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SEC 2009 // Vanderbilt and the Weight of History

It's impossible to escape history in sports, and we shouldn't really try. Particularly in college sports, heritage means something -- it's how a school like Notre Dame continues to dominate the headlines despite irrelevance, how a program that struggles under Ray Goff and Jim Donnan can still attract a top-notch coaching candidate, how phrases like "Wide Right" can cause an entire fan base to collectively shudder.

But we sometimes go too far in our attempts to learn from sports history. There are stats that mean something, and stats that are merely interesting. For example, in the comments section of our Q&A with Heath Cline, one of our members wrote:

I would like to point out UGA’s all time record against defending national champions(is Congress still letting us call them that?). They have never lost game in which they face a defending NC(HT to T Kyle King I believe for this stat).

I don't say this to call out the commenter -- who admitted the dubiousness of the fact's utility -- or the Mayor. It's an interesting stat. But to try to draw a line between that stat and a win against Florida this year is a stretch. Each former champion comes into the next year with different strengths and weaknesses. Trying to draw too many conclusions from a limited subset that isn't terribly relevant to begin with could get us into trouble.

In case you haven't guessed by now, I'm writing about Vanderbilt.

History tells us that last year was a nice fluke for Vandy. Nothing more, nothing less. The 2008 season was the first one in 26 years in which the Dores went to a bowl, the second in 34 years and the third in 53 years.

But those kinds of things change. Bad personnel decisions are made between 1996 and 2007, and perhaps the most powerful team in SEC history falls into a decade of nearly continuous slumber -- including getting locked out of a chance to play for the conference title because of a coach's missteps. A team that has never won the SEC East hires an offensive coordinator who has spent his life in the ACC and Metro Conference and ends up winning the division four times in eight years.

Is Bobby Johnson the transformational coach for Vanderbilt? I don't know, and none of us will for at least a few more years. I tire, though, of hearing that it will never be done because it's never been done.

Sure, it's hard to see Vandy ever winning the SEC. But that's not to say it won't happen.

And it's certainly not a reason to not try.

NEXT WEEK: Kentucky


MONDAY: Vanderbilt Strives for a Sustainable Future
TUESDAY: The Commodores Calendar
THURSDAY: The Dores' Depth; Bobby Johnson: How Good a Coach Is He?The Apprentice: SEC Coaches Finale 
EARLIER TODAY: Calling the Commodores