Vanderbilt Goes Into James Franklin's Third Season Expecting -- What, Exactly? | SEC 2013

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The schedule makes some guarded optimism understandable. But the Commodores shouldn't ask for too much

There a few interesting themes that you could look at with Vanderbilt as they move into Year 3 of the James Franklin Era. The first is the idea that coaches sometimes take a slight step backwards in their third year, particularly if they have the kind of breakthrough year that Franklin had in his second season. (Though that's far from a universal trend; Lou Holtz picked up an additional when in his third season at South Carolina, and Nick Saban's first national title in Tuscaloosa came in his third year.)

Another is whether what Franklin has done over the last two seasons is sustainable long-term at Vanderbilt. It's almost inevitable for a long-dormant program like Vanderbilt's to face legitimate skepticism about whether back-to-back bowl seasons for the first time in history are the signs of a turnaround or a fluke.

But the interesting question to me goes along these lines: What exactly are Vanderbilt fans expecting from the Commodores this year? The first season brought a bowl game. The second included a nine-win campaign and a spot in the postseason Top 25. So will the Vanderbilt faithful expect even higher accomplishments in the third season?

Because looking for anything more than a modest improvement is probably asking too much. The Alabama improvement in 2009 basically amounted to soundly beating Florida instead of losing a heartbreaker in the SEC Championship Game. Holtz got his boost in 2001 by trading a loss at Arkansas for a win against Clemson and avoiding the upset against Alabama that helped mar the Gamecocks' 2000 season. The Alabama and Clemson games were, helpfully, at home in 2001 after being on the road the season before.

So I wouldn't look for Vanderbilt to knock off Florida, Georgia, South Carolina or Texas A&M this year. Three of those games are on the road, which is probably just as well, because it gives the Commodores a favorable home schedule where the advantage might mean something. Overall, the schedule is manageable enough for Vanderbilt to set matching last year's eight-win regular season as a goal, but moving up doesn't look to be in the cards.

Place: 4th in the SEC East
Record: 8-4, 4-4 SEC
Could be: 5-7 to 9-3
Best chance for an upset: at SOUTH CAROLINA
Bowl: GATOR

8.29.13 | OLE MISS | POSSIBLE WIN
9.7.13 | AUSTIN PEAY | WIN
9.14.13 | at SOUTH CAROLINA | POSSIBLE LOSS
9.21.13 | at UMASS | LIKELY WIN
9.28.13 | UAB | WIN
10.5.13 | MISSOURI | POSSIBLE WIN
10.19.13 | GEORGIA | POSSIBLE LOSS
10.26.13 | at TEXAS A&M | PROBABLE LOSS
11.9.13 | at FLORIDA | POSSIBLE LOSS
11.16.13 | KENTUCKY | PROBABLE WIN
11.23.13 | at TENNESSEE | POSSIBLE WIN
11.30.13 | WAKE FOREST | PROBABLE WIN

Key (from least likely to win to most): Loss, Likely Loss, Probable Loss, Possible Loss, Possible Win, Probable Win, Likely Win, Win

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