So it's the dog days, and you've got to get your college football wherever you can, but when I read a line like
The fact that Vanderbilt finished with seven wins is impressive enough, but that it did so in the SEC makes it all the more remarkable.
in what would otherwise be a pretty good preview piece on the NYT's The Quad blog, I gotta call foul. Seven wins by Vandy standards is pretty remarkable, but that includes just a 4-4 record against the SEC, with losses against Mississippi St. and one of the worst Tennessee teams in the last quarter century*. Let's not forget the Dores also lost to Wake and Duke, and let's not forget that against the 3 worst UT teams of the last 20 years or so Vandy is only 1-2, and let's shelve statements like
Now that the Commodores have removed the stigma of 25 straight losing seasons, the program can begin the process of becoming annual bowl participants, a step that starts in 2009.
because there's more than "stigma" at play here. I've long believed that like water, teams have a natural level. Tennessee's natural level is neither the team that lost to Wyoming last year nor 1998's dream season... it's probably closer to what we saw in 2001 or 2007 (but hopefully with more SECCG wins). Vandy's center is closer to "pesky competitor" than "perennial bowl contender."
A recent Braves and Birds post hints at the same idea, saying that teams rise and fall from the status of "elite." I do agree that teams can change their natural level (see over the last couple of decades the fall of Notre Dame and the rise of Florida from mediocre to omgiwishurbanmyerwouldfalldownahole), but I also think Vandy has miles to go and some probably insurmountable steps ahead of them to change theirs.
*Yes I see the irony in baggin on Vandy's season when it was more successful than UT's; I'm talking about results over time.