We are right smack in the middle of the 2008 college football season and things certainly aren’t what they used to be. Wake Forest might be the best team in the ACC, Ball State is ranked, Tennessee isn’t and Vanderbilt is undefeated and leading the SEC Eastern Division.
Many take the Commodores’ 5-0 start as nothing more than a fluke. Others expect Vanderbilt will fall back to the pack rather quickly. The Commodores' 14-13 win over Auburn, however, should allow them the opportunity to remain in the discussion in the SEC East for some time. In short, Vanderbilt could well win the East even if they revert somewhat to their former selves. Let’s take a closer look at what lies ahead.
Vanderbilt is off to a surprising 3-0 start in league play. This Saturday they line up against the struggling Mississippi State Bulldogs who have yet to defeat a FBS program this season. Should they win as expected, the Commodores would be 4-0 in the SEC and perfect against the Western Division. Next, the Commodores travel to Georgia for a big SEC East test. Later in the season Vanderbilt will host Florida and Tennessee and travel to Kentucky. A pretty daunting schedule to be sure. In fact, Vanderbilt may only be favored in one of those games. That said, it is the games Vanderbilt doesn’t play that may be most beneficial to the Commodores.
The two biggest stumbling blocks to the unthinkable Commodore run are Georgia and Florida. Both the Bulldogs and Gators have registered a league loss. The Gators and Bulldogs still have upcoming games with LSU. They also will have their annual Cocktail Party showdown in Jacksonville. This means simply that Georgia or Florida will have a guaranteed loss in conference. The loser will have at least two conference losses. Georgia also must travel to Auburn in what is traditionally a close contest. Under the right set of circumstances, the Commodores could potentially drop two of their four remaining divisional games and still lead the SEC East. Opportunities abound for Vanderbilt to improve their situation through no direct work of their own.
The schedule also tilts in the Commodores' favor as they have non-conference games and off weeks to help separate the tough tests. Vanderbilt travels to Georgia just before the Bulldogs get ready to face LSU and Florida in back-to-back weeks. An opportunity certainly exists for being overlooked before arguably the two biggest games on the Bulldogs’ schedule. Vanderbilt in turn will get two weeks to prepare for Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators. The Gators will be coming out of their yearly slugfest with Georgia the week prior. Under the best scenario, a win against either Florida or Georgia may be enough to keep Vanderbilt as the hunted team atop the Eastern Division.
Finally, Vanderbilt has done something this season they have rarely done in years gone by: win the 4th quarter. The Commodores have successfully closed out games late against South Carolina, Mississippi and Auburn. In years past this simply wasn’t the case. Vanderbilt was nothing more than the pesky nuisance that hung around before finally giving way. It hasn’t always been pretty but wins have come despite injuries, despite multiple quarterbacks and despite much doubt from everyone outside of Nashville that bowl games and more were actually attainable. The Commodores are one of the feel good stories of the 2008 season and appear to be headed, at the very least, to the postseason for the first time since the Regan Administration. Bobby Johnson has finally got his team believing they are capable of winning week in and week out in the SEC. The Commodores may be longshots to win the SEC East, just don’t tell them that.