Hoover, Ala. -- A pair of first-year coaches made the headlines on the first day in Birmingham, Ala., but it was the conference's real upstart who made the Vanderbilt Commodores noteworthy at SEC media days for the third year in a row. Three!
James Franklin opened with a story of his first trip to SEC media days last year, when he walked through radio row, into the mall and back without anyone noticing him. Times have indeed changed. And from a bowl bid in year one to new facilities, the man in the gold tie is still selling Vandy.
With star running back Zac Stacy headlining nine offensive starters coming back, Franklin expressed excitement at getting to send out players familiar with his system, including "driven and competitive" quarterback Jordan Rodgers, whose "light" Franklin said has "really gone on." Considering his theory that defensive starters are easier to replace than offensive ones, confidence should be reasonably high for 'Dores fans when it comes to points.
As with every other coach here in Alabama, there was a Nick Saban mention.
"He was like a rock star" last year, Franklin said of Saban. "People were throwing babies at him." It's true.
How about that blossoming rivalry with Georgia, in light of Franklin's postgame spat with Todd Grantham? "We have tremendous respect for that program," Franklin said, before repeating his familiar assertion that these days, the Commodores back down from no man.
The Tennessee game "doesn't feel like a rivalry," as it's been "a little one-sided," Franklin said, but he talked up the state regardless, and placed the program's focus on the Thursday night opener against South Carolina, which he said has his players "unbelievably motivated." (He was also asked about whether UT's downfall is good for Vandy, but declined to pile on.)
"The sky is the limit for us," he said about his chances of winning the SEC East. "If you have a son, he's coming to Vanderbilt." Just as he did with our own Steven Godfrey, James Franklin is recruiting everything in sight right now. There was a lot of talk about branding, from "Anchor Down" to the team's new helmets, and the whole thing really did feel like a refined pitch.
That's all nice, coach, but Vanderbilt can't sustain its sudden success, right?
"Maybe you see that," he said, "but kids don't see that."
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