Hard as it might be to believe, we have reached the midpoint of the college football season for all the SEC teams. We look at what's happened to each of them and where they might go from here.
What did you really expect? Vanderbilt has a hard enough time competing in a year when the head coach doesn't retire in the middle of the summer and when the program isn't being rocked by tragedy. It's not like there's a lot of margin for error to work with when those things do come along.
Sure, Vanderbilt officially controls its own destiny in the SEC East heading into this weekend's clash with South Carolina. But even if the Commodores manage to win that game, is there anyone who will say that it's because Vanderbilt is that good, instead of chalking it up as more evidence that South Carolina is that bad?
Is that a double standard? Yes. But it's not like Vanderbilt has given us a lot of reason over the years to not have that sort of a double standard. The Dores remain a team that has gone to one bowl game in almost 30 years and struggled to win with any consistency in the SEC East. Even with all the upheaval in the division this year, Vanderbilt hasn't been able to capitalize.
Not that Vanderbilt hasn't already surprised us this year. The win against Ole Miss didn't get the recognition it now seems to deserve as a genuine upset, given that the Rebels were coming off their loss to Jacksonville State. And the Commodores aren't a terrible team, or they wouldn't have been able to shellack even Eastern Michigan as badly as they did.
The only problem is that Vanderbilt continues to put too many good teams on the schedule, missing out on the victories and bowl berths that might actually give it some momentum. The Wake Forest game is a potential win, which gets you to three. What if the Dores had filled its other nonconference spaces with an FCS team and another low-quality midmajor? You can dismiss that kind of schedule all you want, but it seems to have worked for Kentucky. There's nothing wrong with Vanderbilt getting creative in an effort to find a way to get six wins more than once a quarter-century.
The current meat-grinder of a schedule is really all the justification they need. After last week's trip to Athens and this Saturday's game against South Carolina, the Commodores head to Arkansas and then return home in time to play Florida. (For the sake of argument, we'll take it as a given right now that Florida is actually better than Vanderbilt this year. This could turn out to be wrong.) Then, things get "easier" with a trip to Kentucky and the home games against Tennessee and Wake.
The real surprise would be if Vanderbilt emerges with more than two wins out of those games; it would be truly shocking if the Dores somehow managed to get three or four, likely keeping them in the running for the SEC East into November. Even in a year with more than its fair share of surprises, that seems to be a step too far.