AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Cincinnati 31, Vanderbilt 24 -- A Loss for the Commodores, But Promise Yet

There's no reason to hang your head when you lose to a ten-win team. Particularly not when the game is close and the other team is led by a smart and skilled senior playing his last football game. And particularly not when your name is Vanderbilt.

James Franklin probably wouldn't like me saying that -- part of the Commodore head coach's new mindset for Vanderbilt is to no longer talk about being "just Vandy." But the fact of the matter is that no one -- literally no one -- outside the Vanderbilt football program saw Vanderbilt going to a bowl this year. Franklin impressed some of us with his press conference at SEC Media Days, but not so much that we were crazy enough to put one of the conference's perpetual punching bags into the postseason.

The fact that Franklin proved those expectations wrong shows that he is likely the right person to turn the Commodores around. Even when Bobby Johnson got Vanderbilt to a bowl in 2008, it seemed to have a duct-tape-and-bailing-wire feel to it. This year, Vanderbilt was a good enough team to think that it got to .500 on its merits.

But it was never supposed to be a one-year fix in Nashville, or at least the full turnaround job was never going to be a one-year fix. So getting outgained by a handful of yards against a team that could end the year ranked is a pretty good marker in the positive column. And Jordan Rodgers is not usually going to be pulled after going 4-of-14 with an interception, and Zac Stacy is not often going to be bottled up for 57 yards rushing. If Stacy comes back for his senior season next year, which would probably be a good idea, then there are some good pieces for Franklin to build around.

And when you combine them with the results that Franklin is getting on the recruiting trail, you could have the beginnings of more than a credible team in Nashville; you could have the beginnings of a credible program. The team took a hit in the loss to Cincinnati on Saturday, but it's full speed ahead for a rapidly improving program.

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