The Vanderbilt Commodores have never defeated a top-five team, and a loss Saturday at No. 5 Georgia would leave them 1-3 in a year of promise.
Vanderbilt has never had a winning season after starting 1-3, so "the same old Vandy" could soon be a growing sentiment among followers of Southeastern Conference football. Coach James Franklin's upbeat persona was contagious last year when the Commodores won six games and went to the Liberty Bowl in his first season, and his spirit hasn't waned.
"Within our building, our kids are positive and excited," Franklin said Monday. "They know we can play better on a more consistent basis, so it's more of the outside noise than anything, and I would say that's been my biggest challenge since I've been here.
"We had to do some things to get people excited about Vanderbilt football and change the perception of the program, but how do you do that without setting up false expectations as well? That's probably the thing I've struggled with every day since I arrived here."
The subpar start hasn't affected Franklin's wit.
Asked Monday if he had spoken to Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham since last season's heated postgame encounter, Franklin said, "Actually, this summer our families went on vacation to Disney World. We were floating in the pool together drinking Mai Tais."
Vanderbilt opened with a 17-13 loss to visiting South Carolina and a 23-13 loss at Northwestern. Those two teams are a combined 6-0, and the Commodores led each contest entering the fourth quarter.
The Commodores got their first win last week with a 58-0 pounding of Presbyterian.
"Our confidence has always been high," junior tailback Wesley Tate said. "Those first two games were tough losses, but our confidence has never changed."
Said Franklin: "We're facing adversity right now, and that's what we're here to do."
The Commodores rolled this past Saturday behind redshirt junior quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, who completed 13 of 20 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown. Carta-Samuels is a transfer from Wyoming, where he was the Mountain West Conference freshman of the year in 2010, and Franklin said he should know Wednesday night or Thursday whether he will start again this week.
Jordan Rodgers was the quarterback during Vanderbilt's stretch run last season and started the first two games this year. Franklin said Rodgers was "very upset" by last week's change but he handled it well.
Georgia has won 16 of the last 17 meetings against Vanderbilt, including the 33-28 escape a year ago in Nashville. Bulldogs coach Mark Richt believes Franklin's two Commodores teams are the most talented that he has seen in his 12 years of facing Vandy.
"Some of it is attitude, and I think they are a faster team and a stronger team," Richt said. "I think they have really good athleticism, and when you're watching the film, they're playing as hard and as fast and as physical as anybody. Their schemes are outstanding, and what they do they do very well."
Odds and ends
Among the limited players in Georgia's 90-minute practice Monday were outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (groin), defensive end Cornelius Washington (hamstring), guard Dallas Lee (ankle), tackle Watts Dantzler (ankle) and receiver Rantavious Wooten (knee). ... Georgia's Sept. 29 home game against Tennessee will be on CBS with a 3:30 p.m. kickoff.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.