Friday, July 25, 2008

The Sports VU: Week in Review

Can't you tell we're getting closer? In just over a month, the Commodores will kick off their season at Miami (OH) and The Sports VU is kicking it into full gear.

Here's a look back at this week's highlights:

It's been an interesting three days in Hoover, Ala., at the SEC Media Days and we've got a full rundown:

Day One Recap (Florida, LSU, Mississippi State, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive)
Day Two Recap (Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss, Tennessee)
Day Three Recap (Auburn, Kentucky, Arksanas, South Carolina)
Around the SEC (7/25)

As for the Commodores, we've got it all covered in this extensive football notebook and Commodore Banter.

You've also got to check out our position-by-position football preview, which got under way this week:

QB Breakdown
RB Breakdown
WR Breakdown
TE Breakdown

If you're looking for SEC preseason predictions, you've come to right place:

Media's picks
Jarred's picks
Aram's picks
Will's picks

Finally, The Sports VU is moving and we need your help.

Thanks again for visiting, and have a great weekend.

SEC Media Days: Friday Recap

From Auburn's new-look offense to Steve Spurrier's refreshing honesty to one ridiculous dream, 10 things we learned from Day 3 of the SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala.

1. Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville likes that the media picked the Tigers to win the SEC West.

"I was really excited till I got up this morning," Tuberville joked. "You guys picked us to win the West. Y'all are never right."

"Actually we'll use this," he added. "It's probably good for us...I'm not big on predictions. But we need something to get us going...We need to have a sense of urgency, a lot more than we did last year. And so I think this will be a point that we can use with our team, our coaches."

2) Like Vanderbilt, Auburn enters fall practice without a starting quarterback.

Tuberville said that Kodi Burns would be the starter if the season started today, but junior college transfer Chris Todd remains in contention. The competition should be fierce and after 10-12 days, Tuberville said he should name a starter.

"I'm a true believer that your quarterback is the leader of your football team in terms of your locker room, your sideline, not just for your offense, but for your defense and your kicking game," he said. "We will have a true starter."

The fact that Tuberville talked repeatedly about the importance of having the quarterback be able to run the football in their offense suggest that Burns is a better fit than Todd. In fact, Tuberville said "this offense is built for a guy like (Burns)."

3) You're not going to recognize the Auburn offense.

"Everybody says, 'Well, some teams run this.' Not like we run it," Tuberville said. "It's no huddle, fast paced, fast tempo, involve your quarterback in running the football, spread the field, use a lot of wide receivers. You know, really it's a change for us."

Consider this fact: Last year Auburn averaged 56 plays per game in the regular season. With new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, the Tigers ran 93 in their bowl game.

No surprise that the players (and recruits) are loving the new system.

"This offense puts a smile on their face," Tuberville said. "They have fun running it. It's always something different, and I think it gives you the opportunity to use more than one player. You can spread it around, use the talent you have on your team."

"Plus, it's helped us recruiting," he added. "I've never had 20 commitments in my life, even when I was at the University of Miami. This year we have 20 commitments, and a lot of it's due to the offense we've gone to and the ability to recruit a lot more skilled players."

4) Kentucky coach Rich Brooks predicted he'll have the "best defensive team that I've had at Kentucky."

While the Wildcats lost a number of talented players on offense, Brooks isn't worried.

"We now have what I would call quality, All-SEC type defensive players," he said. "We've got guys that belong in this league on defense. And we haven't had that at every position in the last five years."

5) Brooks is confident that the Wildcats have closed the talent gap in the SEC East.

Consider that when Brook arrived, he had one player who ran under a 4.5 40. Last year he had 17, including fliers Derrick Locke and Alfonso Smith.

"I want to tell you the difference isn't what it used to be," he said. "We have more speed. We have more talent. We have players that are capable of playing at Florida and Georgia and Tennessee."

"I think that we've closed the gap on the talent level, which is the biggest significant difference in Kentucky football now versus four or five years ago."

The same could be said about the Commodores, although they've yet to get over the hump like the Wildcats.

6) There's another QB controversy in Lexington between Mark Hartline and Curtis Pulley.

It's not going to be easy replacing Andre' Woodson. Brooks said neither guy "has shown the efficiency in the passing game that Andre' did," adding that both need work in their vertical game.

Pulley runs a 4.47 40, while Hartline is also an above-average runner, which makes it even harder to separate the two of them. Unlike at Auburn, don't be surprised to see them share the QB duties.

"I feel good about both of them," Brooks said, "and it's conceivable that both of them could see action, more so than, say, what has happened at Kentucky over the last two years, where Andre's taken virtually every snap."

7) You could tell that new Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino didn't come to Hoover to talk about the past.

Petrino was short in his answers to questions relating to his ordeal with the Atlanta Falcons, although he did admit that losing Michael Vick played a big role in how everything turned out.

"They had a quarterback at that time that I thought could be real special so that played a lot into it, too," he said. "But, you know, it was a difficult season. You always look back and really try to reflect on what I could have done better here, what we could have done better here. Certainly we'll try to do a better job in our communication with our players, you know, really understanding what it takes week in and week out to be consistent."

While I'm far from a Petrino apologist, you have to give him that: with Vick at quarterback, he's probably still in Atlanta and not hated across America.

Petrino also got laughters during this exchange:

A reporter asked, "Where does coming to Media Days and getting these questions and meeting all us great reporters rank in the list of things that you have to do?"

"Oh, right at the top," Petrino replied. "It's my most favorite thing."

"No, this is part of the job. I understand that," he added. "I respect your job and what you all have to do, you know, asking the tough questions. I have no problem with that, none at all."

Glad to see he handled his first trip Hoover well.

8) It's not a party, or SEC Media Days, without Steve Spurrier.

Spurrier is never afraid to speak his mind.

He said he doesn't pay much attention to height and speed during recruitment, noting that the Gamecocks have signed a couple of linebackers who are close to 6-feet tall.

"We sent a memo, No more six foot linebackers, let's go for 6'2" or 6'3", if we can," said Spurrier, inciting laughter. "We all try to get the best we can, but at times, you know, well, he's not quite as tall as we hoped, but we think he's a good player.

"We got to go with who you can. Sort of like going after girls, I guess. Got to get the best you can, right (smiling)? Some of these guys actually have good looking wives, which is unusual."

Just classic. Spurrier cracking jokes on the overweight journalists. It doesn't get much better than that.

And here's another one about Petrino.

"He had about as much fun as I did in the NFL," Spurrier said. "When he first went, I said I’ll give him two years. He almost made one."

How can you not love this guy?

9) According to Spurrier, the SEC East remains a division of the haves and the have-nots.

"I was noticing the other day on our side, there's only been three teams to ever win the division," Spurrier said. "Did y'all know that? So us, Vandy and Kentucky, we're still looking for the first one."

I did not know that, but it's an interesting fact that Spurrier wants to change.

"Sometimes at South Carolina we don't beat Georgia out for too many guys," said the always-candid Spurrier. "We don't beat Florida out for too many guys. That's just the way it is right now."

Spurrier said he knew it was going to be difficult to win at South Carolina.

"It's one of the ultimate challenges," he said. "But what's sort of neat now is that our facilities are pretty close to the other schools, and we need to have one or two big years. We need to win the division somewhere along the way."

"That's the next step we need to take, or else, if that doesn't happen in about five years, then probably somebody else needs to try to do it because we got a lot of good players," Spurrier added. "That's what coaching's all about. If one guy doesn't get it done in seven, eight years, something like that, give that next guy a chance."

In other words, let's get it done, Bobby Johnson.

10) There are some things you just can't make up.'s Chris Low recounts how Kentucky receiver Dicky Lyons, Jr. told media members about a wild dream he had Thursday night:
Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford was in the dream. So was former Georgia quarterback Blake Barnes and Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer. Lyons, who was recently engaged to be married, had been having some crazy dreams about his fiancé leaving him.

"Cosmo says it's natural," Lyons explained

So in this latest dream, a suspicious Lyons goes looking for her and finds her at a bar. She tells him that she doesn't want to marry him, and according to Lyons (again in his dream), he starts "shaking and slapping her" to get her focus.

"I turn around and Matt Stafford punches me in the nose," said Lyons, trying to keep a straight face. "Matt Stafford goes, 'You don't hit women.' Then all of a sudden, Blake comes and hits me, and I'm fighting all these quarterbacks."

For perspective, Lyons had been at the Manning Passing Academy with most of these guys. He also joked that he did pretty well in the fight.

"I was twisting arms and using all kinds of Ranger moves," he said.

And by the way, Stafford is already well aware of the dream.

"I was laughing about it and texted him and said, 'I'm dreaming about you,' " Lyons cracked.

Let's just end on that. Enjoy the weekend, everybody.

Vanderbilt Football Preview: TE Breakdown

The Sports VU's football position-by-position preview continues today with a look at the tight ends. Here's a recap of what we've analyzed this week:

Tuesday: Quarterback
Wednesday: Running back
Thursday: Wide Receiver

STRENGTHS: Size and athleticism. With this personnel, I'd expect the tight end to play a much larger role in the offense. At 6'6", 270 pounds, senior Jake Bradford is a huge target with good hands, while redshirt freshman Brandon Barden and redshirt sophomore Justin Green are big-time athletes. Barden is 6'5", 245 pounds, and was a highly-touted recruit after leading Lincoln County (Ga.) to consecutive Class A championships as a quarterback (Steven Bright anyone?). Green arrived at Vanderbilt unpolished, having played just one year of football after concentrating on track and basketball, but has all the tools to be a dynamic pass-catcher. Throw in the 6'7", 255-pound Austin Monahan, who was one of just three true freshmen to play in '07, and you have quite an impressive quartet.

WEAKNESSES: Experience. Despite their potential, the four tight ends have combined for a grand total of nine catches. Whether they will be able to pick up blitzes and beat SEC linebackers over the middle is yet to be seen.

Is the raw, but talented Barden ready to contribute at the SEC level? Will Green make another leap in his third year with the program? Will offensive coordinator Ted Cain feature a lot of two tight-end sets? While it's an athletic bunch, how does the group rate as run-blockers?

Without Earl Bennett, expect to hear the tight ends' names called more often. Barden and Green, in particular, have the potential to pose match-up problems for the opposition. There's no question that the tight end position should be improved in '08, but it's too early to tell by how much.

Around the SEC (7/25)

A bunch of links to pass along as newspapers across the South analyze day two of the SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. In case you missed it last night, check out The Sports VU's own recap, which lists 10 things we learned from Thursday.

The media released it's preseason predictions, and they're exactly the same as mine, which probably does not bode well for me. Florida was an overwhelmingly favorite to win the East, while Auburn was predicted to win the West.
SEC East
1. Florida (45) 98
2. Georgia (23) 121
3. Tennessee (2) 222
4. South Carolina 266
5. Kentucky 356
6. Vanderbilt 407

SEC West
1. Auburn (48) 99
2. LSU (21) 12
3. Alabama 228
4. Mississippi State 299
5. Ole Miss (1) 338
6. Arkansas 386

Also, congratulations to Vanderbilt cornerback D.J. Moore, who earned first-team honors.

Asked why he hadn't read "The Blind Side," Ole Miss left tackle replied, "I didn't need to. I lived it." Great response. Oher did admit that he'd see the movie, however.

Underrated running back Arian Foster sits on the cusp of UT immortality, writes Brett Hait.

Alabama coach Nick Saban won't put a timetable on winning titles, writes the AJC's Tony Barnhart.

The Crimson Tide have high expectations for their freshman class, particularly WR Julio Jones, writes The Birmingham News' Ian Rapoport.

I'm tired of the subpoena story, but I liked this line from Kevin Scarbinksy: "By refusing to confirm that he'd received a subpoena in Wendell Smith's defamation lawsuit against the NCAA, Fulmer was splitting hairs when he could've been cracking skulls."

The SEC will be getting tough on unsportsmanlike conduct, helmet-to-helmet hits and sideline violations in 2008, reports the Press-Register.

Mark Richt expects QB Matthew Stafford to return for his senior season.

In Vanderbilt news, former offensive tackle Chris Williams said his back injury is not serious. Williams was pulled from practice Thursday was back staff, but he said they were just being cautious.

Finally, in possibly his last Double-A start, David Price turned in a quality start on Wednesday, scattering three runs on seven hits in six innings. Price is expected join Triple-A Durham later this week.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Vanderbilt Football Preview: WR Breakdown

The Commodores kick off their season on Thursday, August 28, at Miami of Ohio. In the meantime, The Sports VU will take a look at a different position each day. Tuesday we dissected the quarterbacks, Wednesday we broke down the running backs and today we'll analyze the wide receivers.

Speed. Senior Sean Walker can flat-out fly as can redshirt junior Justin Wheeler, who could be a pleasant surprise as he moves into a starting role alongside Walker and senior George Smith. And then when you add two of the best athletes in the program, redshirt freshman Jamie Graham and junior D.J. Moore, into the mix, the possibilities for offensive coordinator Ted Cain are endless. Vandy also has depth with Clemson transfer Andrew Diomande, redshirt freshman Udom Umoh and true freshman John Cole and Akeem Dunham vying for playing time.

No #10. No matter how anyone tries to spin it, it is not going to be easy to replace Earl Bennett's production. Opponents always had to worry about where No. 10 was on the field, often putting two (and occasionally three) defenders on him. Bennett was also fearless over the middle and as reliable as they come. Furthermore, with the exception of Walker and Smith, the receiving corps is extremely young and unproven.

With Earl Bennett off to the NFL, can Walker or Smith emerge as a go-to receiver? Is Wheeler poised for a breakout season? Is the lock-down basketball defender Jamie Graham ready to contribute on the gridiron? Will Ted Cain be more creative and unpredictable in his play-calling? Will Cole and/or Dunham be able to make the transition from high school to the SEC? What can we expect from Diomande, who caught just four passes at Clemson?

INSTANT ANALYSIS: While there a lot of questions surrounding this unit, there is a lot of potential too. Walker (20 catches for 270 yards and three TDs in '07) and Smith (32 catches for 397 yards and three TDs in '07) should be solid, while Wheeler (10 catches for 87 yards and 1 TD in '07) could thrive in the slot. It'll be interesting to see how Cain uses Graham and Moore, as well as Walker. I'd bet on a good amount of reverses, end-arounds, screens, anything to give the speedsters a chance to make plays in the open field. Also, make sure to keep an eye on Cole, who's already a polished route-runner and runs a 4.4 40. And the bottom line is this: While no WR will come close to matching Bennett's production, expect the quarterback to share the wealth among several players, who should all finish somewhere between 10 and 40 catches. Hopefully it'll be enough.

SEC Media Days: Thursday Recap

From Fulmer's subpoena to Richt's apology, 10 things we learned from Day 2 of the SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala.

1) Nick Saban has no problem with LSU's Les Miles' recent jab at the Crimson Tide program.

"Well, he told the truth. He told it like it was," Saban said. "So, you know, I don't you know, we need to earn it...Private Ryan told Tom Hanks on the bridge after 12 guys got killed getting him out of there, Tom Hanks says, 'Earn this.'"

"We need to earn the respect."

2) Saban believes more should be done to help all student-athletes, not just football players.

He has suggested that the money brought in from the National Championship game should be given back to student-athletes in the form of a monthly $200 scholarship, for example.

"I'm not just talking about football players," he said. "I'm talking about women's basketball players, volleyball players, softball players, and everybody that's on scholarship. 'Cause I think we should support the student athlete in every way that we can so that they improve their quality of life."

As someone who believes that student-athletes should be paid, I couldn't agree more.

3) Unsurprisingly, Saban is not a fan of the new rule named in his honor, "The Saban Rule," which prevents coaches from making traditional visits to high school campuses during the spring evaluation period.

"That rule, I don't care what anybody thinks, was made out of paranoia," he said.

Saban said he took advantage of the spring period to scour practice fields across the South, comparing and evaluating talent.

"I was the common denominator that saw all the best players and could say this guy in Mississippi was better than that guy in Georgia, was not as good as this guy in Alabama," Saban said. "So more mistakes are going to be made in recruiting and you're not going to be able to spend the time with people to make relationships to get as good as information."

I actually agree with Saban on this one, too. While Saban received a lot of criticism for leaving Miami, he's still a coach I'd want to play for.

"I know he doesn't get the most love in the media, but he's such a genuine guy," said Bama offensive lineman Antoine Caldwell. "He's one of the most focused and razor sharp guys that I've ever been around. He takes pride in what he does, and we can see him on and off the field, and he's always the same person. He's definitely a big influence on us."

4. The pre-season hype could be a blessing or a curse for Mark Richt's Georgia Bulldogs.

"It's a curse if you think it gives you a sense of entitlement to where you think you don't have to prepare," he said. "It could be a blessing if you look at it as one of the greatest opportunities of your life and you put the work in to even be in position to have a chance."

5. Don't expect Georgia to be called for any excessive celebration penalties this season.

"I want it to be a team celebration," Richt said he told his players before their game with the Gators. "Again, I'm still thinking 11 guys celebrating. Well, somebody in the crowd thought I meant everybody."

While Richt was pleased with the fact that the celebration got his team to play with some energy, he called Florida's Urban Meyer the next day to apologize and said Thursday that he "won't do anything like that again."

6. Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt feels rejuvenated in Oxford.

"You go into the meeting with the players, you see that hunger again, to see how they embraced our coaching staff, it excites you, motivates you," said the former Razorback coach. "It makes you want to please. It makes you want to work a little bit harder. So it's just been an excellent transition."

7. Nutt is excited about his starting quarterback, former Longhorn Jevan Snead.

"Jevan Snead brings a lot to our team," Nutt said. "I think he's highly intelligent. He works extremely hard. I love his leadership. That's where you start...Has a strong arm. Very, very accurate."

"Overall, you just love him under the center," he added. "You love him with the ball in his hands because of his decision making, first and foremost."

8. After reading Michael Lewis' The Blind Side, you can be sure that I'll be pulling for Ole Miss offensive tackle Michael Oher.

Oher decided to return for his senior season and is projected to be a top-5 pick in next year's NFL Draft.

9. Subpoena? We're talking about a subpoena?'s Chris Low has the full rundown regarding Fulmer and the now infamous subpoena:
Alabama attorneys representing disassociated Alabama booster Wendell Smith in a defamation suit against the NCAA want to question Fulmer under oath about his role in the investigation of Alabama, which ultimately landed the Crimson Tide on probation earlier this decade.

Fulmer, who initially denied several different times to several different media members that he'd been served a subpoena, issued a scathing statement tonight about the whole thing. He insisted that he wasn't trying to mislead anybody.

Later, Low called out Fulmer for not telling the truth, thus turning a non-story into THE story of the day.

10. Remember the name: Eric Berry.

"I don't know if we have enough time or tape to talk about all the things that Eric Berry brings," Fulmer said of his sophomore defensive back. "But, you know, one, he's got great character, great work ethic. He's a very smart young man. He takes his academics very seriously. Wants to be a dentist. He brings his 'A' game to the practice field every day, to the weight room, wherever, to be as good as he can be. Just love all those tangible and intangible things that he brings."

Don't think Berry will be filling cavities any time soon.

"If he stays healthy and continues on the path that he's on," Fulmer said, "he'll certainly be one of the best players that Tennessee has had in a long time and one of the best players that has played in the country in a long time."

You may also want to check out Wednesday's recap and the Vanderbilt notebook.

Commodore Banter (7/24)

We've got a whole bunch of links to pass along following Vanderbilt's press conference at SEC Media Days so we might as well get the bad news out of the way first.

Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said the team should decide on the future of running back Jermaine Doster within the next week, according to Brett Hait of The Nashville City Paper. Doster was arrested last week and faces three misdemeanor charges. It's a tough call for Johnson.

Now, onto the good news.

The Commercial Appeal's Scott Cacciola has a must-read story about Vanderbilt's George Smith. Here's a glimpse:
A sixth-year senior at Vanderbilt, Smith spent 45 days in an intensive-care unit as a true freshman after he was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a rare neurological disorder. He survived. Two years later, he was shot in the arm breaking up a fight. He lived.

"I feel blessed," said Smith, whose latest challenge -- fitting into his new role as Vanderbilt's primary receiver, post-Earl Bennett -- seems trivial by comparison. "My whole outlook on life has completely changed. You just know when you have a bad day, it's like, 'Hey, I've been through worse.'"

Brett Hait's notebook is full of a number of good tidbits, including:

*Memphis boys John Stokes and Chris Marve could start at linebacker
*Gaston Miller adds elusiveness and speed to the backfield
*D.J. Moore will play some offense
*VU ticket sales are up 25% from this time last year

As expected, the QB job remains up for grabs, writes Hait.

“I think we have enough time in the preseason to identify that guy,” Johnson said. “That’s why I feel so good about it. I think we have four good quarterbacks, and the guy who beats out those other three has to play well in the preseason.”

To get the program where it needs to be, Johnson is focused on the "athlete" in "student-athlete," writes The Huntsville Times' Allan Taylor.

D.J. Moore has come into his own at Vandy, writes Matt Cobbs.

Something tells me Commodore fans are going to like the way center Bradley Vierling plays football.

Former Vanderbilt left tackle Chris Williams is a man of his word as he signed a five-year, $15 million contract with $9 million in guarantees just before the start of training camp. Congrats, Chris.

Finally, in baseball news, the Pittsburgh Pirates are frustrated that Scott Boras and his client Pedro Alvarez are going to hold out until the final hours of negotiations.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Vanderbilt football notebook

Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson took the podium Wednesday at the SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala., and touched on a number of topics, including the quarterback situation, the talented secondary and underrated offensive line. Here are the highlights.

And the quarterback is...: Johnson didn't come close to tipping his hand, saying good things about all four signal-callers.

"I think we're going to be much better at quarterback this year because Chris Nickson is confident and healthy again," Johnson said. "I think we did a disservice to him last year trying to play him as much as we did after he got hurt."

"Mackenzi Adams is going to be better because he's a year older," Johnson added. "He had some very fine games for us last year. Those two are going to be pushed by Jared Funk and Larry Smith. Whoever the quarterback is, he's going to have to play well in the pre-season to beat the other three out."

Later, Johnson hinted that it will most likely be Nickson or Adams getting the nod in game one, while Funk and Smith will be waiting in the wings.

"I think either one of those can be starters," he said. "I think Larry Smith and Jared Funk are going to push 'em. And they will be ready to step in if they're needed."

We want Moore: Johnson admitted that although cornerback D.J. Moore wants to expand his role on offense, the Dores have to be cautious.

"You have to be careful as a coaching staff when you do that because he's very valuable to our defense," Johnson said. "You don't want to strip him out, not have him available to play defense in the fourth quarter. Everybody wants to use him, I know that. I think that's a good sign."

Johnson said that Moore is a "very special football player" and "one of the best players in this conference."

"He's one of the most natural football players I've ever been around," he added. "He just seems to know how to play the game at cornerback. He anticipates where the quarterback's going to throw the ball. He's a great returner. Seems to be able to find the soft spot every time he returns the football."

Getting defensive: Johnson said the Commodores "can be just as good on defense this year as we were last year," largely because of the secondary, which returns Moore and Myron Lewis at cornerback, Reshard Langford and Ryan Hamilton at safety and Darlron Spead at nickelback.

"The secondary is really extremely important to our defensive scheme because we do try to put a lot of pressure on the quarterback," he said. "Those guys have to be really sharp back there to know what's going on, try to take advantage of that pressure."

Johnson predicted that Lewis should have a "breakout year," while also noting that Alan Strong's presence at cornerback could allow Moore to play some at nickelback and shut down opposing team's slot receivers.

Stoked for Stokes: Johnson expects a big year from sophomore linebacker John Stokes, even comparing him to a former VU great.

"John is going to be a huge player for us on defense this year," he said. "Just an outstanding young man, a great student, a scholar, a gentleman. I like to compare him to Hunter Hillemeyer, who is now playing for the Bears. A big rangy guy who can run, but also just extremely smart. Knows the defense already. Can do anything for you."

Marve in the middle: Johnson said that another Memphis product, redshirt freshman Chris Marve, has a "great chance" to start at middle linebacker.

The coach also predicted a bright future for true freshman linebacker DeAndre Jones, also from the Memphis University School.

"We like the Memphis area," Johnson said. "We try to get back in it. We finally made some inroads. Hopefully that will be the key for us to continue to get good players out of that area."

In it for the long haul:
Johnson recalled his first press conference as Vanderbilt's head coach.

"Some guy said, 'How long do you think you got before they fire you?' Really, he did. I said, 'I don't know.' You know, that never was a thought."

Seven years later, Johnson is still here.

"The thing is, our coaching staff has invested a lot into this program. They've worked extremely hard," he said. "We want to see it be successful. We're hoping we can get it done. I think we made strides towards that. I think we were extremely close last year. A couple games go either way, we're in a Bowl."

Johnson added that he doesn't plan to leave anytime soon.

"I don't think I'm going to coach anywhere else but Vanderbilt in my career," he said.

Changing history:
For the Commodores to be successful, Johnson said every player in his program has got to contribute.

"If you're coming to Vanderbilt just to be a doctor or a lawyer or a huge businessman, you know, we don't want you," he said. "We want you to be a great football player and be a great doctor and a lawyer and a great businessman."

"You know, if you're just going to sit there and just sort of go with the flow, we don't need you," Johnson said. "We need those guys who want to get something done, want to change history, want to make something happen at Vanderbilt."

Ground game improved: As we mentioned in today's running back breakdown, Johnson expects the ground game to be better.

"Jared Hawkins is ready to step up," he said. "We have Gaston Miller coming back, who is more explosive than anybody we've had. Jeff Jennings is back in the best shape of his life to help us with the tough yards, just grinding it out."

Expect Miller to provide the Commodores will the home-run threat they've sorely missed the past few years.

"I think Gaston will make plays when we don't block everybody," Johnson said. "If he could give us that capability, you know, it will certainly make things a lot easier."

"It's hard to grind the ball, you know, to block everybody right every time and grind the ball down the field and move it 80 yards against SEC defenses. You got to have some explosive plays. And hopefully he can give us those."

O-line underrated: The Commodores lost all five starters from last year's offensive line, but Johnson is not concerned, saying the unit has some experience and should be more athletic with the obvious exception of Chris Williams.

"I think Coach Caldwell does a fantastic job with our offensive line," Johnson said. "He prepared Chris Williams to go in the first round. He can coach 'em. We expect our offensive line to step up and be as good as we were last year."

Congrats, Reshard: Reshard Langford never thought he'd be attending SEC Media Days.

"It feels awesome to be here," he said. "It has been a completely new experience, but I think I am doing well. I never thought I would be a captain and starting. My hard work has paid off."

In addition to being a leader on the field, Langford is a great role model off it. This summer he has been working with inner-city children at the Martha O'Bryan Center in East Nashville.

"It is a wonderful feeling to help encourage these kids, give them hope that they can be successful and can go to college," he said.

Videos of the Day: Top 5 Individual Moments of 2007

I don't know why I'd be nostalgic for the '07 football season, but I put this together anyway. I thought these were the top 5 individual Vanderbilt moments/performances of 2007.

5. Earl Bennett cements his legend

No. 10 made a diving catch in traffic for reception 209 to make himself the all-time SEC receptions leader. In all the years of the illustrious Southeastern Conference, no one has made more catches in their career than Bennett. It's been said a lot, but that really is an incredible achievement.

4. Nickson starts the year out right

Chris Nickson didn't have a memorable season, but his season-opener against the Spiders was about as good as a game a QB can have. Nickson was 19/26 for 284 yards and passed for four touchdowns, and Bennett set a school record with 223 yards receiving. Best pass is at 2:20.

3. D.J. Moore soumersalts into the end zone

D.J. picked off EMU QB Andy Schmitt and did a Reggie Bush into the end zone. Pretty cool stuff. It's at 3:50.

2. Defense puts on a show in Columbia as Vanderbilt gets biggest upset since the 1930s

Not really an individual performance but this merits mentioning. Vanderbilt put 17 points on the board, then the defense took over and absolutely stifled the (then) No. 6 South Carolina Gamecocks. The Commodores had seven sacks, three interceptions, forced a fumble, and held the Cocks to 1-12 on third-down conversions. Vandy finally got the best of the Ol' Ball Coach; this also began the period when South Carolina, to quote Stewie Griffin, collapsed into itself like a neutron star.

1. The Sean Walker Show

Hey, look what happens when the Commodores open up the playbook. Walker showcased his speed with his first touchdown on a double reverse to give Vanderbilt the lead on Homecoming. His other touchdown was the No. 1 play on SportsCenter that night, and it might have been the greatest catch of the year for the whole conference. His older brother made this video, and a familiar face introduced the Vanderbilt players for ESPN that day.

SEC Media Days: Wednesday Recap

Ten things we learned from Day 1 of the SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala.

1. Florida is going to be really, really fast.

Urban Meyer confirmed the story that redshirt freshman running back Chris Rainey recently beat true freshman Jeffrey Demps in a 40-yard dash, which was no small feat. Demps ran a 10.01 in the 100 meters at last month's Olympic Trials, only the fastest time ever for an American teeneger.

"Everyone saying how fast he is so they said let's go in the back of dorms, let's figure this thing out," Meyer recalled. "They raced. I guess Chris nudged him out. So we got some speed. I'd like to watch that. I wasn't there, but I would have liked to (smiling). Could have probably sold about 10,000 tickets for that. ESPN GameDay probably would have been there as well."

2. Tim Tebow is so popular these days that even his coach can't get close to him.

"I loved it when I was getting pushed in the back by security in Times Square, physically I was getting pushed in the back because they thought I was like hanging around Tim trying to get an autograph or something," Meyer said. "I hate to say this, I was. I wanted to get a Christmas present for my son."

3. It's impossible not to root for Tim Tebow.

In today's me-first society, it's refreshing to see that Tebow has taken advantage of his celebrity status to influence change. For his three off-season breaks, he went to the Philippines, Croatia and Thailand on mission trips, where he preached in prisons, schools, hospitals, you name it...

"The reason I do it is because it's more important than football to me," Tebow said. "Doing those things, taking my platform as a football player and using it for good, using it to be an influence and change people's lives, that's more important than football to me."

"I can change a kid's life for the better, that's much more important to me than going out there and beating Georgia or Florida State or whatever team it is," Tebow added. "That's very special to me, but it doesn't come close to having the ability to put a smile on a kid's face or go to a hospital and see a girl who is about to die, see her smile because you're there to see her. I mean, you can't put a price on it, on what that does for me."

4. Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom is glad LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey is gone.

"In my coaching career, he is one of only three defensive linemen that when I went to the game I was truly afraid of," Croom said. "Reggie White was one of the others when I was in the NFL. And Howie Long was one of the others."

5. Miles' Tigers have no interest in defending their trophy.

"The '08 is where we're at," Miles said. "We're not defending. We're not dealing with rankings. This is a brand new year. If we're defending, come see the trophy, it's in our trophy case. We're not defending it; it's there. We got a brand new team."

6. With ends Charles Alexander and Ricky Jean Francois and tackles Tyson Jackson and Kirston Pittman, LSU's defensive line should be downright scary once again.

"I think our defensive front will be as strong as there is in college football," Miles said.

7. After poking fun at Alabama last week, Miles took the high road on Wednesday.

"I have great respect for the University of Alabama, the history they have presented to college football, the competition that they put on every time they take the field," Miles said. "I promise you that any fun and entertainment that I have with supporters is very respectful."

Something tells me Crimson Tide fans aren't buying it.

8. The SEC is headed in the right direction academically.

Five years ago, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said the SEC would have no programs on probation as of today. The league came up just short -- the Arkansas track team is the only one.

"The most satisfying accomplishment in my six years as commissioner is that we have tackled the infraction problems head on, while at the same time arguably enjoying the most sustained competitive athletic success in the history of this conference," Slive said.

9. A decision regarding an SEC Network will be made this fall, one year before the current television contracts end, Slive said.

Here's what criteria the SEC will consider in making a decision.

"They include the ability to improve national distribution for all of our sports, the ability to enhance the SEC brand nationally, the opportunity to provide a window for non athletic programming, particularly academic programming, the ability to maximize multimedia distribution in the new digital world," Slive said. "And, finally, the ability to increase revenue distribution to our member institutions in support of their broad based men's and women's athletic programs."

10. In case you didn't know, the SEC is pretty good.

*Six players were drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft.
*263 players were on the 2007 NFL opening day active roster, the most of any conference.
*The SEC sent 75 percent of all of its teams in all of its sports to NCAA post-season competition.
*The SEC had 457 student-athletes named All-Americans.
*150 former or current SEC student athletes will participate in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

You can read a full transcript from Wednesday's press conferences at here.

Vanderbilt Football Preview: RB Breakdown

The Commodores kick off their season on Thursday, August 28, at Miami of Ohio. In the meantime, The Sports VU will take a look at a different position each day. Tuesday we dissected the quarterbacks. Today we'll break down the running backs.

STRENGTHS: Versatility. Each running back adds a different dimension to the rushing attack. With the departure of Cassen Jackson-Garrison, redshirt junior Jared Hawkins should see an expanded role after rushing for 267 yards on 60 carries in '07. Hawkins reads blocks well, hits the hole hard and has the ability to run both inside and outside the tackles. Redshirt senior Jeff Jennings appears to be in great shape two years removed from a knee injury and should thrive in short-yardage situations. The elusive Gaston Miller adds a home-run threat to the ground game, while fellow redshirt sophomore Kennard Reeves and redshirt freshman Ryan van Rensburg are capable back-ups.

WEAKNESSES: No game-changer. The Commodores are still looking for that stud tailback who can rush for 100 yards week in and week out and has the ability to break a 60-yard run. Without a complete tailback, it makes it harder for Vanderbilt to establish the run on a consistent basis.

Who is the starter, Jeff Jennings or Jared Hawkins? Is Hawkins ready for a featured role, and will Jennings return to top form with the knee no longer a concern? Is the 5'7" (generous) Gaston Miller ready to contribute in the SEC? How do Reeves and van Rensburg fit into the picture, if at all?

I doubt the Commodores are too worried about replacing Jackson-Garrison's production. Regardless of who's named the starter on the depth chart, Hawkins and Jennings should both see plenty of carries. Although the offensive line is new, both RBs should be significantly better in '08. The wild card in all of this is Miller, who coach Bobby Johnson thinks has the potential to be a solid change-of-pace back. The bottom line is that while all three RBs should be effective in their own way, don't expect opposing defenses to be too worried about any of them.

NOTE: I'm off to see Dark Knight, but I'll have a full recap of day one from the SEC Media Days later tonight.

A recent grad's SEC predictions

In the spirit of the week, The Sports VU decided to join the fun and make its own preseason SEC predictions. Is it pointless? Probably, but it's the middle of July and I'm all for anything that helps pass the time until August 28. Also, you'll be able to look back at these in January and commend us on our amazing picks. Or something like that.

Jarred and Aram made their predictions. Now it's time for recent Vanderbilt graduate Will Gibbons to share his wisdom.

SEC East
1. Florida
2. Georgia
3. Tennessee
4. South Carolina
5. Kentucky
6. Vanderbilt

SEC West
1. LSU
2. Auburn
3. Alabama
4. Mississippi State
5. Ole Miss
6. Arkansas

Offensive Player of the Year:
Tim Tebow, QB, Florida
Defensive Player of the Year: Greg Hardy, DE, Ole Miss
Coach of the Year: Urban Meyer, Florida
Top Newcomer: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Breakout Player: Demetrius Byrd, WR, LSU
Non-Vanderbilt game you're most looking forward to: Georgia-Florida in Jacksonville (Nov. 1)
One guarantee: I really like Georgia’s personnel and Mark Richt, but this team won’t be playing for the national title, despite the amount of hype it is getting. The Dawgs travel to Arizona State, Auburn, LSU and South Carolina, get Florida in Jacksonville, and face Alabama and Tennessee at home. Georgia Tech is never easy, while Kentucky and Vandy have been pesky for the Bulldogs. The only true cakewalk on the schedule is Georgia Southern, as even Central Michigan is being picked to win the MAC. That’s just too much to ask of any team.
One bold prediction: With Houston Nutt and the excitement he’s generating, Ole Miss will compete for (not necessarily make) a bowl game. Coach O brought in a lot of talent, and Nutt just might coach it up.

A thinking man's SEC predictions

In the spirit of the week, The Sports VU decided to join the fun and make its own preseason SEC predictions. Is it pointless? Probably, but it's the middle of July and I'm all for anything that helps pass the time until August 28. Also, you'll be able to look back at these in January and commend us on our amazing picks. Or something like that.

You can check out Jarred's predictions here.

SEC East
1. Georgia
2. Tennessee
3. Florida
4. South Carolina
5. Kentucky
6. Vanderbilt

SEC West
1. LSU
2. Alabama
3. Auburn
4. Ole Miss
5. Mississippi St.
6. Arkansas

Offensive Player of the Year: Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia
Defensive Player of the Year: Eric Berry, DB, Tennessee
Coach of the Year: Mark Richt, Georgia
Top Newcomer: Jevan Snead, QB, Ole Miss and A.J. Green, WR, Georgia (tie)
Breakout Player: Jonathon Crompton, QB, Tennessee
Game I'm Looking Forward To: Florida @ Tennessee (Sept. 20)
One Guarantee: Ole Miss will go to a bowl game.
Bold Prediction: Tim Tebow will get injured and miss at least one game of the 2008 NCAA Football season.

Around the SEC (7/23)

A bunch of SEC-related links to pass along as the SEC Media Days get going this afternoon. But, first, here's today's schedule:

FLORIDA (1:10 - 3:10 pm)
Urban Meyer, QB Tim Tebow, OT Phil Trautwein
MISSISSIPPI STATE (1:10 - 3:10 pm)
Sylvester Croom, QB Wesley Carroll, LB Jamar Chaney
LSU (3:10 - 5:10 pm)
Les Miles, C Brett Helms, DE Tyson Jackson
VANDERBILT (3:10 - 5:10 pm)
Bobby Johnson, S Reshard Langford, WR George Smith

Jon Solomon of The Birmingham asks a great question: Is this the golden age of SEC football coaches?

Solomon believes so, pointing out that it's the first time in the conference's 76-year history that five current coaches have won a national championship. "And," he says, "it's not just quality at the top. The depth among the 12 current coaches rivals the early 1960s, which is considered the Holy Grail-era of SEC football."

The rest of the country finally seems to admit that the SEC is the best, according to John Adams of The Knoxville News Sentinel. For example, did you know that the SEC has three guards, three tackles and two centers ranked in the top five nationally at their positions?

Funny tidbit about Bobby Johnson in this Press-Register story about the off-field demands of coaches.
Some coaches go for laughs. Vanderbilt's Bobby Johnson broke up the room when he described signing autographs for Japanese tourists who were convinced that he was comedian Steve Martin.

The Clarion-Ledger lists six topics to look for this week in Hoover. A couple of the big ones: Can Georgia live up to the preseason hype? Is it put up or shut up time for Steve Spurrier at South Carolina?

Meanwhile, The Tennessean's Bryan Mullen takes a look at 10 hot topics, including Vanderbilt's QB controversy.

Finally, Seth Emerson of The State rates each coach on how intense his press conference will be from one to four microphones and gives Bobby Johnson a 1.5.
Typically, the biggest activity during Johnson’s presentation is at the beginning, when media members scramble out of the room. That’s too bad, because the Columbia native can be one of the most entertaining and humorous coaches in the league. Johnson should face the usual round of Vanderbilt questions: So, how close to getting to a bowl do you think you are? How tough is it to win at a school you need a 24,000 SAT score to get in? Why aren’t you winning when your basketball and baseball programs are?

Also, don't forget to check out my preseason SEC predictions below.

The Sports VU's preseason SEC predictions

College football season is finally here...sort of. The always-hectic, yet highly-entertaining SEC Media Days kick off today in Hoover, Ala., and Florida, LSU, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt are up on the first of the three-day event. The Commodores, represented by coach Bobby Johnson and seniors Reshard Langford and George Smith, will speak to the media from 3:10-5:10 p.m. CT.

In the spirit of the week, The Sports VU decided to join the fun and make its own preseason SEC predictions. Is it pointless? Probably, but it's the middle of July and I'm all for anything that helps pass the time until August 28. Also, you'll be able to look back at these in January and commend us on our amazing picks. Or something like that.

You can read Aram's predictions here.

SEC East
1. Florida
2. Georgia
3. Tennessee
4. South Carolina
5. Kentucky
6. Vanderbilt

SEC West
1. Auburn
2. LSU
3. Alabama
4. Mississippi State
5. Ole Miss
6. Arkansas

Offensive Player of the Year:
Knowshon Moreno, RB, Georgia
Defensive Player of the Year: Greg Hardy, DE, Ole Miss
Coach of the Year: Tommy Tuberville, Auburn
Top Newcomer: Jevan Snead, QB, Ole Miss
Breakout Player: Mario Fanin, RB/WR, Auburn
Non-Vanderbilt game you're most looking forward to: LSU at Auburn (Sept. 20)
One guarantee: Vandy will go to its first bow...Thought I was gonna do it, didn't you? In all seriousness, Georgia will lose at least three games.
One bold prediction: Tim Tebow quits football in order to help spread the gospel.

Feel free to leave your own picks in the comments.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Vanderbilt Football Preview: QB Breakdown

The Commodores kick off their season on Thursday, August 28, at Miami of Ohio. In the meantime, The Sports VU will take a look at each position, starting with the most visible and perhaps most important -- quarterback.

STRENGTHS: Experience. Things should begin to slow down for redshirt senior Chris Nickson and redshirt junior Mackenzi Adams, who have 24 starts between them. They're familiar with the offense and know what it takes to succeed in the SEC. Both QBs are also mobile, which makes the Commodores harder to defend. Vanderbilt also has depth at the position with redshirt sophomore Jared Funk and redshirt freshman Larry Smith.

Consistency. Nickson had a terrific 2006, completing 160 of 292 passes for 2,085 yards and 15 TDs while rushing for 694 yards and nine TDs, only to regress in 2007. No one knows quite how bad Nickson was hurt, but the bottom line is that he had just 943 total yards and eight TDs in six starts and gave way to Adams in the second half of the season. Adams completed 55.5 percent of his passes for 1043 yards and nine TDs while rushing for 289 yards and 3 TDs, but fairly or unfairly, never seemed to gain the full confidence of the coaching staff.

TOP QUESTIONS: First, the obvious question -- who should/will start? Beyond that, which Chris Nickson will we see, the '06 or '07 version? Did Mackenzi Adams prove enough last season to win the job? Will both QBs receive snaps regardless? And what about the two talented youngsters, Funk and Smith? If the Dores struggle early on, will coach Bobby Johnson look to the future?

INSTANT ANALYSIS: With two experienced upperclassmen, the Commodores shouldn't have to worry about the QB position, but heading into fall camp, it remains one of the biggest question marks. Nickson at his best probably gives Vanderbilt its best chance to win, but it's unclear whether that Nickson even exists anymore. Meanwhile, Adams is a great leader who has the respect of his teammates. And if the Commodores had beaten Georgia and Tennessee in '07 and gone to a bowl game, I'd imagine that Adams would be the unquestioned starter. It'll be interesting to see how Funk and Smith factor into the question, as well. Funk looked the best of the four in the spring scrimmage and possesses a strong, accurate arm, while Smith was a big-time recruit viewed by many as the QB of the future, although I'd imagine he is still one year away. Either way, the bottom line is this -- whoever gets the nod is going to have to play well for Vanderbilt to have any shot at earning its first bowl berth since 1982.

Check back tomorrow as The Sports VU breaks down the running backs.

Commodore Banter (7/22)

The Sports VU is in full swing these days so be sure to scroll down the page and check out all of our recent stories. And in case you missed it, we're moving and need your help.

Yesterday we shared some basketball thoughts from last week's SEC teleconference. Maurice Patton of The Tennessean does the same thing today, noting that Vandy's rep lures top recruits.

"They were able to add a lot of athleticism and depth," recruiting analyst Justin Young said. "Sometimes they'd have a really good player mixed with some program guys. Here, you've got four guys that by the time they're juniors or seniors could be your starting lineup."

The Commodores also have another top recruit on the way in 2009 -- John Jenkins. A 6-foot-4, 200-pound shooting guard, Jenkins has seen his stock rise tremendously this summer. At the NBA Players Top 100 Camp, he averaged 17.8 points, three points better than any other player during the five-day event. He was one of just 80 players invited to the LeBron James Skills Academy last week, and he will be competing in the Nike Global Challenge (reserved from the nation's top 30 players) in August.

It's no surprise then to learn that Jenkins has received offers from a number of schools despite his commitment to the Commodores.

"North Carolina, Duke … that's where I wanted to go when I was 11," Jenkins said. "Now I have a good home in Vanderbilt. They brought me in and I love the coaches, the fans and the education. I'm real set on them."

Coach Kevin Stallings must be counting down the days until Jenkins' arrival. He is currently ranked No. 32 overall, eighth among shooting guards, by

"John has started to put a little length on his résumé," said Dave Telep, national recruiting director. "He's made perimeter shots, knocked down 3's and been in situations in camp settings where he's been on big runs. He's going to get a lot of points at Vanderbilt. That offense is the right fit for him."

In football news, D.J. Moore and Reshard Langford were named to the coaches' All-SEC team, Moore to the first team and Langford to the third.

The Commodores also received another commitment for the Class of 2009 -- Mason Johnston. A 6-foot-4, 235-pound tight end from The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla., Johnston is ranked by as the nation’s No. 36 tight end prospect and No. 43 by in the class of 2009.

Speaking of prospects, Brett Hait attempts to answer the following question: When it comes to recruiting, how young is too young? (Yes, we're talking about you, Billy).

In alumni news, the Bears are closing in on a deal with offensive tackle Chris Williams.

The Tampa Bay Rays are in no rush to call up David Price. Within this mailbag,'s Bill Chastain says Price "is the one untouchable guy in the Rays' farm system." He also added this:
Price is now 4-0 with a 2.03 ERA at Double-A Montgomery. Andrew Friedman, Rays executive vice president of baseball operations, recently stated that development is king. When Price reaches the Major Leagues, the Rays want him to be ready and not have to go back down. However, Friedman's comments did indicate that he has not ruled out Price being a part of this year's team at some point.

For Denver quarterback Jay Cutler, year three is pivotal.

In NBA Summer League news, Derrick Byars ended on a high note, scoring 15 points on 7-for-12 shooting to go along with five rebounds in the Hornets' loss to Portland. In five games, he averaged 7.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 0.8 assists in 18.6 minutes. He shot 44.4 percent from the field, including 46 percent from 3-point range.

Shan Foster averaged 8.6 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists while shooting 49 percent from the field for the Mavs, while Matt Freije had himself a week, averaging 11.8 points, 1.5 rebounds, 1.0 block and 1.0 assists in 21.5 minutes in four games for Milwaukee. He shot 59 percent, including 60 percent from 3-point range.

Make sure to check back later today for the first part of The Sports VU's 2008 Football Preview.

Moore, Langford receive preseason All-SEC honors

The coaches' preseason All-SEC team was released Monday and Vanderbilt had just two representatives. Junior cornerback D.J. Moore was the only Commodore named to the first unit, while senior safety Reshard Langford earned third-team honors.

"D.J. is coming off a remarkable year and deserves all the attention he is getting. He's a big-time player in a big-time conference," said coach Bobby Johnson. "I'm pleased that Reshard is getting notice because he's truly one of the finest defensive players in this conference. Reshard simply does his job at a very high level. He's a great competitor, a great athlete, and a tremendous leader for the Commodores."

LSU led all teams with 14 players selected, followed by Florida (10), Georgia (9), Alabama, Auburn and South Carolina (all 8), Tennessee (7), Kentucky (5), Ole Miss and and Mississippi State (4), Arkansas (3) and Vanderbilt (2).

There were seven unanimous first-team selections to the squad, but Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow was not one of them (one coach voted for Matthew Stafford). The group includes four offensive linemen - Alabama's Andre Smith, Arkansas Jonathan Luigs, Ole Miss' Michael Oher and Tennessee's Anthony Parker -- along with Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno, Ole Miss defensive lineman Greg Hardy and Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes.

In addition, of the 81 players named to the first, second and third teams, six are sophomores, 35 are juniors and 40 are seniors.

You can check out all of the coaches' selections here.

While it shouldn't come as a surprise to learn that Vanderbilt had just two players selected, I pose this question to all of you: Other than Moore and Langford, which Commodores do you expect to earn All-SEC honors at the end of the season?

My take: Offensively, I wouldn't be shocked to see linemen Bradley Vierling and possibly Thomas Welch earn recognition. Defensively, there are a number of possibilities, including cornerback Myron Lewis (who's quite talented and would be getting a whole lot more attention if not for Mr. Moore) and defensive ends Broderick Stewart and Steven Stone.

Photo [VU Commodores]

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Sports VU is moving...and we need your help

It's hard to believe that this site has only been up and running for a little over four months. In that short time, we've put up more than 300 posts, interviewed dozens of student-athletes and attracted hundreds of loyal readers.

As a result of our hard work, we've been asked to join a prominent network consisting of more than 100 sports bloggers, each following a respective team the same way we cover the Commodores. We'll get a brand new website and hopefully be able to attract an even larger audience.

Don't worry, it'll still be the same guys bringing you the same great coverage. The only downside is this: we need a new name. Since and are unavailable, we're left with no choice but to come up with a new identity for the fall.

So, we're asking for your help. My staff has come up with three very good options -- Conquer and Prevail, The VU Point and Vandyville. You can vote for your favorite in the poll on the top right of the page. If you have any other suggestions, feel free to share those below.

Anyways, thanks so much for visiting The Sports VU and I look forward to reading your feedback. Also, I don't know about you, but I can't wait for the fall...

Summer basketball update

Vanderbilt men's basketball coach Kevin Stallings spoke to the media during last week's summer teleconference and Brett Hait of The Nashville City Paper has a terrific story about Stallings' expectations (or lack thereof) for next year's squad, which will welcome four talented freshman and two redshirt freshmen.

“This is probably as little an idea about a team as I’ve had going into a season in terms of the little nuances you might think about as a coach,” Stallings said. “That’s part of the exciting part of being a college basketball coach – new faces and new teams.”

VU Commodores has the full transcript from Wednesday's teleconference so I figured I'd go ahead and touch on some of the highlights.

*Stallings both expects and needs junior point guard Jermaine Beal to make another leap this season in order for Vandy to be successful.

*Not too much new information to pass along on the four freshmen -- Lance Goulbourne, Jeff Taylor, Steve Tchiengang and Brad Tinsley -- other than that they've been at summer school and working hard. "I think they've come in and tried to quietly go about their business and do things the right way and that's been very pleasing," Stallings said.

*Vanderbilt has become a very attractive destination for potential recruits, which is making Stallings very happy. "We feel like we’re getting entertained and getting interest from as high a level of players since we’ve been here," he said. "So, there's a tremendous amount of momentum that we feel in our program, and I think that the guys we recruit feel that and that's what makes things around here exciting right now."

*Stallings said he would not recruit players who say upfront that they only want to be in school for one year, but at the same, would not have a problem if he one of his players left after a season if he was ready.

"I would have encouraged A.J. Ogilvy to make himself available for the NBA draft this year if he'd have been a top 10 pick," Stallings said, "but A.J. didn't come in here saying 'I'm only going to be here for one year.' I think that kids need to come in and have the mindset that 'I'm going to be here as long as it takes for me to successfully position myself for what I need to do next, if that's four years it's four years, if it's one year it's one year.'"

*Make no mistake about it, Vanderbilt's freshmen are going to play. The Commodores return just two starters (Beal and Ogilvy), along with Darshawn McClellan, Andre Walker, George Drake, Jamie Graham (assuming he returns) and redshirt freshmen Festus Ezeli and Charles Hinkle, which means the youngsters will be given the opportunity to contribute right away.

"They're going to need to help because we're a very, very young basketball team," Stallings said. "So, they're going to need to come in and play with more maturity and at a higher level than what freshmen sometimes play at."

*Just how good is this class? "We think that from top to bottom it's as good a class as we've ever signed," Stallings said. "But, I think it's easy to get enamored with the guys who have never played. I'm always fascinated with the fact that people want to talk about the incoming guys more than they want to talk about the returning guys."

Stallings makes a great point. Right now, Goulbourne, Taylor, Tinsley and Tchiengang have no weaknesses and it's a lot more fun to talk about their potential than it is to discuss how much better Andre Walker and Darshawn McClellan will be as sophomores.

*How quickly will the freshmen be able to contribute? "I certainly don't want to put any timetables on any of them, but we feel like we have a combination of size and strength and athleticism and skill, and I think that all of those things you have to really try hard to go out and recruit," Stallings said. "The best thing that I like is I think we've gotten really good people, and guys are going to have good team attitudes, and that's what we want the most."

*I have absolutely no idea how good the Commodores will be this season, but like everyone else, I can't wait to find out. I don't think there's ever been this much excitement surrounding a team that we know so little about, which speaks to the job that Stallings and his staff have done transforming this program.

Photo [Sydney Morning Herald]

Vandy ranked 96th in college basketball prestige

During the boring summer months ESPN trise to come up with a few gimmicks to pass the time. A couple of weeks ago they did the face of every Division I school in the country, now they bring us a ranking of the prestige of all teams in college basketball.

Although the top 10 will not be revealed until later in the week, Vandy's spot has come up at No. 96, tied with the powerhouse University of Louisiana at Monroe (not to be confused with arch-rivals the University of Louisiana at Lafayette who are in a three-way tie for 118th). These rankings are pretty arbitrary and are calculated by a somewhat overly elaborate point system that awards points based on things like winning seasons, rankings, big upsets and high draft picks over the last 25 years.

Numbers 41-50 and the rules can be found here, while the rest of the rankings are here.

FYI, Tennessee was 99th.

Ranking SEC football coaches

John Adams of the Knoxville News Sentinel spends two columns ranking Southeastern Conference football coaches. First, he breaks down the coaches based on their career accomplishments:

1. Steve Spurrier (South Carolina)
2. Urban Meyer (Florida)
3. Nick Saban (Alabama)
4. Tommy Tuberville (Auburn)
5. Les Miles (LSU)
6. Phillip Fulmer (Tennessee)
7. Mark Richt (Georgia)
8. Bobby Petrino (Arkansas)
9. Houston Nutt (Ole Miss)
10. Rich Brooks (Kentucky)
11. Sylvester Croom (Miss. State)
12. Bobby Johnson (Vanderbilt)

Here's what Adams said about Johnson: "Ask almost any other coach in the SEC and he will tell you Johnson is a good coach. If so, then it's about time someone hired him away from the Commodores. Although Vanderbilt hasn't had a winning season in six years under Johnson, it has been more competitive. Johnson also won 30 games in his last three seasons at Division I-AA Furman."

Then, Adams ranked the coaches based on their value in the open market. For example, if Program X could have any SEC coach for the next five years whom would it take? And then, whom would it take next?

1. Urban Meyer
2. Nick Saban
3. Tommy Tuberville
4. Mark Richt
5. Steve Spurrier
6. Les Miles
7. Bobby Petrino
8. Phillip Fulmer
9. Houston Nutt
10. Sylvester Croom
11. Bobby Johnson
12. Rich Brooks

Here's what Adams said about Johnson: "He has clearly upgraded Vanderbilt's talent level, but apparently that's not enough to get the attention of athletic directors at better programs. Although he hasn't had a winning season at Vanderbilt, other coaches in the league will be the first to tell you Vanderbilt is much tougher to beat now than before Johnson took over. One break-even season at Vanderbilt would do wonders for Johnson on the open market."

What do you guys make of the rankings, particularly the second one? Who should be higher/lower? Any surprises?

Doster facing three misdemeanor charges

Stories like this one are not fun to pass along. I guess it proves that yes, even Vanderbilt student-athletes make mistakes sometimes.

Jermaine Doster, a redshirt freshman running back, was charged with disorderly conduct, criminal mischief and obstructing an officer without violence early Friday morning in his hometown of Tampa, Fla.
Doster was escorted out of The Honey-Pot Bar by Tampa police and was asked to return to his vehicle and leave but failed to cooperate, in the process "causing such a commotion he caused a large crowd to gather."

Doster was taken into custody and placed in the back of a squad car, where he allegedly kicked out the window of the passenger-side rear door, causing about $200 worth of damage.

He was released on $1,250 bond about six hours after his arrest.

"I'm not going to have a comment until I know all the facts," said Vanderbilt Coach Bobby Johnson, who was unaware of the incident when contacted. "I have nothing to say."

Like Johnson, I'm not going to pass judgment until both sides are presented. However, I can't stop thinking about the fact that Jermaine was arrested in Tampa's Ybor City, the same area where his brother Kwane was killed in December 2004. I'd hate to see something similar happen to Jermaine.

Not sure what effect this incident will have on Doster's future with the Commodores, although the hilarious Every Day Should Be Saturday is now predicting "a guaranteed bowl berth for Vandy. Write it down."