Before the season began, the Commodore fanbase alternated between insanely optimistic and psychotically pessimistic. The distribution of season record predictions jumped between 2-10 and 10-2; the worst being "Presbyterian and Ole Miss... maybe" and the other side of the crazy coin being "drawing with Alabama in the SECCG!"
And that's how it should be, really. Over the top, James-Franklin-is-Midas prognostications, or trying to juke out Fate by predicting a low number of wins and being pleasantly surprised. But the rational, yet optimistic, Commodore fans picked somewhere between 4 and 8 wins. Even ESPN bloggers predicted 6+ wins for the Commodores, and the ESPN on-air prediction predicted 6-6 or 7-5 (I can't find the video). The point is, people expect Vanderbilt to be doin' all right, at least by their standards.
Four weeks in, Vanderbilt is sitting 1-3, and 0-2 in the SEC. Have the wheels come off? Is Franklin's mantra not working? Should fans anchor down or jump ship?
No, no, and, seriously, be cool. Everything's (pretty much) on target for another record year.
If you don't believe me, let's take a look at the Commodores' season, holistically.
What's the first thing you see, if you're trying to look objectively at this schedule? Well, to me, I would think that the first three losses to the Commodores have all come at the hands of undefeated teams. Two are in the Top 10, and Northwestern is nipping at the heels of the 25th ranked in both the AP and USA Today (and is #25 in ESPN's Power Poll). By the time Vanderbilt takes the field in Columbia to play Mizzou, there's a good chance Vanderbilt will have lost to three ranked teams, if NW can stave off the likes of Indiana. Indiana.
Why does this matter? Take a look at the rest of the schedule, fool! After the relative unknown Mizzou and the red-hot Florida team (who, if they upset LSU this week, would mean Vanderbilt would be facing YET ANOTHER Top 10 team in two weeks' time), you've got an anemic Auburn, a terrible UMass, an even terribler Kentucky, a resurgent-but-untested Ole Miss, a neurotic and insecure UT, and Wake Forest, who despite their strong start doesn't look much improved from the team Vanderbilt gave a whooping to last year.
That's the definition of "front-loaded scheduling," folks.
So, to get back to the point: Vanderbilt is 1-3. That's not awesome, but it's right on track for this schedule. Vanderbilt's not a Top 10 team this year, by far; to win against USC or UGA would have required a lot of luck, which this team just doesn't have much of this year. And Northwestern? The fact that Franklin's Commodores (according to many fans) should have beaten them is, I would think, encouraging. That puts this team competitive with teams right around the 20th-30th best in the nation.
What's a realistic goal for a second-year Vanderbilt coach who went to Vanderbilt's first bowl game in thirty years that was more than three miles away? Do it again. And guess what, folks? That hasn't changed, or been made impossible. Not by a longshot.
It's easy to see the whole schedule in the summer, before the games have started; it's harder at Week 4 when we haven't seen a team that could handle any real opponent. But I would charge that this team hasn't seen more than one FBS opponent they could beat - not with the talent that they have right now. But that's going to change soon.
Let's put it this way. Even if the Commodores lose to Missouri. Even if the Commodores lose to Florida. Even if the Commodores lose to Auburn. If the Commodores lose ALL THREE of those games and go 1-6(!!!), 80% of the remaining schedule is a should-win for this squad. The only question would be Tennessee... at home... after last year's insults... for all the marbles.
Then we might see if anything's changed in Year 2. And I think, just maybe, that kind of change would make a 1-3 start a little easier in retrospect.