Friday, October 12, 2007

Thoughts at mid-season: there's still room for hope

It's homecoming "on the city's west'rn border," and this year Vanderoyalty will be crowned on national television. Photo by Neil Brake, Vanderbilt University.
It's finally here. Once every year, the entire Vanderbilt community -- students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends, get an opportunity to come together in Commodore Country. Myself? As soon as this post is published, I'm hitting the road for Nashville.

Usually, at this point in our season, the football that accompanies Homecoming is something of an after-thought. Often, by week six of the season, Vanderbilt's record is languishing in the losing-column. This year, in fact the past couple of years, things have been different.

And boy is it different this week. For Homecoming 2007 there are so many story-lines that it is difficult to know which ones to pick and choose. First, the Commodores are still above .500, with an SEC win under their belt. That, in and of itself, is something of an accomplishment when we compare where we are now with where we've been in years past.

It wasn't that long ago that the rejoicing from Commodores about a 3-2 record at mid-season would still be reverberating off Carmichael Towers, even at this late date.

I suppose it's a subtle commentary on where Bobby Johnson and his staff have taken our program that Vanderfans come into Homecoming this year frustrated about what might have been.

And that leads us to our second story line. Vanderbilt got embarassed last week. It wasn't just a loss we suffered at Auburn, it was a disgusting and disturbing flashback to the "bad ol' days" of SOV. When Vanderbilt would get manhandled and thrown about the field without notice or the regard of our SEC brethren.

But even with that said, let's step back for a moment and think about where we are in the season.

Many of you were probably like me this summer, excited about the prospect of receiving the first-ever Athlon Sports magazine with Vanderbilt as the only team on the front (instead of the gag-reflex-inducing feature of the Yew Tee thug-of-the-week). Every year, Athlon previews the schedules of all 117 Division I-A schools, and the 'Dores are no exception.

According to Athlon's picks, at this point in the season, guess where we should be?

With a record of 3-2.

I'm not saying that this should make us feel better about the loss to Auburn. I'm still frustrated with the inconsistency of this team, and our unwillingness to take advantage of opportunities that we get to upset teams like 'Bama and Auburn.

But seriously, in your heart of hearts at the beginning of this season, did you really expect to beat the Tide or the Tigers? I know that I, for one, expected a blowout against Auburn at the beginning of this year.

The last time we were on ESPN2, we didn't fare so well against the LSU Tigers. With 7 games left, we only have win 3 to make it a bowl; wouldn't it be nice to start that run on TV? Photo by Neil Brake, Vanderbilt University.
Of course, as the season progressed and Auburn looked vulnerable, I allowed hope to grow. That hope, of course, is what made last week so bitter.

Now again, this week, I have hope that after their whipping by the Vawls last week, we have a chance to beat Georgia. But realistically, do we? When is the last time we beat the Dawgs back-to-back? It was a long time ago, I'm sure.

With that in mind, then, I'm trying to approach our game tomorrow with a bit of pessimism, so that if, indeed, we somehow come up with a win, I'll be just as exuberant as any; if we come up with a loss, I won't let downtrodden hope lead me to jump off the top of the Grantland Rice Press Box.

The third thing about this game that makes it different is the fact that it's being broadcast nationally on ESPN2, and not just broadcast, it's in prime-time. Football fans around the country will be sitting down to enjoy fried chicken, buffalo wings, and pizza just in time for kick-off on Dudley Field. That, too, is a measure of how far our program has come: national ESPN coverage at our own stadium in 2 out of the past 3 years. Can't say that that has happened in a while.

Since the 'Dores know that we've got such attention focused on us, how will they respond? How will Georgia respond?

And that's the final thing about this game: both teams are coming off of embarassing, televised butt-kickings. Both teams are hungry for redeeming wins. The question is, who has more to lose?

I'm afraid the answer to that might be Georgia: people expect us (whether we like it or not) to lose to the big boys by 28. They do not expect the University of Georgia to go and do likewise. Nor do they expect Georgia to lose to us twice in a row.

History is against the Black-and-Gold this Saturday. But, then again, history is against our Commodores every time they step onto the playing field.

With 7 games, including this one, remaining, Vanderbilt must win 3 to go to a bowl. Remember that Athlon preview? Well, they mark us down losing to UGA, USC, UF, and Yew Tee. They give us the benefit of the doubt against Miami (OH) for a win, and they call the UK and Wake games toss-ups.

Me? I see the possibilities for Ws tomorrow, against UT, Miami, UK, and Wake. We have five truly legitimate shots to get three wins.

C'mon, Vanderbilt. Put last week behind you. Today starts a whole new season: the one that may still yet lead us to a bowl. And there's no better way to kick it off than on Homecoming before a national television audience.


Anonymous said...

"Many of you were probably like me this summer, excited about the prospect of receiving the first-ever Athlon Sports magazine with Vanderbilt as the only team on the front (instead of the gag-reflex-inducing feature of the Yew Tee thug-of-the-week)."

Erik Ainge is a thug?

Diezba said...

Okay, okay.... Ainge is not, from what I can tell, a thug. I suppose I am guilty of over-generalization.

Mea culpa.