1. Vanderbilt is bowl eligible for consecutive seasons, yet hasn't picked up a big marquee win under James Franklin to this point, something Bobby Johnson was able to do. Is that a point of concern for Vanderbilt at this point, or are Commodore fans still really pleased with the job Franklin is doing?
I'll take bowl eligibility over a marquee win for now. Being able to beat ranked teams like South Carolina and Georgia in the past was nice, but it didn't really add anything to the team. It didn't create a legacy, it didn't provide much of a recruiting boost, and it didn't get this team to the postseason (except for in 2008). Right now, this team needs to keep taking baby steps to get out of the hole that five decades of terrible football have left them in. If that means taking singles instead of swinging for home runs, then that's fine.
Of course, Franklin's also avoided one thing that Vandy teams have also been known for in the past - losing games that they shouldn't. There have been some sloppy defeats, but no really bad, season-deflating losses like when Jay Cutler lost to Middle Tennessee State in 2006 or when Bobby Johnson's team followed up a 5-0 start with losses to Mississippi State and Duke. If Vandy can win the games they're supposed to and come out ahead in matchups that are toss-ups, then the big wins should eventually follow.
2. Given our own struggles in Knoxville, what would a Commodore win on Saturday mean for the program?
It would be nice to derail a BCS season for Tennessee, but honestly, after so many losses at Dudley Field, a victory over an 0-11 Volunteer squad would be cathartic. There's no two ways about it - Tennessee has owned Vanderbilt over the last three decades. Getting that rivalry win would be the best way for Franklin to prove that this is, in fact, a "Brand New Vandy."
Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd, the team's receiving tandem, should give the Vols headaches all night on Saturday. Both are big, quick targets who have helped Rodgers emerge as a solid SEC quarterback this season. Brian Kimbrow, a true freshman tailback, is a little fella but he's also quick as hell and should see more carries with Stacy looking gimpy after a knee injury took him out of the Ole Miss game.
On defense, an improved linebacking corps leads a group that bent but didn't break against Ole Miss and Auburn. Vandy has been good about holding opponents to field goals in the red zone behind the play of Chase Garnham and Archibald Barnes. True freshmen Darreon Herring and Jake Sealand have also been contributors in the middle as well.
4. How concerned are you about losing Franklin to another school at this point?
It's something that is in the back of every Vanderbilt fan's mind right now, but I think that Franklin would turn down all but the sweetest of sweetheart offers. He preaches a big spiel about loyalty, and while that doesn't really mean much in the college game these days, I think he'll see that through for his first recruiting class at the very least. If he can take a team filled with Bobby Johnson's guys to back-to-back bowls, he's got to be looking forward to what he can do with recruiting classes that have been appreciably better in the past two years.
If he keeps this up, I think Vandy will lose him eventually. Right now, though, I think he's having too much fun and is wary of burning off some of the trust that he's earned on campus so far. If his recruits pan out, things are only going to get better for him in the next 3-4 years. His stock will continue to rise even with reasonable expectations in place in Nashville. A lot can change over that span, but I think he'll stick around for at least that long.
5. Bonus coverage, because we've moved on to happier things in basketball in our minds: how significant is the rebuilding effort going to be for Kevin Stallings, and what's a good goal for Vanderbilt Basketball in 2012-13?
Oh boy. Basketball season this year is going to be...grim. Kedren Johnson and Dai-Jon Parker looked like they'd be the backcourt of the future as freshmen last year, but Parker is suspended indefinitely right now (no details on why) and Johnson, while very talented, might need more seasoning before he can be the #1 option on a team that competes for a SEC crown. Our frontcourt, with the exception of hybrid forward Rod Odom, played a combined 159 minutes last season between three players. These guys are raw like cookie dough.
Still, the team has plenty of shooters and that's something that Kevin Stallings can build around. The ballhandling and passing will be better, and they should be able to squeeze a few upsets in this year (which, in true Vanderbilt fashion, will be bookended by some inexplicable losses). I'd say a .500 record in conference play would be a good goal for these guys; they pulled that off when Taylor/Tinsley/Goulbourne were freshmen, and it'll be tough to replicate it, but it's a good starting point.