Like Vanderbilt’s last bowl trip, the Commodores probably won’t have to travel far and that is quite all right with first-year head coach James Franklin.
Vanderbilt’s bowl fate won’t be determined until Sunday, but there is a possibility the Commodores (6-6) won’t have to leave Tennessee.
They could make the short trip down I-40 to Memphis for the Liberty Bowl on New Year’s Eve. Or they might not leave Nashville at all and play on Dec. 30 in the Music City Bowl at LP Field, where their last bowl appearance took place — a 16-14 victory over Boston College in 2008.
It might not be a vacation to Florida, but that doesn’t really matter to Franklin. Instead, he is thrilled for the opportunity to have another month with his team.
“I’m a guy that focuses on the things that we can control and [location] is not one of them,” said Franklin, who is the first Vanderbilt coach to take a squad to a bowl in his first year. “We’re excited and fortunate to be going in the game, and it gives us more opportunities to work with our kids. It keeps this team together as long as we possibly can with these seniors. It also is going to give us an opportunity to give some of these young guys some extra practice time besides just spring ball. We’re excited about it.”
Franklin already was in Atlanta on a recruiting trip when he was reached by phone on Sunday night. He declined to comment about reports surrounding a contract extension that is expected to give him a raise and keep him at Vanderbilt for several years. Vice Chancellor of Athletics David Williams did not immediately return phone calls.
Franklin, who spent the last three years as Maryland’s offensive coordinator and was the Terrapins’ coach-in-waiting, could be in high demand for his services if his first year is any indication of things to come. After consecutive 2-10 seasons, he has guided the Commodores to their second bowl in four years and just the fifth in school history.
A 41-7 whipping of Wake Forest on Saturday — the team’s first road win of the season — clinched the bowl berth. Franklin said it was a satisfying moment in a season of close calls as the Commodores lost four games — two against ranked opponents — by a combined 19 points.
“I hate to say that they deserved it because you get what you earned and you get what you work for in life,” he said. “I felt really, really good to see them have success after them working so hard, the coaches and the players, and being able to do something that only five teams have ever done.
“It is a pretty profound thing that we were able to do, especially since we’ve only been here for 11 months.”
• Bowl possibilities: Nine SEC schools are bowl eligible — matching the number of the conference's bowl tie-ins. At least two will play in BCS games. If Georgia (10-2) knocks off top-ranked LSU in the SEC Championship Game this Saturday, the Bulldogs would earn the school’s automatic BCS berth.
But LSU (12-0) and Alabama (11-1) might still get a rematch and end up playing in the national championship game. That would put three SEC schools in BCS bowls and could effect where Vanderbilt ends up.
The Music City Bowl, which on a normal year has the seventh pick of SEC teams, is expected to nab Mississippi State (6-6). Bulldog fans travel well and would bring more out-of-town guests than Vanderbilt.
If Georgia wins, though, one of the higher bowls would need to fulfill its SEC commitment. Therefore, Mississippi State most likely would land in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. That would move Vanderbilt to the Music City Bowl, which features an opponent from the ACC.
If that does not happen, the Commodores likely would head to the Liberty Bowl, which also has a tie-in with the Conference-USA.
• Fischer honored: Vanderbilt senior Kyle Fischer was named the SEC’s co-offensive lineman of the week, the league announced Monday.
The co-captain and right tackle helped pave the way for a 297-rushing yard effort against Wake Forest. The native of Columbia, S.C., provided important blocks during Zac Stacy’s touchdown runs of 20 and 40 yards. Stacy finished with 184 rushing yards and three touchdowns and set the school’s single-season rushing record with 1,136 yards.
The 6-foot-6, 308-pound Fischer shared the award with Alabama center William Vlachos. Fischer was the third Vanderbilt offensive lineman to be honored by the league this season. Six Vanderbilt players earned weekly honors.