HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — Vanderbilt coach James Franklin appears to have made believers out of quarterback Jordan Rodgers and the Commodores. Steve Spurrier is sold, too.
Rodgers brushes off last year’s bowl trip — only the program’s third since 1982 — as "a marginal success." After all, the Commodores lost that game "and that’s just not acceptable anymore." He said Southeastern Conference teams can’t just mark off the Vandy game as a near-automatic win these days.
Franklin has clearly brought a swagger to Nashville.
"Yeah, we went to a bowl game last year," Rodgers said Tuesday at media days. "We’re not going to be a one-year wonder. We’re going to be confident. We’re not going to be the kind of team that people are going to glance over any more."
With 17 returning starters, Franklin and the Commodores do have reason to believe they can improve on that 6-7 season that included only two SEC wins.
They talk much more about attitude than talent, depth and standouts like 1,000-yard rusher Zac Stacy and cornerback Trey Wilson. Last season was also notable for games that got away, like Georgia (33-28), Arkansas (31-28) and Florida (26-21).
Franklin’s team will get a chance right away to show if they’ve really closed some ground on SEC East rivals like South Carolina, the Commodores’ season-opening opponent on Aug. 30.
"He’s got his guys believing at Vandy," said Spurrier, the Gamecocks’ coach. "They believe they can beat everybody they play. They almost did it last year. They almost had a shot at Florida, they almost had a shot at Georgia. They’re a very, very competitive, good team. Play with a lot of energy and fire, like coach Franklin has."
Franklin pulled in a Top 25 signing class according to at least one recruiting service. Vanderbilt is upgrading some facilities and building an indoor practice facility.
And Franklin never seems to stop selling. To the media. To the fans. Certainly to recruits.
He turns a question about whether the Commodores can contend for a title in the near future into a strong recruiting spiel.
"The sky’s the limit for us, I truly believe that," Franklin said. "I think for the right kid from the right family, we can beat anybody. If you have a son, and he’s a Division I player, he’s coming to Vanderbilt. We have too much to sell.
"If you truly respect a world-class education, there’s very few schools that can compete with us. I know what Vanderbilt can do for your son for the next 40 or 50 years of his life. An opportunity to play in the best conference in America. If you’re truly the best and the brightest, where else would you go? You’ve got an opportunity to chase both of your dreams at the highest level."
Franklin said there’s more buzz about the program than there has been in some time. He and Rodgers both said Vandy has gone from hoping and thinking maybe the team can win to really believing it.
Rodgers said the Commodores are in much better shape and have more command of the system this year.
"I think past Vanderbilt programs have bought into what people say, other people’s perceptions: We can’t be a contender in the SEC," he said. "We’ve changed that. We no longer think like that."