NASHVILLE - When the Southeastern Conference kicks off its 2013 football season, the school with the longest active winning streak won't be traditional powers Alabama, LSU or Florida.
It will be Vanderbilt, which won its seventh straight game in Monday afternoon's Music City Bowl by beating North Carolina State 38-24, much to the delight of the overwhelmingly pro Commodores crowd of 55,801 at frigid LP Field.
"Significance of winning nine games is different," second-year coach James Franklin after his Commodores (9-4) tied the single-season record victory totals of the 1904 and 1915 teams.
"It's perceived differently than a six- or seven-win season. When you start talking 1915, that's a very long time ago. That's going back to the time of these players' great-great-grandparents."
This season may be talked about by this team's great-great-grandkids. Standing 2-4 after a 31-17 home loss to Florida, Vanderbilt hasn't lost since, winning its final six regular-season games - including four SEC contests - by an average score of 38-14.
"The coaches never panicked, never changed," said senior quarterback Jordan Rodgers, who threw for two scores and ran for another Monday. "We were all disappointed at that point, but we believed in the process. We believed in one game at a time, and we've now won seven straight."
The critics will rightly point out that N.C. State - which fired coach Tom O'Brien before the bowl game - was the first of those seven victims to finish with a winning record (7-6), though Ole Miss (6-6) also could do so by beating Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl on Saturday.
Still, interim Wolfpack coach Dana Bible was impressed with the Commodores after they forced five turnovers to offset NCSU's 424-225 advantage in total yards.
"They're an SEC team with SEC talent," said Bible, who is now unemployed as N.C. State starts over with incoming coach Dave Doeren. "When you play a team like Vanderbilt, you cannot make mistakes. Obviously, we did not get that done."
VU senior running back Zac Stacy displayed his SEC talent enough to earn MVP honors after rushing for 107 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. Junior wide receiver Jordan Matthews caught seven balls for 61 yards and a score, numbers that may encourage the 6-foot-3, 205-pounder to test the NFL draft.
But it was the turnovers that most helped VU win its second Music City Bowl in five years, helping the Commodores lead 28-14 at halftime and 38-17 late in the fourth quarter.
"Just speaking for the seniors, we've been through a lot," Stacy said. "We've had coaching changes (three head coaches in four years), back-to-back disappointing seasons (2-10 in both 2009 and '10). I know the momentum from this win will carry over into next season for these guys."
As will the winning streak, the SEC's longest.
"I'm not sure anybody really thought that could happen here," said VU senior linebacker Archibald Barnes. "But this is a different Vanderbilt, and it's only going to get better."