After a two-year absence, Alabama coach Nick Saban will make his return to Southeastern Conference football action on Saturday in Nashville.
For Vanderbilt, which will host the Crimson Tide, opportunities get no juicier than this.
The Commodores are seeking a signature win at home to complement some of the impressive road victories they have notched in recent seasons.
The arrival of Saban, the highest-paid coach in college football and often a lightning rod of controversy, provides Vanderbilt an opportunity to make national headlines.
“When we see the name ‘Alabama,’ it’s our first chance for a steppingstone to greatness,” VU defensive tackle Gabe Hall said.
More often than not, the Commodores have wilted at home in similar circumstances. They are 11-22 at Vanderbilt Stadium under coach Bobby Johnson and have not knocked off a ranked opponent since 1992.
Not since 1991, when Vanderbilt toppled Georgia, has a traditional SEC powerhouse team been defeated in Nashville.
Success on the road hasn’t been as elusive for the Commodores, who have won at Arkansas, Tennessee and Georgia during the past two seasons.
Now is the time for change, VU players say.
“It’s been frustrating, but I think this year we’ve got our heads on straight and have what it takes to get these big wins at home now,” linebacker Marcus Buggs said.
“I feel like we have a good chance to come out and get a win this week. It’s a great opportunity.”
Johnson maintains his opinion that winning at Vanderbilt Stadium more frequently is the only way to make it a more difficult venue for opposing teams.
“We talk about it a lot. It’s important to us,” he said. “If we continue to get better, the atmosphere will get better. I think we saw it in basketball and baseball. Our students will come out and be great fans.”
Playing in an NFL city, the Commodores know that winning is the only solution to grabbing more attention.
“Obviously, Nashville is a great city, but Vanderbilt is not the biggest thing in Nashville,” center Hamilton Holliday said. “If you can kind of get a little spark going, especially with some big wins at home, it’s a lot better for the aura of the stadium.”
Vanderbilt senior defensive end Curtis Gatewood said winning at home must become an expectation.
“We’re not cocky or arrogant, because we don’t have the right to be, but we’re very confident,” he said. “We expect to win, and that’s something that’s very different with Vanderbilt football.
“In the past, I think it was a thing we talked about, and on the surface it looked like we were ready, but if you really broke every player down, there was some doubt. Right now, we know can compete. We’ve got the athletes, we’ve got the talent, we’ve got the coaches, we’ve got the resources. It’s just a matter of us focusing and finishing.”
And maybe, in the process, the Commodores will slay an SEC giant at home Saturday.
“That would be huge for the fans, the people who are really devoted to the program whether we lose or win,” Gatewood said. “We call them a part of our team because they stick with us. Our fans really deserve it.”