Despite bowl loss, Vandy football still experiencing unprecedented success

In SEC Football by Blake Lovell

The Vanderbilt Commodores had a game to forget in Shreveport on Monday.

After beating Ole Miss and Tennessee in its final two games of the regular season to become bowl eligible, Vandy fell 41-17 to NC State in the Camping World Independence Bowl.

Of course, since getting blown out became a staple of the program for many years, the reaction to the loss was predictable:

Vandy is still Vandy.

Vandy has finished with losing seasons in 31 of the past 34 seasons.

Derek Mason is the worst sports coach in human history (when just weeks ago, the same people were offering enormous praise for him).

You get the picture. But what you won’t hear all that much is what actually matters.

Vandy just wrapped up its fifth bowl appearance since 2008. The number of bowl appearances in program history prior to that? Three.

The Commodores started playing football in 1902. That’s three bowls in 100-plus seasons for those keeping score at home.

For those who rely on stirring up reactions for talking points, those numbers won’t matter. However, for those who understand where this program was compared to where it is now, those numbers mean everything.

Instead of firing coaches for only winning a game or two, the idea is now circulated that Vandy should fire its coach for not making bowl games. Derek Mason was the focal point of that discussion not too long ago. He’ll be the focal point of that discussion again if the Commodores start speeding in reverse.

That’s because the standard has been raised. Bobby Johnson got the program over the hump. James Franklin took it to unprecedented heights.

And now, Mason has given the rebuilding process a boost with another bowl appearance.

In an era where social media trolling and hot takes reign supreme, current reality can sometimes get lost in the shuffle. 

Sure, the reality is that Vanderbilt was a bad, bad football team for a long time. That point has been emphatically beaten into the ground. Unfortunately, a program’s struggles 35 years ago don’t mean much today.

The more relevant reality is that Vanderbilt football has come a long way.

Not too long ago, this team was suffering 50-point defeats at the hands of its biggest rivals. But now, the Commodores are beating their biggest rivals to clinch a bowl game.

That’s progress.

There’s nothing flashy or sexy about praising a program that finished its season at 6-7. That doesn’t drive ratings or clicks.

But it never hurts to look a little deeper beyond a traditional narrative that is no longer relevant.

This isn’t the same ol’ Vandy. Instead, it’s a program experiencing unprecedented success, even if that success is still miles behind what other SEC programs have experienced.

With the return of Ralph Webb and other key contributors, the Commodores will once again be in the bowl picture next season. An unforgiving early SEC slate won’t make things easy (home games against Alabama and Georgia with road games at Florida and Ole Miss), but it’s never been easy at Vanderbilt.

Numerous losing seasons. Numerous blowout losses. The list goes on. 

Luckily, the most important list is a lot more promising:

Five bowl appearances in the last nine seasons. 

Wins over Georgia, Ole Miss, and Tennessee in the same season for the first time in school history.

A position player (Zach Cunningham) giving the program a consensus All-American for the first time since 1958.

Forget what Vandy did 50 or 100 years ago. Things have changed for the better on West End.

And that’s something that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Blake Lovell has worked in sports media for over 10 years. His work has been featured on The New York Times, Rivals, Time Warner Cable, Scout.com, FanRag Sports, FanSided and many more. He currently covers SEC football and basketball for various publications.