SEC Notebook: Life good for SEC doormat Vanderbilt
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
By Jim Kleinpeter
BATON ROUGE – Vanderbilt is a perfect four and 0, and we’re not talking about grade-point average.
The long time SEC football doormat and academically prestigious school is making positive sports headlines with its first 4-0 start since 1984.
The Commodores need a victory against nearby Middle Tennessee State for a 5-0 record going into the Oct. 8 meeting with LSU. Vanderbilt last started 5-0 in 1943 when the school played only five games because of World War II.
Had hurricanes not ravaged Louisiana, the Commodores would be THE feel-good story of the season in the SEC. Let’s count the ways:
- The two SEC wins against Arkansas and Ole Miss this season equal the number of SEC victories recorded by Vandy over the past four seasons combined.
- The Dores have received votes in the USA Today, AP and Harris Interactive polls, getting 47 points in the latter for a No. 32 ranking among BCS schools.
- Fifth-year senior quarterback Jay Cutler leads the SEC in per game averages of passing yards (282.2) and total offense (322.8 yards). He is the school’s all-time leader in touchdown passes (44) and total offense.
- Cutler has been has been mentioned in prestigious publications such as Sports Illustrated and the New York Times.
- So far this season, Vandy players have been named SEC Offensive (Cutler) and Defensive (Moses Osemwegie) Player of the Week.
- The school’s largest crowd of the season, 38,446, watched the 37-13 victory against Richmond, 1,300 short of a sellout.
“It still amazes me,” Oswegie told The Tennessean. “I have to pinch myself sometimes.”
That’s because Vandy has long set the standard for inept football. In the previous 22 years, Vandy is 23-143-1 in SEC games. Included in that span was a 23-game conference losing streak and seven seasons without a league win.
The last time Vanderbilt had a winning record was 1982 when the Commodores went 8-4, including victories against Florida and Tennessee. It was also the school’s last bowl appearance, a 36-28 Hall of Fame bowl loss to Air Force.
Now Vandy is two victories away from a winning mark and bowl eligibility. But Coach Bobby Johnson said, even though Middle Tennessee is from the weaker Sun Belt Conference, “We’re not good enough to take anybody lightly.”
Indeed, Vandy has lost its last two meetings with MTSU, in 2001 and 2002.
ALABAMA: The Tide is ranked No. 15, its highest since ending the 2002 season at No. 11. But Alabama, which faces No. 5 Florida on Saturday, is 0-5 against Top Five teams at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
AUBURN: Tigers running back Kenny Irons will face his former team when Auburn plays South Carolina. Irons, who leads Auburn with 292 yards rushing on 43 carries, signed with the Gamecocks and played as a freshman. But he played less as a sophomore when Demetrius Summers came in as a highly touted freshman. Irons was not alone in leaving the school. Nineteen members of the 2002 South Carolina recruiting class are no longer there.
FLORIDA: Chris Leak is only eight attempts short of breaking Danny Wuerffel’s school record of 121 consecutive throws without an interception. He has thrown 114 passes this season. Despite playing only one half at Kentucky, Leak leads the SEC with nine touchdown passes.
SOUTH CAROLINA: The Gamecocks 45-20 victory against Troy was a run-of-mill non-conference win, but with a remarkable footnote. Tim Frisby, a 40-year-old Army veteran and walk-on, caught a short pass in the fading moments. Frisby, affectionately called “Pops” by teammates, caught a 9-yard pass with 3:16 left, pumped his fist and waved to his wife and two of his six kids in the stands. “It’s something I always wanted to do an I did it,” he said. “This is a start. Hopefully, I’ll get more this season.”
Frisby served in the 82nd Airborne Division served in Iraq during Desert Storm and in Kosovo.
OLE MISS: The Rebels offense has scored five touchdowns and committed seven turnovers through three games.
TENNESSEE: Rick Clausen cashed in his big performance in Tiger Stadium by earning SEC Player of the Week honors. Clausen came off the bench to spark the Vols in their shocking comeback over LSU by completing 21 of 32 passes for 196 yards and one touchdown.