NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Vanderbilt Commodores have made plenty of history this season, and now they can do something not seen at this private university in nearly a century: win nine games.
Coach James Franklin isn’t talking about the opportunity his Commodores have today in the Music City Bowl against North Carolina State (7-5). Not yet, even though it would be their first nine-win season since 1915 and only their third all-time. Not when he’s been so busy coaching and trying to sell as many tickets to turn LP Field, home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, into a home field.
“This is a perfect situation for us,” Franklin said.
“We’re still trying to build our brand. We’re still trying to build our following. We’re still trying to claim our stake of being Nashville’s team and really establish it so this is a great opportunity to play in our city, to play LP Field, which is kind of like our other stadium.”
This is a second straight bowl for Vanderbilt (8-4), something the Southeastern Conference’s smallest university had never done before. The Commodores also come in with an SEC-best six straight victories and their best season since 1982. That helped Franklin earn a second straight contract extension a month ago.
Now they want to improve on a year ago, when the Commodores lost the Liberty Bowl 31-24 to Cincinnati. Franklin said he realized some of his players were just happy to be in a bowl. This time around, the Commodores say they know that winning bowls will prove how much Vanderbilt has changed in Franklin’s two seasons.
“I would like to leave here and start a legacy of changing the culture here,” Vandy senior defensive tackle Rob Lohr said. “I think we’ve started doing that. Until we win a bowl game and do it continuously, it’s not going to change anything so we’re looking forward to the opportunity to get this win, win No. 9. But like Coach says, ‘It’s always 1-0 this week.’ ”
Vanderbilt comes in averaging 29.3 points, led by Zac Stacy, the school’s career leading rusher who had 1,034 yards this season, and Jordan Rodgers, the younger brother of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The quarterback was benched in the Liberty Bowl loss, and he’s determined to show how much he’s grown this season.
“I don’t want to repeat that,” said Rodgers, who completed 59.5 percent of his passes for 2,431 yards this season. “I’m going to play to the best of my ability really for my team. We want a victory as a team for this program.”