BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Nine wins are suddenly the norm for Vanderbilt football, but can the Commodores keep the architect?
The Commodores earned a second consecutive 9-4 record by pulling away from Houston 41-24 Saturday afternoon in the eighth annual BBVA Compass Bowl at Legion Field. Franklin is 24-15 in three seasons at Vanderbilt, the highest three-year total for the program since the late 1920s.
"These nine-win seasons and bowl games are becoming really fun!" Franklin shouted to the jubilant Commodores faithful during the trophy ceremony.
Franklin has been mentioned recently as a candidate at Texas and at Penn State, with a report late last week claiming he would be interviewing at Penn State today. There were reports Saturday that Texas was closing in on Louisville's Charlie Strong and that Penn State had targeted Miami's Al Golden, but there quickly became speculation that Franklin could be pursued by Miami should Golden exit.
In the news conference after the game, Franklin was asked about being mentioned for openings and sounded like someone who would be back for a fourth season in Nashville.
"We've got an unbelievable schedule with eight home games next year, which is something we've been working very, very hard on," Franklin said. "We've just redshirted the most talented class in Vanderbilt history. We're going to be better next year because of the foundation that these guys have laid. I'm really really excited about next year and what we're building and the direction we're going.
"This is just the beginning."
Then Franklin got up, thanked bowl officials and started to leave the room. As he departed, he was asked, "James, are you coming back?" He did not answer.
Franklin is scheduled to fly to California today to be part of ESPN's coverage for Monday night's BCS championship game between No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Auburn. Saturday's win by the Commodores, incidentally, gave the Southeastern Conference a 7-2 bowl record going into Monday's finale.
Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams fully expects Franklin back for a fourth year and fully expects reporters to be asking the same questions after next season at another bowl site.
"We don't have any plans to go back to the old days, so we're going to do what we have to do," Williams said. "I expect us to win the national championship, and I expect us to do that with Coach Franklin."
The Commodores clinched back-to-back nine-win seasons for the first time by breaking a 24-24 deadlock early in the fourth quarter. With its passing game suddenly struggling after a solid first half, Vanderbilt used Jerron Seymour's 38-yard run and gains of 13 and 21 by Brian Kimbrow to take a 31-24 lead with 9:28 remaining.
Houston quarterback John O'Korn was hit by defensive end Walker May on the ensuing possession, causing a floating pass that safety Jahmel McIntosh intercepted and returned 25 yards to set up Carey Spear's 35-yard field goal that made it 34-24. Andre Hal intercepted O'Korn with under three minutes to play and had a 29-yard return to Houston's 2 to set up the final score.
Vanderbilt's 17-0 closing run countered a third quarter in which Houston erased a 24-0 halftime deficit by racking up 299 yards and forcing a Robinette fumble.
"We were told by the ESPN people that the ratings had gone down, so we wanted to spike them back up by making it exciting in the third quarter," Franklin said.
A crowd of 42,717 attended the game, with the overwhelming majority decked out in black. Vanderbilt fans initially expressed disappointment in having their 8-4 team go to the BBVA Compass Bowl, which had the last pick among SEC bowl-eligible teams, but Williams said after the pairing that fans needed to come out in greater numbers.
The Commodores drew just slightly more than 33,000 for their final two home games against Kentucky and Wake Forest.
"This was awesome and amazing, and it was just what we needed to see," Williams said. "There had to be close to 40,000 Vanderbilt people here, and they came early and stayed late. This is exactly what we need, and I can't say enough to the Vanderbilt Nation for coming out.
"This was a great, great crowd, and we need to have this every Saturday."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.