2016 College Football Kickoff: Vanderbilt in search of hope and change in opener

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Once again, the Vanderbilt Commodores will help open up the college football season, this year by hosting the South Carolina Gamecocks tonight at 8:00 pm on ESPN, and they’ll be looking to exorcise some debut demons.

Vandy played in the first Thursday night season opener back in 2012, which also saw them playing the Gamecocks in Nashville. Vanderbilt lost that game, 17-13, as the result of a very bad officiating call, although they missed opportunities to secure a victory for themselves. The Commodores were part of the opening Thursday night in 2013 as well, again losing by four at home, this time to Ole Miss. They nevertheless were called upon again in 2014 to play on the first Thursday, losing so badly at home to Temple, 37-7, that I and a significant majority of our readers wondered whether VU should fire then-first-year coach Derek Mason. Vandy didn’t fire Mason, and the NCAA didn’t fire Vandy from the season-opening Thursday slot, where they again appeared in 2015, hosting Western Kentucky. That was a stupid game the Commodores lost by two points.

Which brings us back to tonight. Vanderbilt is seeking its first opening Thursday win in Nashville, and they’ll have to beat South Carolina, their original opponent in this series of sorts, to do so. The SEC Network’s analysts, including former Vandy QB and Bachelorette star Jordan Rodgers, predict a win this evening. They also predict a 5-1 start and a 7-5 overall record, though, which some may take as a sign of excessive optimism.

At this point, VU fans have every reason to expect a disaster in this game, but I think it’s fair to expect that Mason, in his third year in Nashville, will have his team better prepared to start this season than the Gamecocks under new coach Will Muschamp. One of these teams is going to secure an SEC win in the first week of the season, and, in my estimation, it’ll be the Commodores. Paul Finebaum agrees. If you want to place a bet, maybe take the under– it’s tough to envision these two teams combining for more than forty-two points.

Everything’s Coming Up Black & Gold: A Remarkable Night for Vanderbilt Baseball

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Last night might have been the second-best night in Vanderbilt baseball history, surpassed only by the evening nearly one year ago when they won their first national championship. On the fourth birthday of Grantland.com, a sporting internet website named for VU’s second baseball coach, the Commodores completed their super regional sweep of Illinois and secured a spot in the 2015 College World Series.

Soon after the game ended, three Vandy starters– Dansby Swanson, Carson Fulmer, and Walker Buehler– were selected in the first round of the MLB amateur draft, with Swanson as the first overall pick.

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As they make their way to Omaha, here’s hoping this team has a few more good nights left in the tank.

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Previously
Vanderbilt wins the College World Series

Tainted Love: The New York Times doesn’t get Vanderbilt

nyt george jonesThe New York Times has been flirting with Nashville for years, joining the charge of northern and coastal publications eager to tag Music City as America’s newly discovered “It City” with multiple travel-section features and other glowing profiles. They even utilized Vanderbilt basketball player Joe Duffy as a sports columnist during Duffy’s senior year.

All of this praise and proclamation certainly drew Nashville’s attention. A sudden object of affection rightly wants to know that its new, putative suitor’s interest is real, though, and a period of trouble or difficulty can provide a means of testing the authenticity of that interest. If the suitor’s interest is genuine, it will respond in a way that demonstrates true understanding or, at the very least, in a way that seeks to gain that understanding, so as best to further the relationship. If it responds by turning to cliches and shallow “conventional wisdom,” though, it suggests the interest was only ever skin-deep.

I’m not suggesting that the New York Times owes Nashville, or Vanderbilt University, any special degree of care or deference. That’s especially so where, as here, the issue is a rape allegation, and one that describes a single victim with multiple alleged perpetrators at that. (To say that rape is a topic beyond the scope of this website a) is true; b) is not to signal that it is a topic that people should not discuss; and c) is not to say that the integrity of a sports team as such is the more important issue here.)

I am suggesting that the New York Times owes Nashville and Vanderbilt University a duty of ordinary journalistic practices, which include researching stated assumptions instead of treating general stereotypes as established fact applicable to the matter at hand. I also am suggesting that the New York Times did not meet that standard in an article about Vanderbilt University’s football program it published today. (HT: Johnny Too Bad.)

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ALDLAND takes you live to the start* of SEC conference play

Although conference play technically began when South Carolina survived against SEC East foe Vanderbilt in the first game of the college football season, conference play ramps up in earnest this week, when the Commodores, and yours truly, head to Athens for a night game between the hedges against #5 Georgia.

As indicated in the photograph, these divisional opponents have some history. When they played in the above-depicted game, nearly fifty-six years to the day prior to Saturday night’s meeting, Vanderbilt scored a 14-0 victory at home. Unsurprisingly, that outcome does not predominate; in a series that began in 1893 (with a 35-10 Commodore win, incidentally), the Dawgs have a 53-18-2 record. The series was far more competitive through the early 1960s, but Vanderbilt has only four wins (and one tie) against UGA since the 1961 season.

These two teams have some recent notable history, too. ALDLAND was there, in duplicate, for their last meeting, in which Georgia survived a late special teams error to escape Nashville with a win. It was what happened after the game that most people will remember, though Continue reading

ALDLAND takes you live to the Brain Bowl, Evanston IL

Since Brendan wanted to neither preview nor review the Michigan/Alabama game he attended last weekend, this weekend’s Vanderbilt/Northwestern matchup will be ALDLAND’s first live-covered football game of the season. I, along with CFB preview podcast guest Marcus and VSL‘s Bobby O’Shea, will be in Evanston this weekend for the meeting of these two institutionally similar teams.

In the abstract, both teams represent the smallest and only private schools in two of the nation’s biggest conferences. As the modified graphic above indicates, this isn’t the first time the Commodores and Wildcats have met to play FOOTBALL. Some light googling indicates that these two schools have met three times, and each has a 1-1-1 record against the other. This season, both teams have a record that, at least vis-a-vis this weekend’s game, probably is misleading. Vanderbilt is 0-1 after a close loss to a top-ten, in-conference opponent in a game they at least could have won. Northwestern is 1-0 on the strength of a 42-41 shootout win over one-time-sort-of-powerhouse-ish Syracuse. I’m not saying they should’ve lost to the Orange, but I am saying that their surrender of 41 points and the final possession to CNY’s favoritest tells me more than them posting 42 on a Big East defense, to say nothing of the margin of victory. (And their otherwise feisty supporters seem to agree.)

On Wednesday, Vanderbilt was a 3.5-point favorite on the road, and the line hasn’t moved since. Given the high hopes in Commodore Country James Franklin has built since his arrival before last season and the sense around the Midwest that Northwestern, while not a doormat, has plateaued, this feels a bit narrow. Still, NW will make a formidable host for the visitors, for whom this is an important game they absolutely should win on their way to higher heights back in the SEC. As O’Shea writes in his preview this week, a win in the Chicago suburbs would be a strong statement to the Black & Gold’s national recruiting base as well.

As with last year, find us on Twitter during the game, and come back here for a recap afterwards.

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Previously
B1G Roadtrippin’: Michigan at Northwestern

College football preview: The season starts in Nashville

College football starts tonight, when Vanderbilt hosts South Carolina in the first game of the season. With the national spotlight on Nashville, I’ve decided I’m allowed to make this preview collection extremely Commodore-heavy.

There are a number of reasons this game is a great season opener. First, it pits two division rivals against each other. In an era in which teams don’t play non-cupcakes until October to boost their BCS rankings, the value of an in-conference, in-division game to lead off opening day cannot be overstated. Second, that conference just happens to be the Southeastern Conference, the top one in the country. Third, these teams actually are somewhat competitive with each other, at least recently. While the overall series isn’t pretty for the black & gold, the Gamecocks are just 3-2 over the last five meetings, and one of those losses came in Columbia. Fourth, SC coach Steve Spurrier has a history of Vanderbilt hatred, which is showing no signs of cooling off. Fifth, the game should be an excellent showcase for the run game, with the visitors’ Heisman candidate competing against the home team’s RB corps, which is top in the conference. Sixth, SC is ranked #9 in the preseason rankings, which is a high ranking.

I’m on record predicting a Vandy win, but did you really expect anything else? Other games of note this weekend include Boise State at Michigan State on Friday and Alabama and Michigan playing in Dallas on Saturday.

The rest of this 2012 college football preview goes like this:

I realize this is likely the least useful preview aggregation I’ve put forth to date, but our sponsorship agreement with Gongshow Hockey hasn’t come through yet, and the site just doesn’t pay like it used to. Also and far more importantly, this week’s podcast took a very thorough look at the national college football scene, so listen to that on your way home from work, and if you’ve got other links that belong in the collection above, let me know, and I’d be happy to add them.

Enjoy the games!

Liberty Bowl preview

After a couple weeks of silly bowl games and lamenting the defunctedness of the Baccardi Bowl, it’s come time to get into college football’s more serious postseason games. With the BCS bowls getting going on January 2 (there are no New Year’s Day bowls this year), New Year’s Eve provides a suitable appetizer, including Cincinnati and Vanderbilt in the Liberty Bowl, 2:30 pm Central time on ABC. Watch for me on the TV.

Rather than try to duplicate the good work already done by dedicated Vanderbilt bloggers and create my own full game preview, I’ll yield to more experienced voices below, after offering my own thoughts, in bullet-point format (it’s Memphis, after all):

  • While Vanderbilt was three plays away from a 9-3 record in the regular season, they finished 6-6, which still triples their win total from last year with essentially the same roster and bests their win total from the past two seasons combined. That said, a win on Saturday would give the Commodores a winning record on the season; a loss, of course, would give them a losing record. Coach James Franklin has hit this point in his preparation this week and I think it’s an important one. A season this good, comparatively speaking, cannot end with a losing record.
  • This is just the fifth bowl appearance for Vanderbilt, but this year’s senior class is the school’s first to play in two bowl games. At a school where nobody leaves early for the NFL (not even Jay Cutler), the seniors represent a strong, experienced group of leaders. They also have played for three different coaches (Bobby Johnson, Robbie Caldwell, and Franklin) in three years, so they have been through a lot together. After a win in the Music City Bowl three years ago, followed by two down years, the seniors seem to play for themselves as much as they do for Franklin and the future of the program. I think this bodes well for their performance in their final game.
  • As much as 2008’s Music City Bowl was a coming out party for quarterback Larry Smith, the 2011 season has been a coming out party for his replacement, Jordan Rodgers. The junior starter with a famous brother has been an offensive force this year, both as a rusher and a passer. Rodgers need not have a perfect total game for Vandy to win– other offensive options and tools are available– but he needs to avoid making the kinds of mistakes he did in the overtime loss to Tennessee.
  • Cincinnati is a relative unknown to me, and probably to you, something the information below should remedy. The two things that come to my mind are 1) they aren’t that far removed from Brian Kelly, so there probably is a talent residue there; and 2) their basketball team is made up of some hard brawlers, which may or may not carry over onto the football field. I just looked up their regular season record: 9-3. But they play in the Big East.
  • I’ve been to one other bowl game, the 2007 Rose Bowl. USC embarrassed Michigan that afternoon, and I was embarrassed to be associated with the state in which the losing team was located. I very much am hoping for a different result on Saturday.

History: Sensibly, the Liberty Bowl started in Philadelphia in 1959, but by 1965, it had moved to Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis to host larger crowds and establish itself as one of the oldest non-BCS bowls. The People’s history of the Liberty Bowl is here.

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