Vandy one of nine SEC teams in postseason play

Vandy one of nine SEC teams in postseason play

December 5th, 2011 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers (11) rushes during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Wake Forest, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011, in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Photo by (AP Photo by Bruce Chapman/The Winston-Salem Journal)

The Vanderbilt Commodores go to a bowl game every year.

At least under James Franklin they do.

Vanderbilt's first season under Franklin will continue New Year's Eve, when the 6-6 Commodores will face Big East Conference co-champion Cincinnati at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. This will be just the fifth bowl trip for the Commodores, who endured a postseason drought between a 1982 Hall of Fame Bowl loss to Air Force and a 2008 Music City Bowl victory over Boston College.

"I think it's a tremendous accomplishment," Franklin said Sunday night. "Myself and my coaching staff have been here 11 months, and these kids have bought into everything we've asked them to do. We've had unbelievable leadership from our seniors, and these guys are the only seniors in the history of Vanderbilt to go to two bowls.

"They are taking a lot of pride in laying the foundation for great things to come."

While LSU and Alabama will put the Southeastern Conference front and center during the upcoming bowl season with their Jan. 9 date at the BCS title game in New Orleans, seven more league teams played well enough to earn postseason invitations as well. The nine SEC representatives fall one short of the 10 that went last year, which was an all-time high for the league.

Other bowl games involving SEC teams include South Carolina vs. Nebraska in the Capital One, Arkansas vs. Kansas State in the Cotton, Georgia vs. Michigan State in the Outback, Auburn vs. Virginia in the Chick-fil-A, Florida vs. Ohio State in the Gator and Mississippi State vs. Wake Forest in the Music City.

The Liberty Bowl is in its 53rd year, making it the seventh oldest bowl, and it has housed every SEC team but Florida within the past 30 years. Vanderbilt punched its postseason ticket with a 41-7 win at Wake Forest on Nov. 26, and the Commodores are bowling despite losing four games by six points or less.

"Each one of those of those experiences that we went through was an opportunity for growth for us, and that's just kind of how we approached it," Franklin said. "To get those tough wins and to find out how to win those close games, you've got to go through some of the tough losses and persevere, and we were able to do that. That's just a step in the right direction for us, and what I've been proud of is just how our team has bounced back every single week and be very, very competitive in every game.

"Alabama would probably be the one where the scoreboard didn't show a real close game, but even that game should have been 7-6 at halftime."

South Carolina will be making its first trip to the Capital One and Mississippi State its first trip to the Music City, but the most intriguing matchup of all may be the Gators and the Buckeyes in Jacksonville.

Urban Meyer coached Florida to two national championships in six years before stepping down this past New Year's Day following a victory over Penn State in the Outback Bowl. Last Monday, however, Meyer ended his brief reprieve from the field by accepting the job at Ohio State.

Luke Fickell, who has been the interim coach since Jim Tressel resigned in May, will lead the Buckeyes in the bowl and then join Meyer's staff.

"I don't know that you could have any more distractions than we've had," Fickell said of the past year. "I think our guys are just so excited to have some clarity about what's going to happen in the future so that they can put those things behind them. There are some coaches who may not be here, and that's where the difficulties would come."

So will Meyer be offering any pointers about his former team?

"It still comes down to what you've seen them do," Fickell said. "It's a completely new staff there at Florida, offensively and defensively, so we've got to do our work and figure out what we need to do to move forward. It will be a unique situation as far as how much Coach Meyer offers up as far as his ideas about the personnel at Florida.

"It will definitely be a unique situation."

First-year Florida coach Will Muschamp was asked about the potential of Meyer overshadowing the game and said, "I don't think it will be a distraction. We've moved on."

The Gator Bowl pits two 6-6 teams that met in the 2006 BCS championship game, which the Gators won 41-14. It's also the first Gator Bowl for Ohio State since 1978, when legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes punched Clemson's Charlie Bauman following Bauman's game-sealing interception.

Only three SEC teams -- Kentucky (5-7), Tennessee (5-7) and Ole Miss (2-10) -- are missing out on the postseason. Kentucky is home for the Holidays for the first time in six seasons, but this is the third time in seven years Tennessee has stayed sidelined.

Ole Miss set a school record for losses and sits out for a second straight year after winning consecutive Cotton Bowls.