Monday Musings: Senior Day & expansion

Nov. 7, 2011

Vanderbilt will play its final home game of the season on Saturday when Kentucky visits at 11:21 a.m. CT (SEC Network). Typically, Vanderbilt's games with Kentucky have had large implications on postseason play for both teams, and the same holds true for this year's meeting.

Both teams enter the game with 4-5 records, needing wins in two of their final three contests to make a bowl game. The stakes will certainly be high for both teams, but it won't be the first time these two squads will meet with their postseason fates on the line. Saturday will actually mark the first time since 2005 that the winner of this game does not secure bowl eligibility.

In 2006, 2009 and 2010, a Kentucky win in this series was its sixth of the season. In 2008, it was the Commodores that earned its sixth win of the season with a 31-24 win in Lexington. In 2007, Vanderbilt entered the game with five wins, but lost by a touchdown, 27-20.

After Saturday, the Commodores will have road games at Tennessee and at Wake Forest. Meanwhile, Kentucky will have a road game at Georgia and a home meeting with Tennessee.

For the Commodores, the final stretch of the season provides an ample opportunity against opponents that are currently in similar situations. Wins over Kentucky and Tennessee would secure not only a bowl bid, but also a fourth-place finish in the SEC East.

"That is all you can ask for is an opportunity to play against the teams you are even with toward the end of the season and that is what we are going to have the opportunity to do," quarterback Jordan Rodgers said. "We've got some games coming up that we can be real competitive in and we can win."

New Senior Day Tradition
James Franklin noted on Monday that Commodore fans will see a new Senior Day tradition beginning Saturday when Kentucky visits Vanderbilt Stadium. Instead of only honoring this year's players who are seniors in athletic eligibility, Franklin will recognize every player from the freshmen class that entered school four years ago.

Therefore, players who are redshirt juniors on this year's roster will also be recognized. Those players will also have the opportunity to participate in Senior Day again next season.

In total, Vanderbilt will recognize 32 players to begin this new tradition.

Even though he has had less than one year to work with this senior class, Franklin has been extremely appreciative of what the class has done for this program. To reward many of the seniors, Franklin noted that some will earn starts on Saturday for their last home game.

"I'm very appreciative of those seniors and how hard they've worked," Franklin said. "Although some of those guys may not get the total number of reps in a game as a normal starter would, symbolically they are going to have an opportunity to go out and start the game. I think they deserve that. I think it is a way to show respect for what they've done here in their careers and how much they've put into it and how hard they've worked. There are a number of guys that will start the game."

Among the players Franklin mentioned were wide receiver Udom Umoh and defensive tackle T.J. Greenstone.

Comparing Two Seasons
Although Vanderbilt has been on the losing end of five straight league games, the development from last year to this year can be seen on the scoreboard. Vanderbilt's last three losses have come against Georgia, Arkansas and Florida by a total of 13 points combined. Against the same three opponents last year, the Commodores lost by 119 points.

"As frustrating as I was this week, and as frustrating as the fan base was, I do think we need to keep things in perspective as well," Franklin said. "I think we are improving in general. Four of our five losses are to ranked teams. I also understand that is part of the deal coaching in the SEC, but I also want to keep it in perspective and understand the history of where we came from and where we are going."

Limiting Penalties
Coach Franklin did not and cannot comment directly about officiating in the Florida game, but he did state that the team needs to severely cut back on its number of penalties in order to win. The Commodores were flagged a season-high 12 times for 106 yards in penalties. The previous high was 11 penalties against Connecticut.

"I do know there are a number of these penalties that we can control," Franklin. "We have to do a better job at controlling the things that we can control. All the other stuff, I have no more hair to lose, so driving myself crazy focusing about those types of things is not going to happen.

"I'm going to do the same thing I do every week, which is turn plays in on Monday, get some feedback back from them, have some discussions, let them know how I feel, learn from what they tell me and be able to educate my staff and players so we can improve in the future."

If you are looking for him to be critical of officiating, Franklin joked that maybe someday he'll have that discussion once he is retired, but not anytime soon.

"Maybe someday when I'm retired and I'm sitting at the beach, I'll invite you guys over and we can tell a bunch of stories, but right now I can't do it."

Halftime Adjustments
The Commodores will be the first to tell you that they came out flat at the start of the Florida game. The team's defense was being gouged for big plays and the offense was unable to generate any points. As a result, Vanderbilt headed into the locker room trailing 17-0.

So what changed in the second half that allowed the Commodores to have a real shot at winning the game?

"I went into the locker room willing to fight anybody I had to to get my point across of how we are going to play around here," Franklin said. "Obviously I did not have the guys prepared enough in the first half, but we were able to rebound from it. I think it is another sign of growth for this team."

David Williams Discusses Missouri Joining SEC
Vice Chancellor David Williams also met with the media on Monday to discuss Missouri officially joining the SEC. With Missouri's addition, the SEC now has 14 teams in the league, a number Williams said he is comfortable with.

"I don't want it to go any further, but I am not the one making that decision," Williams said. "This is the perfect example of action and reaction. If other actions take place ... what we've said to the Commissioner (Mike Slive) is that 'your job is to protect the brand and the strength of this conference and that was one of the reasons Texas A&M came in.'

"If in order to (protect the brand and strength of the conference), you have to go to 16, I think that is something we will look at. I don't think any of us are looking to go to 16, but I'm not going to say it won't happen."

Williams also commented that Texas A&M and Missouri joining the SEC was not the result of the league trying to poach teams from other conferences. Instead, the two new members approached the SEC about membership.

"This isn't a situation about the SEC raiding another conference," Williams said. "Texas A&M and Missouri came to the SEC."

The addition of Missouri not only adds a strong athletic program, but also one noted for academics as a member of the AAU (Association of American Universities). Four schools in the league are now members of the AAU - Florida, Missouri, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt.

"There is nothing to sneeze at Missouri," Williams said. "It is a good academic school and it has a good athletic reputation."

Future SEC Football Schedule
Southeastern Conference officials have stated that Missouri will join the SEC East, but nothing has been officially announced on the schedule end. Would the league continue to play an eight-game schedule or would it go to nine games?

"Right now, my understanding is we are going to stay at eight, which means you would play six in your division and two across division," Williams said.

But Williams also added that the presidents are the ones that voted in the new members and there may have been a conversation that the league's athletic directors have not been privy to.

As to how the addition of two new schools impacts scheduling in other sports, Williams said that everything will need to be revisited and that Commissioner Mike Slive is working to get all of the athletic directors for an entire day to discuss scheduling.

Expanding SEC Baseball Tournament Field?
The current field at the SEC Baseball Tournament is eight teams, but Williams said there will likely be a discussion about increasing the field now that the league is at 14 schools.

"Our thought was that at 13, it probably would not have (expanded). I don't know what the thought will be with 14. I think we will probably look at it real seriously."

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