Four weeks into the season, we have a game that could totally shake up the SEC East.
And Florida, Georgia and Tennessee aren’t involved.
South Carolina is, which isn’t a surprise. The Gamecocks entered the season as the favorite in the East, although they’ve looked anything but that to this point.
The other team is a surprise. It’s not necessarily the 3-0 record that is surprising, but it’s how it’s happened. This team has done it with fire, confidence and a nasty, aggressive defense.
This team is second nationally with 12 takeaways and has as many defensive touchdowns (three) as touchdowns allowed.
This team is Vanderbilt. But this isn’t the Vanderbilt we grew up with.
This Vanderbilt team has some arrogance to it, which is a good thing. It’s flying around the field on defense and actually has an edge. There is excitement in Nashville, and it isn't because of the thriving music scene.
Believe it or not, Saturday’s game between the Gamecocks and the Commodores is big for the future of this division.
The ramifications of a Vanderbilt win are bigger than ever, but it means nothing to the Commodores. The classic underdog truly has some bite and unlike in years past, this team isn’t getting hyped up because of its opponent. It’s pumped because this is the fourth game of the season and nothing more.
“This game that we’re about to play right now is the biggest game because it’s the next game,” Vanderbilt senior linebacker Chris Marve said. “We’re putting all of our energy and all of our focus on it.
“That’s one of our maxims -- take it week by week, one game at a time. The next game is the biggest game on our schedule.”
Clearly, this is a different mindset compared to past teams, and Marve admitted as much.
On the outside, this is the biggest game for Vanderbilt since its 2008 bowl game. Under former staffs, the nerves would be mounting and butterflies would be fluttering. But this squad, littered with players who endured the highs of winning that bowl game to the lows of back-to-back 2-10 seasons, has a more business-like approach for Saturday’s showdown.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has seen plenty of close games against Vandy during his days at Florida and with the Gamecocks, even losing in 2007 and 2008, but he hasn’t seen a game with Vandy get this much attention.
Vanderbilt’s ability to scarf up turnovers has Spurrier worried, considering his team has turned the ball over seven times this season and the offense has been anything but consistent throwing the ball.
“They’re just sound,” Spurrier said. “They play all the coverages and play them well. They’ve got some defensive backs that love interceptions. That’s a big reason Vandy’s 3-0. The defense has really played well and got a lot of picks this year.”
Vanderbilt has 10 interceptions to be exact.
What should also concern Spurrier is that Vanderbilt isn’t intimidated by its first road trip. This team is clicking because it’s living by the attitude instilled by new coach James Franklin. It’s hungry, it’s positive and it has completely bought into the new program.
That’s the approach and that’s how it will be as long as Franklin is there, he said. And like his players, Franklin isn’t focusing on the undefeated start or the fact that he’s the first Vanderbilt coach to go 3-0 in this first year since Red Sanders in 1946.
“People are talking about that stuff and that’s all great, but, again, that’s not our focus,” Franklin said. “Things that have happened here in the past, things that are going to happen in the future are really not our focus.”
Franklin and his players might not compliment themselves, so leave it to Spurrier to pump their egos a bit.
“It seems like Coach Franklin and his staff has these guys excited to play,” he said. “Looks like they’re having a lot of fun playing the game right now. Heck, that’s what we’re trying to get our guys trying [to do] -- look like they’re’ having a lot of fun out there.”
Imagine the fun the Commodores will have if they pull the upset Saturday.