Earlier this week, after his team had just finished off North Carolina State 38-24 in the Music City Bowl, James Franklin made it clear that he believes a new day has dawned for the Vanderbilt football program:
“We have very, very high expectations for this program of where we are going, who we can be and what we can achieve. We’re going to work at it every single day like crazy. We’re not going anywhere so everybody better get used to it. We’re not going anywhere. This is the brand new Vanderbilt...
We’ve been able to come here in two years and do something that I don’t think anybody said could be done. To me, we look at the future the same way. There is going to come a point where we’re going to start talking about things people think we have no business talking about…
This thing is (going to) keep going. With the support of (athletic director) David Williams and chancellor (Nicholas) Zeppos and the community who is jumping on board right now, the sky is the limit. So get used to us.”
The brand new Vanderbilt was a nine-win football team this past season. Can Vandy replicate that — or at least go bowling — next season?
The Commodores will lose 16 seniors, nine of whom were redshirt seniors. Among those departing will be starting quarterback Jordan Rodgers and the school’s all-time leading rusher, Zac Stacy. Starting O-linemen Ryan Seymour and Josh Jelesky were seniors, too. Trey Wilson, who led Vandy with three interceptions (two returned for TDs), will be gone. So will the team’s fourth-leading tackler, Archibald Barnes. Defensive lineman Rob Lohr will depart along with his 11 tackles for loss in 2012 (third-best on Vandy’s team). And senior punter Richard Kent, whose 44.95 yards-per-punt average was third-best in the SEC, will have to be replaced as well.
Clearly, more of Franklin’s signees will be called upon to contribute next year. This past season 18 members of his 22-man 2012 signing class redshirted. Those guys will be called upon to chip in in 2013.
Having seen what Franklin has been able to accomplish with the experienced redshirt juniors and seniors Bobby Johnson left for him, there’s plenty of reason to believe he’ll do just fine with his own more highly-touted signees. They may have some growing pains at first, but the coach certainly seems to know how to get the most from his players.
Next year’s schedule will feature games with just five teams that earned bowl bids this season: Ole Miss, South Carolina, Georgia, Texas A&M and Florida. Ole Miss went bowling with a 6-6 record. So Vandy will really only play four schools in 2013 that had winning regular seasons in 2012.
The Dores’ nonconference schedule should be easy with home dates against Austin Peay, UMass, UAB and Wake Forest. If Vanderbilt takes care of business against those foes and loses to the four winning teams it will face, a 2013 bowl bid will come down to four SEC games.
Vandy opens with the aforementioned Ole Miss game in Nashville. Missouri and Kentucky travel to the Music City later in the season. And the one road game in that bunch will be at Tennessee in late-November.
Looking at the players leaving — specifically Rodgers and Stacy — it’s likely that Vanderbilt will take a small step backward next year. But the schedule sets up in such a way that even in a bit of a rebuilding year Vandy could/should go bowling once again.
And if the Commodores are to the point that they can go bowling despite losing their quarterback and star tailback… then Franklin really is building a “brand new Vanderbilt.”