Don’t look now, but the Vanderbilt Commodores may finally be turning the corner under head coach Bobby Johnson.
Johnson and the Commodores have rattled off four straight wins to start the season, including upset victories over Steve Spurrier and South Carolina and a talented Ole Miss squad.
Their fast start has led to a No. 21 ranking in the AP Poll, their first ranking in over two decades, and an excited buzz around the football team.
Vanderbilt’s successful start has Nashville, as well as the SEC, wondering: Will this be the year that Vandy finally ends their postseason drought?
While Vandy certainly has the motivation and the competitive drive to reach a bowl game (their last bowl appearance was in 1982), their upcoming schedule will prove to be a tough test for the 4-0 Commodores.
As many of you may know, Vanderbilt plays in the SEC, which is arguably college football’s toughest conference, and faces a brutal schedule down the stretch.
The Commodores travel to play at No. 2 Georgia and No. 16 Wake Forest, while hosting No. 15 Auburn, No. 4 Florida, and Tennessee.
That schedule is not intended for the faint of heart.
Another disadvantage for Vandy is that week after week, they are often the second-best team on the field, talent-wise.
Vanderbilt prides itself primarily on academic prestige, admitting students based on their academic prowess rather than their ability to catch a football. (Ironically, former Commodore receiver Earl Bennett is the SEC’s all-time leader in career receptions with 236. Go figure.)
Vanderbilt’s strict academic requirements, as well as their rigorous curriculum, make it difficult for some of the nation’s top high school prospects to enroll at Vandy, resulting in the top talent going elsewhere (i.e. Georgia, Florida, LSU, Tennessee).
However, Vanderbilt is a resilient bunch and is normally good for at least one big upset per season—sometimes, even more than one.
The Commodores still have some very winnable games left on their schedule, including road trips to Mississippi State and Kentucky.
In addition, Vandy will play host to David Cutcliffe and Duke in the “Academic/Scholastic Bowl.”
Call me crazy, but Vanderbilt has a very realistic shot of winning six, seven, maybe even eight games this season and finally ending their egregious bowl drought.
However, it will all come down to how Vanderbilt handles their newfound success and if they can continue to perform at a high level in the ground game.
Senior quarterback Chris Nickson and junior tailback Jared Hawkins have been a formidable one-two punch on the ground, combining for nearly 600 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on the young season.
The Nickson-Hawkins duo has been good thus far but will face their first major test against the Auburn Tigers in two weeks.
If the Commodores are able to establish the run against Auburn, the rest of the SEC had better take notice—and fast!
The ground game has been Vanderbilt’s bread and butter so far in 2008, and the Commodores would be wise to continue their running ways.
In fact, Vandy needs to continue doing whatever it is that they have been doing for the past few weeks if their goal is to play in a bowl game at season’s end.
Whatever happens for the rest of the season, 2008 will be a season to remember in Nashville.
Whether it will live on in infamy or historic lore is up to Johnson and the Vanderbilt Commodores.