What's a good season for Vanderbilt? And is a victory over Northwestern necessary to achieve that?
Our schedule is pretty brutal this season: Northwestern, LSU, @Ole Miss, @UConn, Eastern Michigan (YAY!), @Georgia, South Carolina, @Arkansas, Florida, @Kentucky, Tennessee, Wake Forest (Phil Steele ranked it as the 12th toughest overall). Considering we were a pathetic 2-10 last season (0-8 in conference), I think a reasonable goal would be to try not to finish last in the SEC East. Certainly the more wins the better and I think a win over Northwestern would have to be considered a quality one for VU. Let me put it this way: I think winning vs. Northwestern does more to help us have a great season than losing would to ensure we have a terrible season.
More after the break.
I'd say one of our RBs. Running Back has to be our deepest position. So, after Warren Norman we've got So. Zac Stacy (who had originally beaten out Norman last season for the starting assignment, only to have a nagging leg injury slow him down), Kennard Reeves and Wesley Tate (Golden Tate's younger brother).
We do have quite the unknown in our receiving corps this season. Last year we were woefully thin, thanks to the ineligibility of Terence Jeffers-Harris (who at one point was leading the CFL in receiving as a rookie). Losing TJH was a major blow last season. Without him, all it was going to take was an injury or two and we were going to be extremely reliant on the run. As has been the case with Vanderbilt football for the majority of the last 60 years, fate was not on our side. Justin Wheeler was lost for the season immediately thereafter and then nagging injuries effectively eliminated our downfield threat. This season we have a number of true freshman that specifically chose to come to Vanderbilt to take advantage of an immediate opportunity to play. 5-11 speedster Jonathan Krause, 6-3 Jordan Matthews (VU Hype alert: cousin of Jerry Rice!), and 6-4 Chris Boyd. I'm praying Earl Bennett 2.0 emerges from that set.
Just because I'm curious: Northwestern and Vanderbilt are both small, private schools dealing with bigger opponents - does Vandy have the same issues drawing football and basketball fans with Tennessee and other big SEC schools around?
In football, yes. We not only have UT and MTSU (the largest college in TN by enrollment) in Nashville, but like Chicago Nashville dwarfs the populations of the locations of the other SEC schools. With that population increase comes a lot of diversity - we've got lots of fans from all 12 SEC schools that live here. Also, I'm sure that VU and Northwestern are similar in that both draw in more students from out of state than in state, thanks to our academic reputations. As such, the vast majority of our alumni leave to return home or head to NYC, LA, Chicago (especially if they played VU football), DC, etc. Big State U really pulls in a majority of their students from in state and have the local fanbases to show for it. Also, what the hell else is there to do in a Starkville, MS or a Fayetteville, AR but go to a college football game? Vandy competes with the Titans and the Predators, not to mention the countless other events held in major cities weekend after weekend. Basketball is a different story for Vandy. It certainly isn't quite as good as it used to be, when Vanderbilt basketball was sold out and it was a packed house all season. They've come close to selling out of season tickets the last few years, though most non-conference games are a few thousand fans short of the 14,000+ capacity of Memorial Gym. Once the SEC slate starts, the gym is full. Memorial Gym is perhaps the most unique gym in college basketball thanks to it's design with the floor raised and the benches on the endline, almost beneath the goal, as opposed to the sideline. If you can get a ticket to a VU-UK, -UF, or -UT game at Memorial, do it just once.
We have similar fanbases and similar levels of historical success, which leads me to wonder: How do nerds celebrate a bowl win? Should we begin barricading the streets in Evanston in preparation?
I was fortunate enough to attend the Music City Bowl (that's what happens when you play a bowl game in your home town) in 2008 when Vanderbilt upset Boston College. There was a lot of excitement for sure, but it was extremely tame compared to what you see from time to time. That's not to say that I haven't seen the students celebrate a victory with a true gusto. There was the time when I was a student where we went on a ridiculously long, multi-season conference losing streak. When we finally beat someone (Kentucky, I think), the students rushed the field and ripped down the goal posts and paraded them through campus. The Vanderbilt administration were good sports about it and even had campus maintenance slice the posts into discs so that all the students could have a piece.
Bottom line: if you want overturned cars and lots of burning, it's probably going to have to be organized in advance.
Any predictions for Saturday? As I always tell opposing bloggers, anything you say can and will be jinxed against you.
I literally have no idea what to expect. Vanderbilt's biggest issue and probably always will be is depth (probably the same for Northwestern). Of late, we've typically started seasons very well (4-0 in 2005 only to finish 5-6 and 5-0 in 2008 to finish 7-6 after the bowl win) only to see the physical toll of football leave it's mark as the season progresses. Even last season, VU opened with Western Carolina (i know, i know) and then nearly won at #11 LSU, before losing our right offensive tackle to a broken ankle midway through the game. I think the Vanderbilt team that starts out this season is going to be significantly different than the one that finished 2009 2-10. Yesterday the line was around VU +5.5. I'd settle for beating the spread. Vanderbilt always seems to beat the spread as an underdog. I'd obviously love to pull off the upset, but there's no way I'm betting on it.