
Tennessee is one-dimensional on offense like last season but still managed to run the ball effectively against Florida. The Commodores could beat the Gamecocks for the third year in a row, but South Carolina's defense will probably be too good to overcome.
Kentucky's probably the next-weakest team after Vanderbilt in the conference right now, but that still leaves the Commodores in the basement.
The only bit of optimism fans can cling to is that Vanderbilt has beaten opponents plenty of times before they apparently had no business beating.
Unfortunately, this year they don't have a 5-0 record to fall back on should they struggle in the second half. It will take a 4-3 record to finish out just to get eligible, and that won't even guarantee a bid in this year's stacked SEC.
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