Fresh start means starting over in Vanderbilt's quest for respect

Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 11:51pm

In his three years on the job, James Franklin has encouraged his team to play with an edge.

The Vanderbilt football coach even went so far to order shirts with the word “CHIP” printed on the right shoulder.

Coming off their first nine-win season in 97 years and a victory in the Music City Bowl, the Commodores now face a new battle — fighting complacency.

Vanderbilt ended the season on a seven-game winning streak and ranked No. 23 in the final Associated Press poll. At a press conference on Thursday before Vanderbilt’s first preseason practice, the recurring sentiment was settling wouldn’t be an option.

“The chip is bigger now,” defensive end Walker May said. “It is one of those things where you still don’t have the respect; you still don’t have anybody who cares for you now, except for your fans. We still have the chip and it is still bigger. We’re still disrespected in the SEC.”

After years in the cellar of the SEC, the Commodores have moved up to the middle of the pack in the East. The media chose the Commodores to finish fourth in the SEC East — also their finish last year — one spot ahead of rival Tennessee.

The next step is to win games over ranked opponents. They’ll get plenty of chances with Georgia (T-No.5), Texas A&M (T-No. 5), South Carolina (No. 8) and Florida (No. 9). They last defeated a ranked opponent in 2008.

“That is a big step,” fullback Fitz Lassing said. “I’d say it is even harder to go from good to great than from average to good. That is the step we are looking to take now. You just have to keep working, keep putting in the time. We were really motivated when coach [Franklin] first got here because we were coming off a rough string of seasons. We were really hungry, fighting to get out of the gutter.

“Now we have to have that same desire, same work ethic to take the next step, get to the next level.”

Vanderbilt returns 15 starters, including seven apiece on offense and defense.

Gone is quarterback Jordan Rodgers, all-time leading rusher Zac Stacy, defensive tackle Rob Lohr and cornerback Trey Wilson. But four starting offensive linemen return, along with wide receiver tandem Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd and All-SEC cornerback Andre Hal.

Areas of interest include quarterback, where Austyn Carta-Samuels takes over; running back, where Hendersonville native Wesley Tate leads the charge to fill the void left by Stacy; defensive line, which showed much promise in the spring; and tight end, a weakness the last two years.

“The verdict is still out — we have to go out there and work,” Matthews said. “We are 0-0. We have no practice under our belt. If we want to be a team we need to be, we have to go out each day and do our job. Then, if we do that, I can start talking to you close to [the season opener against Ole Miss on] Aug. 29 about how good this team is, which I think we will be a good team.”

Asked if a team can be better even if the record is worse, Franklin responded with a confident yes. He said scheduling, along with injuries and fortuitous bounces, factor into a team’s record.

He added that Vanderbilt “on paper” has a chance to be better than last year thanks to increased depth, team chemistry and an internal drive.

Of course, Franklin doesn’t want his team to enter the season with a sense of entitlement.

“Dealing with adversity with 17 to 22-year-old males is a lot of time easier to handle than success,” he said. “We have to make sure we still keep that fighter’s mentality. … My message to the team [Wednesday] night was that this team has not won a bowl game. This team has not won any games. This team has no streaks going. This team hasn’t done anything yet. That is going to be our approach with everything we do. We have experiences… we’ll use for growth. But this team hasn’t achieved anything. We’re not going to take anything for granted.”

5 Comments on this post:

By: TopShelfDore on 8/2/13 at 5:14

James Franklin knows where he wants to go and how to there...the trajectory is still up, up, up and as a diehard VU fan, I'm sure enjoying the ride...bring on Ole Miss...TopShelfDore

By: joe41 on 8/2/13 at 6:31

I will raise my game and cheer a little harder this Fall. Go Vandy!

Joe

By: PKVol on 8/2/13 at 8:08

In my mind, this year is pivotal in the progression (or regression) of Vanderbilt football. If they have success, this could lead to a promising future, if they fail this year, it could spell doom for the direction of the football program. It will also be imperative that the school is able to retain Franklin after this year. He is on a lot of high-level jobs' radar and keeping him here will be the toughest job David Williams will ever have.

By: wiseguy1 on 8/2/13 at 9:55

Wish I was still in Tennessee ... I'd be there.

PK ... as far as pivotal, yeah hard to argue against that one. Franklin mentioned increased depth on this team that was not available in the past. On his 2 teams or BoJos. Depth was a serious problem for BoJo. BoJo did raise the talent level and Franklin has certainly kicked up the gain a notch. Franklin also said that a team can be better and have worse record because of the bounce of the ball, injury, etc. I think the 2-9 teams are a thing of the past. So ,bottom line is there is lots of potential with this team and this schedule. Potential for cartwheels watching the Georgia or Florida games and potential for serious disappointment with a loss to Ole Miss or UT. I also think (hope) the pivotal no calls we saw in SoCar and UF games are a thing of the past. VU earning wins in those games will still hurt SoCar & UF in polls, but VU will be in position to move into or up in the polls versus simply a bad loss for a top 10 team.

Sure Franklin is a hot commodity right now, but I don't think he is done at Vanderbilt and I also don't think Vanderbilt is a mere stepping stone for him. You look in his eyes and feel his passion ... you don't see or hear Steve Sloan or Gerry DiNardo. Will he stay at VU for a JoPa or Bobby Bowden or Bear Bryant tenure? I can only say I hope so, and time will tell.

By: 4gold on 8/5/13 at 6:30

Lots of potential and could go either way. The schedule looks tougher. VU caught Missouri without its starting QB for most of the game last year. They drop Auburn and pick up Texas A&M. They squeaked by OM last year in final seconds of game. It could be great year with SC and UF looking like potential targets on the ladder. But stub a toe on OM, UT, Mizzoo and it ould be a disaster. Just wish Nashville would get behind their own home team and fill the stadium with Black and Gold. I will be tailgaiting early. See you there.

Go Dores, Preds, Titans! Go Nashville a great place to live!