After a semester-long hiatus from the blogging world, S&S is back with new contributors and more time to give you the in-depth, intelligent commentary on Vanderbilt athletics that you grew to expect during the 2007 football season.
To start things off, here's a run-down of what Diezba considers to be the Top Seven stories from spring 2008 in Commodore sports:
7. Keegan Bell leaves Vanderbilt
Yet again, a Vanderbilt basketball player decides to leave the University after what appears to be, at least from the outside, a largely successful season. What is it about Kevin Stallings' teams (and staff?) that causes so many players to depart the city's west'rn border?
With a stellar recruiting class on its way to West End, should Commodore fans be worried about this trend? Should we start trying to figure out which incoming athlete will be the next one leaving?
I do not think so. For one thing, Stallings' success on the court (how many tournament appearances in the past four years?) will serve to keep people from asking questions like these too loudly. But, the trend is disturbing, despite the Dores' on-the-court success.
6. Earl Bennett leaves early, drafted by Bears
Vanderbilt's stand-out wide receiver Earl Bennett announced in a January 10 press conference that'd be foregoing his senior year at the University in order to make himself eligible for the NFL draft. The SEC's all-time leading receiver, Bennett will be missed when the 2008 football season arrives this September. Vanderbilt football coach Bobby Johnson called Bennett "a fantastic football player" and "a fantastic ambassador of Vanderbilt University," and it's clear that Bennett will leave a place to fill in the Commodores' offensive quiver.
5. Defeating No. 1 Tennessee in Memorial Gym
Let's face it: it was just one game. But what a game it was! One of the most hyped games in Vanderbilt-Tennessee history took place on a snowy evening in February, Shan Foster led the Commodores and 14,000 screaming Vanderfans into legend with a win over the nation's number one-ranked Tennessee Volunteers. The victory was especially sweet, since it was Tennessee's first number one ranking in the ninety-nine year history of their program.
The win, which was talked about for days, contributed to the Dores' growing profile on the national level, and combined with a win over the 2007 number one Florida Gators, have given Vanderbilt a reputation as "giant-killer" -- especially in Memorial Gym.
4. Men's basketball recruiting class in "top 15"
With Oregon prep star Brad Tinsley and New Mexico stand-out Jeffrey Taylor rounding out the Commodores' recruiting class this year, Coach Kevin Stallings accomplished a first for his nine-year tenure at VU. According to Jerry Meyer, a recruiting analyst with Rivals.com, Vanderbilt is likely to be counted among the nations' fifteen best men's basketball recruiting classes.
And, considering the on-the-court success the Commodores have enjoyed lately, including trips to the NCAA tournament and back-to-back SEC Player of the Year awards (Derrick Byars by the SEC coaches in 2007, Shan Foster, consensus, in 2008), players are beginning to recognize that they can succeed at VU.
Let's just hope story number seven (see above) doesn't come true.
3. Shan Foster named consensus SEC Player of the Year
Vanderbilt's all-time scoring, three-points-attempted, and three-points-made leader was named SEC Player of the Year by both the conference coaches and the Associated Press.
The honor was especially poignant for the soft-spoken Foster, who in his last home game as a Commodore, scored a record-smashing 42 points against Mississippi State on senior night. He led the Commodores to their highest NCAA tournament seeding under head coach Kevin Stallings, and he joins Derrick Byars to bring home the University's first back-to-back conference Player of the Year award in program history.
2. Brandt Snedeker places third at the Masters
Though he did not win -- and some say he choked -- this former Commodore stand-out represented the University well on an international stage. He gave Tiger Woods a run for his money, and he certainly picked up plenty of cash on his own this year. Look for Snedeker to continue to improve. It certainly is a new day for Vanderbilt athletics when we have national-reputation-caliber professional athletes out representing our University, and doing so well (Jay Cutler, David Price, Jensen Lewis, Hunter Hillenmeyer -- just to name a few).
1. Ten-year, $55 million facility upgrades announced
The most important story for the future of Vanderbilt athletics was the announcement by Vice Chancellor David Williams, II on May 20, 2008 that the University would invest $55 million in huge facility upgrades -- the largest and most sweeping changes to Vanderbilt's sports facilities since the renovations and additions to Memorial Gym.
The five-phased process includes the long-awaited overhaul of Vanderbilt Stadium to finally bring it into line with the rest of the Vanderbilt campus. This has long been a lament of fans, and the half-hearted improvements to the stadium only emphasized the lack of real changes. But that is all on the way out: already, the pressbox has been repainted, the addition of new graphics, new paint on the interior, and structural changes have begun. In addition, the "erector set" beneath the stadium will be repainted, new entry plaza's and facade work will be done, and eventually -- within 6 years -- the horseshoe will be enclosed with a massive addition of facility and seats.
But it's not just football that will benefit: new interiors for Memorial Gym -- only renovated 6 years ago -- and the brand-new Vanderbilt Athletics Hall of Fame will also be major additions to the Commodore facilities footprint. The addition to McGugin that will contain the Hall of Fame will also include 3 floors of additional space for football and expand the all-sports training facility.
These changes will have a major impact on Vanderbilt athletics in general, and football in particular. Major capital investment in the program is a tangible demonstration that the University remains committed to success on the field and on the court. For football, in particular, these new additions will be a boon for recruiting, bringing Vanderbilt Stadium a little closer (in quality, if not in quantity) with its SEC brethren.
There you have it: the S&S Top 7 for the spring. Do you agree? Disagree? Love us? Hate us? If there's one thing that Vanderbilt fans have, it's opinions -- what's yours on the biggest news out of West End this spring? We want to know.
And we want to welcome you back. It's been a while, but we're back in black -- and gold.