Vanderbilt continues to surpass expectations

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No longer does the state of Tennessee’s best college football team reside in Knoxville. It packed up the U-Haul and moved west to Music City. After the Commodores’ 41-18 skull pounding of the Vols, putting Derek Dooley out of his coaching misery, you just have to sit back and get giddy about what James Franklin is doing in Nashville.

Upon his hiring, Franklin changed the perception and built a Vanderbilt brand unlike any other coach in its non-tradition has ever done. Changing the brand and perception is a tough task in itself, but changing the culture of a program altogether is more difficult. Why? Usually coaches have to recruit their players in order to change the culture of the program, but Franklin is doing it with players he inherited – players he inherited from a 2-10 team in 2010. And getting his players to sign with Vandy is a tough task, too, because of the academic standards.

Franklin has notched back-to-back bowl berths for the first time in the school’s history, and he’ll likely win eight, as only lowly five-win Wake Forest stands in their way Saturday.

Upon 2012’s opening game when Vandy had trouble selling out its home opener against the top-ranked Gamecocks, we were reminded just how hard it is for any coach to be successful in Nashville. And it was the same ole Vanderbilt through the first six games posting a record of 2-4. However, since that time, the Commodores have won their last five games and are seeking their sixth consecutive win for the first time in nearly 60 years.

Fast forward to week 13 and the Dores have notched seven wins and looking for eight. The Commodores won four conference games for the first time since 1949, and the seven total wins are the most in three decades.

Think about what Franklin is doing. He’s turning Vanderbilt into Stanford. Laugh all you want.

It’s nothing flashy. The Commodores’ defense, however, is ranked fifth in the SEC, above Georgia, Missouri, Mississippi State and Texas A&M. The offense isn’t spectacular, but they maximize the talent nearly at every position with a very above average running game and two receivers who have a future at the next level.

Vanderbilt is not on an even playing field with the likes of Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Florida or even Tennessee. Whether it’s facilities or lack of media coverage, they often get overlooked. That’s where Franklin’s savvy strategy for his brand really shines through. The Commodores are relevant in the SEC East, and while they continue to march into the middle of the pack in the SEC, they have leapfrogged Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky in the process.

Life, energy, enthusiasm and football savvy come to mind when talking about Franklin’s Commodores.

This isn’t your daddy’s Vanderbilt.

Photo credit: Don McPeak-US Presswire

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