NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Vanderbilt coach James Franklin has a mantra he has driven into his Commodores that each week is a new season, each game stands on its own.
He just hopes to be 1-0 by Saturday night.
The Commodores only need a victory against winless Massachusetts on Saturday to cap a three-game home stand and finish October at .500. A second straight win will set up the Commodores in November with not only the chance to become bowl eligible for a second straight year, but a rare winning record in the regular season.
So Franklin isn't about to back off his one-game-at-a-time approach.
"I just don't feel like that we are at a point as a program that we should ever take any game for granted," Franklin said Monday. "I don't think we should ever have that approach in general. We've all seen too many upsets across the country whether it's a FBS opponent, a I-A opponent or I-AA opponent or FCS whatever those abbreviations are now."
Franklin understands Vanderbilt's history well enough in his second season to know what he's talking about.
The Commodores are 3-4 overall after a 17-13 win over Auburn, their second in three games. Not only is UMass 0-7, the Commodores kick off November visiting Kentucky (1-7, 0-5) when they turn back to the Southeastern Conference. Followed by a trip to Mississippi (4-3, 1-2). Then there's Tennessee and Wake Forest.
On paper, it's a schedule filled with opponents that Vanderbilt could use for its first winning record in a regular season since going 8-3 in 1982 before losing the Hall of Fame bowl. That would make Vanderbilt bowl eligible for a second straight season for the first time in the history of a program that started playing football in 1890 yet has only five bowls to its credit.
Franklin said he knows everyone else will be talking about what could happen with a win for Vanderbilt. He knows his players are hearing some of the chatter as well, but he refuses to talk about that himself. His coaches take the same approach to avoid taking any opponent lightly.
He noted people downplayed the Commodores' win over Elon of the Football Championship Subdivision last season.
"We should be cherishing every win we get and really enjoying it and finding the positives in it," Franklin said. "I think that's what we should be doing. We should be really enjoying the wins and whatever opponent it is, whether it's a conference opponent, whether it's an out of conference opponent, whether it's Division I or I-AA, whoever it is, we should really enjoy the wins that we get."
That win over Auburn (1-6) goes into that category for Franklin and the Commodores.
Auburn is off to its worst start since 1952, and the Commodores were a seven-point favorite going in. Yet they found themselves fighting at the end to preserve the 17-13 win after a late fumble by Zac Stacy, who earlier became Vandy's all-time leading rusher with 169 yards, giving him 2,670 yards for his career with five games left.
Franklin said finding a way to win indicates progress.
"I don't know how many times in Vanderbilt history we were able to win an SEC game and not play clean in terms of penalties, in terms of turnovers and things like that ...," Franklin said. "We found a way to win a tough game."
That message has filtered strongly throughout the roster with a coach who grades himself on his media interviews and also checks those of his players to keep them on message. Defensive end Kyle Woestmann said they know that reaching .500 with a win would be a good position to be in going into November.
"We're not as focused on the big picture as we are on this week, and our focus is on UMass," Woestmann said.
Vanderbilt also remains at a point where Franklin is encouraging fans to turn out after two consecutive home sellouts, the first since the start of the 1996 season. The first two included lots of Florida and Auburn fans helping fill the stadium. Tickets remain available for Saturday night's game with UMass.
"It's one thing to sell out an SEC game where the other SEC teams going to travel extremely well," Franklin said. "It's another thing to sellout an opponent like UMass who has a further distance to travel to get here. I'm asking for everybody's help. I'm asking for everybody's support to do that and to continue to take strides in building this program in the direction we want to go."
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