I feel sorry for Vanderbilt fans and their football team.
For the second time in four years, the Commodores are going to a bowl game in their backyard. This time they have an 8-4 record and are riding a six-game win streak.
It was a novel deal in 2008 when the Commodores earned a rare bowl bid and wound up in the Music City Bowl.
They brought a sparse crowd. Not many Vanderbilt fans stayed overnight in Nashville, nor did they likely eat more than one meal while they were downtown. I can’t blame them one bit.
Bowl games are meant to reward a team and its fans. It marks the end of a long season and a lot of the bowl games are based in warm climates in December, many of them with beaches and golf, tennis and deep sea fishing.
Fans follow the sun to where their teams are playing. When Nebraska played in the Fiesta Bowl one year I was out there, they came early and stayed late. Some of them were there for weeks. I guess they thought it was one way to lessen the burden of living through those Mid-western winters.
This Vanderbilt team deserves better. It won eight games for the first time since 1982. These players were not born the last time Vanderbilt won that many games.
By playing a 7-5 North Carolina State team, they have an excellent opportunity to win nine games. It would mark the first time since leather helmets they have won that many games.
It can be done. North Carolina State fired its coach, Tom O’Brien after the regular season. It was pummeled in the season opener by Tennessee. It turned out to be the Vols’ signature victory in a season gone all too wrong.
They threw a party at Vanderbilt Sunday night to celebrate the bowl announcement. Many of the fans thought they earned a trip to the Gator Bowl.
But the Gator Bowl took Mississippi State. Nice team. Finished 8-4. Was ranked in the top 25 much of the season. Has a rabid fan base just waiting to get away on a football vacation.
Oh, one other thing. Mississippi State lost four of its last five games, including a clunker to rival Ole Miss who used the game to become bowl eligible.
So, the Bulldogs go to the beach. Vanderbilt goes across the river. Big whoop.
Vanderbilt’s players, coaches, administrators all handled it well Sunday by putting on their happy faces. They said all the right things.
So did Music City Bowl executive Scott Ramsey. Privately, both parties have to feel they got pooped on. Bowl games on the Music City Bowl level rely on revenue to make their game a success. Can they sell out LP Field? Can they add to the city’s coffers by virtue of their fans staying in motels, eating in restaurants, partying in the Lower Broadway and 2nd Ave. watering holes?
I hope so, but I really don’t see it happening. There’s no one to blame but the current bowl system.
MTSU folks are irate they got stiff-armed by the bowls. Coach Rick Stockstill’s team made the most improvement of any team in the country from last season to this season.
The Blue Raiders had an 8-4 record and are home alone.
Vanderbilt had an 8-4 record and is also staying at home.
Joe Biddle is a four-time sports writer of the year in Tennessee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.