Vanderbilt's Baby Steps Continue After Season Opening Win

Will SheltonSenior Analyst IAugust 28, 2008

It used to be that you could count on death, taxes, and Vanderbilt losing.

And granted, the 'Dores haven't played in a bowl game since the Reagan Administration, have never threatened in the SEC East and probably won't again this year.  A handful of upsets along the way are all Vandy's had to show for its football program at a university without an athletic department.

Bobby Johnson took over in 2002, and the above facts haven't changed.  No bowls.  No winning seasons.  A few upsets to pass the time.

But even if the Commodores haven't won the war, they're winning some battles along the way.

Good players like Jay Cutler and Earl Bennett have come through Nashville under Johnson, and Vandy has flirted with a breakthrough.  Last season, though they still finished outside the bowl landscape, they won five games.  Which wasn't anything new in the last few years.

But they won those five games by an average of almost 17 points.  That was new.

Granted, they played Richmond, Eastern Michigan and Miami (OH).  But they also beat Ole Miss and South Carolina by double digits.  Even if they weren't winning six, they weren't finding a way to lose all the time.  Even if you couldn't take them seriously, you couldn't take them for granted either.

However, graduation losses, especially the departure of WR Earl Bennett, made many this offseason say that Johnson had missed his window and it would be back to the doldrums in 2008.

And maybe it still will be.  But on the first night of the college football season, Vanderbilt made a point.

It's still a small point, and those outside the SEC and Miami (OH) may not understand it,  but when the 'Dores went on the road tonight and ran for 275 yards and won by three touchdowns 34-13, they proved that maybe it's not just the every now and again surge of talent with a player like Bennett, and it's definitely not a fluke.

Vanderbilt has made progress.  Real progress.

A team that was supposed to be the old Vanderbilt instead won a road game by three touchdowns.  And Miami (OH) isn't Miami (FL), who isn't regular FL, whom the 'Dores will see along with the rest of the SEC East soon enough.  But the RedHawks aren't terrible either, and Vandy was impressive.  Or at least they were impressive enough.

QB Chris Nickson won't win the Heisman, but his day with 138 yards rushing and playing mistake-free in the passing game was great.  The Commodores picked off three passes.  They did what they had to do to win and win comfortably, which used to be the polar opposite of a program that would do anything it took to lose.

So maybe Vandy goes 1-11.  Maybe they miss another bowl game.  And maybe another talent like Cutler or Bennett doesn't roll around again.  But tonight proves, at the very least, that even without those marquee players, Bobby Johnson has progressed this program away from the automatic circled victory on the opposition's schedule to a team you have to look twice at. 

The steps may be small, but they are steps nonetheless.  Johnson has done a good job.  Vanderbilt cannot be taken for granted.

And if that can happen at Vanderbilt, it can happen anywhere.