The Golden Era of Vanderbilt Football

James Franklin was the best thing to ever happen to Vanderbilt Football. Some may be loathe to admit it, but everyone knows it to be true. He led Vandy to a 24–15 record during his three-year stint, including 17–4 over his last 20 games (second only to Bama and Carolina). That’s awesome. We were on track to get back-to-back top-20 recruiting class before Franklin bolted for Penn State (who now has the #1 recruiting class as of 16/4/14). Basically, Vanderbilt fans now know what victory tastes like—delicious—and we want to make sure that new head coach Derek Mason and his staff can keep the goods flowing. Three years from now, what will placate Vandy fans?

1. Annual Bowl Eligibility is a must—and the key is the non-conference slate.

For the foreseeable future, Vanderbilt should be going to a bowl game every year. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to get 4 non-con wins and 2 SEC wins each year, especially given our laughably easy non-conference schedule. Personally, I’d like us to drop one of the losers and play a smart school each year like we have been with Wake Forest. I think Duke should be our end-of-year opponent. Though we don’t have a main rivalry with them, many students applied to both schools and have friends at the other school. Duke isn’t that far away, and we’ll both be playing for the same recruits. We had a home and home series against Northwestern that was supposed to extend to 2013–2014, but Franklin cancelled it. (His lost to Northwestern ended up costing us a 10–win season {a new Vanderbilt record}, which would have meant more bragging rights, a better contract, and a better bowl/recruiting class. Franklin was probably very salty about it.)

At some point, beating up high-school teams isn’t going to be fun. Within the next few years, I think the most obvious BCS games should be against the other Division I private, smart schools (in most important order): Stanford (we’ve begun to recruit SoCal pretty heavily, Duke, Wake Forest, and Northwestern. The annual “Brain Bowl”, if you will. We can even make the trophy a book!

2. Semi-regular upsets of Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina. 

One thing James Franklin couldn’t do was top Spurrier’s Spurs, though he might have in 2012 if the refs hadn’t pulled a Vandy and screwed us on the cusp of an upset. He got close to beating both UF and especially UGA back in 2011, was thoroughly beaten by them in 2012, and managed to pull of both in 2013 (injured though they may have been, we were missing some players as well). I don’t think any Vandy fan expects to beat them every year, but 25% of the time we should be able to eke out a win. There shouldn’t be any more 26 year losing streaks.

3. Regular wins over Tennessee and Ole Miss. 

Franklin went 2–1 against Tennessee, and really should have gone 3–0. That overtime loss to Dooley in 2011 should not have happened. In any event, Butch Jones doesn’t have Tennessee back on (Rocky) Top yet, so I expect to handle them for at least the next two years. There should never again be a 24 game losing streak in this series, and I think that over the coming decade(s), the series will start to become more competitive. A Mason–Jones rivalry would be good for the state, as both Tennessee and Vanderbilt should be bowling every year (if Tennessee can get their joke of an athletics department in order).

Ole Miss is definitely an up-and-coming team like ourselves, and the last two games in the series have been absolute thrillers. I expect to see more of the same for the coming years as Freeze and Mason take shots at each other, and I honestly think it’s one of the best interdivisional rivalries, second only to Auburn-Georgia (that currently favors 55–54 Auburn thanks to the “Prayer in Jordan-Hare”). Franklin went 2–1 against the Rebels (should have been 3–0), and played a big part in boosting our SEC record. While Ole Miss has the series record in its favor(34–48–2), We’ve won 5 out of the last 7 and 6 out of the last 8. Overall, the average points is 18.1 Vandy, 18.8 Ole Miss. That’s pretty competitive. As with most of our series, we dominated in the beginning and did terribly after about the 1950s, but Ole Miss has been kind enough to give us a few wins here and there. Let’s make this rivalry fun again (but mostly in our favor).

4. Handle business against Kentucky (and maybe Mizzou).

In order for the 4–0 Non-con 2–6 bowl minimum be met, we’ve got to beat at least two SEC games a year. One way to do this is to continue to throttle Kentucky (whom Franklin owned 3–0 and dominated 40–0 at Lexington in 2012). The series is tied at 40-all as the less terrible program took turns dominating for stretches at a time. We need to get this series back on our side. Stoops will bring up Kentucky, but at the expense of wins at a place like Tennessee, Missouri (still can’t believe they’re in the SEC East) or Florida (so long as Muschamp is roaming the sidelines). Obviously Missouri isn’t a free win every year, given that they rightfully and convincingly won the East last year, but I don’t think that’s sustainable. While that’s the case, let’s take care of the lowest Tigers in the league (with their terrible ‘gold’ and black scheme).

5. Run the program the right way.

I don’t know of anyone that thinks this is going to be a problem with Mason. He looks like a standup guy with a good background. No academic issues. No rapists (though there are doubts that football players actually raped that girl last summer, and I highly doubt it myself). Bring in guys that could reasonably make it through Vanderbilt on their own. Graduate 100% of the guys. Otherwise , we won’t be happy at all. Also, don’t make stupid comments. Franklin said some dumb things in his time here, notably about coaches’ wives and recruit flippers (which has come back to bite him hard in the ass). I don’t think Mason is quite as hotheaded and attention-prone, so I don’t think that would be consistent with his personality. But either way, keep it civil and honest.

Other miscellany:

I’m glad that they school and Mason are keeping the “Anchor Down” slogan. It’s caught on really well and everyone likes it, even expanding to the other sports (though apparently Stallings isn’t a fan, he may just need to get over himself). It’s fitting, relatively makes sense, and works as a good call and response.

I hope we don’t have any uniform changes anytime soon. Consistency is good, and we’ve got a really clean, classy pair of duds in my opinion (though I think the gold on the pants can be toned down just a bit). Most SEC teams don’t switch up their uniforms often (something about tradition or whatever), so I don’t see any reason to switch up what we wear. On the other hand, one switch-up that would be fun to see is an alternate only-for-special-occasions Anchor helmet. The logo that they use for “Anchor Down” branding could be in black on the gold helmet. That, I think, would be fun for the Tennessee game or something. But by and large, keep it simple.

I also think that we should stick with the gold helmet as much as possible in our combinations for next year. Conspicuously, in every uniform combination, there have never been all three colors represented (e.g. gold helmet, white top, black pants). I think the uniforms would still look good like that, but I can’t photoshop to check. We’ve also never seen the gold helmet with the gold jersey—I think that could look good since the shoulders are black. I like the white helmet on occasion (White helmet–Black jersey–White pants looks really good), but I’m not really a big fan of the black one—it’s too hard to make out the Star-V. Besides, how often do other SEC schools change their helmets? Answer: Next to never. Repetition and consistency are the keys to building a brand, and no other team in the league has a gold helmet.

Regardless, Mason has his work cut out for him at Vanderbilt, but it looks like he’s the right man for the job. Anchor Down!

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