Vanderbilt building on last year's rise

Vanderbilt building on last year's rise

July 18th, 2012 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin talks with quarterback Jordan Rodgers (11) in the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Kentucky on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011, in Nashville, Tenn.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

HOOVER, Ala. -- So much for baby steps.

The notion that Vanderbilt football would improve gradually from consecutive 2-10 records was dashed a year ago in James Franklin's debut season as coach, when the Commodores were a competitive 6-6 before losing the Liberty Bowl to Cincinnati. Vanderbilt returns nine starters on offense, including quarterback Jordan Rodgers, tailback Zac Stacy and receiver Jordan Matthews, and there are seven starters back defensively.

Another 6-6 regular season is not the objective.

"We have not gotten complacent in the least about the type of success we had last year," Rodgers said as Tuesday's opening session of SEC media days concluded. "We had a losing record, and that's not OK. That's not acceptable at Vanderbilt. Going to a bowl game is great, but we lost and had a losing record, and we're not going to take that anymore.

"Our goal is to be a lot better than that."

The Commodores followed their bowl appearance with a top-25 recruiting class and facility upgrades that include new meeting rooms and a Jumbotron. Franklin spent media days a year ago expressing optimism about what Vanderbilt football could become, but now there is some tangible proof from which to build.

Vandy outscored its opponents by 73 points last season, which was the largest such total for the program since 1974.

"The sky is the limit with us, and I truly believe that, and I think with the right kid from the right family, we can beat anybody," Franklin said. "We have too much to sell. I know what Vanderbilt can do for your son for the next 40 or 50 years of his life, and there is an opportunity to play in the greatest football conference in America.

"You have an opportunity to chase both of your dreams at the highest level."

Franklin did not need long to win over his players, nor opposing coaches. The Commodores throttled Ole Miss and Kentucky by a combined count of 68-15 a year ago, but their 0-4 record in SEC games decided by a touchdown or less contributed to a 2-6 league mark.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, whose Gamecocks posted a 21-3 home win over Vanderbilt last year, is expecting a much tougher challenge on Aug. 30, when they open in Nashville.

"He's got his guys believing," Spurrier said. "They believe they can beat everybody they play, and they almost did it last year. They almost had a shot at Florida and they almost had a shot at Georgia, so they are a very, very competitive, good team. They play with a lot of fire and energy, just like Coach Franklin has.

"They are going to be competitive. We know that."