No need to dwell on this too terribly long. After all, no one likes to think too much about bad news, and the Vanderbilt team that took the field in 2002 was almost all bad news.
Even for a program with standards as low as Vanderbilt's, 2002 was an abysmal year. It's the kind of year for which the Dores would have fired the coach -- which they could have done, had they not just hired Bobby Johnson to take over for Woody Widenhofer after a 2-9 season the year before. One does have to wonder why, as the daunting rebuilding task ahead of him surely sunk in, Johnson didn't simply walk away and join a monastery.
On Aug. 31, the Commodores visited Georgia Tech in Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets defeated Vanderbilt 45-3. It was one of four times that year that Vanderbilt would score fewer than 10 points, and one of five times the Dores would allow more than 30. This is generally not a path to great success.
Despite the dearest wishes of some fans and probably more than one player, the season continued. Vanderbilt did win the next week against Division I-AA Furman, 49-18. They would not win again until Oct. 26. In the meantime, they lost to Auburn (31-6), Ole Miss (45-38), South Carolina (20-14), Middle Tennessee State -- yes, that Middle Tennessee State (21-20) and Georgia (28-17).
|12/15: What a Decade It's Been; Mike Price's Trip to Pensacola|
|12/16: The Zook Experiment; Georgia Hires Mark Richt|
|12/17: Best Game; Auburn's Rise and Fall; Rivalry of the Decade|
|12/18: Worst Game; The Rise of the Nicktator; The Promise|
|12/21: Exit Phil Fulmer; Best Player|
|12/22: Best Team; Worst Program|
|EARLIER TODAY: Houston Nutt's Denouement at Arkansas|
Vanderbilt would finally win, 28-24, when Connecticut came to Nashville at the end of October. The Huskies were in their first year as a full-fledged Division I-A team. In fairness, UConn went 6-6 that year -- which was a lot more than could be said for Vanderbilt.
Losses could be expected against Alabama (30-8) and Florida, where Vanderbilt actually played the Gators close and lost 21-17. The Commodores were then waxed, 41-21, against Kentucky, and closed out the season with a shutout against Tennessee, 24-0.
Only one player from that team was selected in the 2003 NFL Draft: Hunter Hillenmeyer, who went to the Green Bay Packers in the fifth round. That was better than the year before, but only because the Dores had no one drafted in 2002.
That year's Vanderbilt team was one of only five to go winless in the SEC during the decade. The others were 2000 Kentucky, 2002 Mississippi State, 2007 Ole Miss -- and 2001 Vanderbilt. But most of those teams had some form of excuse or something to make the record feel better; Kentucky was under NCAA investigation, Ole Miss defeated two Division I-A teams and three overall, as did Mississippi State. Even 2001 Vanderbilt won against a team from a BCS conference. (Sure, it was Duke, but ... )
Pardon me. One of six -- Vanderbilt went winless in the SEC this year. Seems the more things change ...