James Franklin led Vanderbilt to back-to-back top-25 finishes for the first time in the 124-year history of the program and to three consecutive bowl games before heading to Penn State in 2014, but his successor has the opportunity Saturday to score the school’s all-time signature moment.
Derek Mason will lead the Commodores into their home stadium in Nashville for a nationally televised (CBS) matchup against top-ranked Alabama, their first game against No. 1 since 2009 and eighth overall (they’re 0-7 to date). The Crimson Tide have won 21 straight games against Vandy going back to 1985.
However, these aren’t your grandmother’s Commodores, the former perennial SEC doormats. Mason was on the rocks early last season but came back to guide his team to a bowl game, his first as head coach. With a number of returning players this season, including junior quarterback Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt is off to a 3-0 start, including last week’s 14-7 upset of No. 18 Kansas State.
The Commodores defense has been outstanding, leading FBS in points allowed at 4.3 per game and in total defense with a 198.3-yard average. On offense, Shurmur, who starred at La Salle College High School while his father, Pat, worked as the Eagles’ offensive coordinator, is sixth in the nation in passing efficiency, completing 71 percent for eight touchdowns with no interceptions.
The 6-foot-4, 227-pound Shurmur ran for the go-ahead TD last week against Kansas State.
“The quarterback is a really good player,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “He’s very efficient in what he does with their offense, run and pass. They do a great job in their coaching and how they attack people and how they play on offense and defense.”
Loving football again
In recent years, Purdue fans have spent the football season counting down the days to basketball season. The Boilermakers haven’t won more than three games in the same year since 2012.
But first-year coach Jeff Brohm is making people care about football again. The Boilermakers led then-No. 16 Louisville in the fourth quarter before losing, 35-28. Last weekend, they romped, 35-3, at Missouri, their largest winning margin on the road in 18 years.
Now, the Boilers take on No. 8 Michigan in front of what could be its first sellout crowd since 2008. The Wolverines have a strong defense that could pose problems for a Purdue team that averages nearly 460 yards per game, and Brohm knows it won’t be easy.
“We’ll see where we stand,” Brohm said in an Associated Press story. “We have a long ways to go, and we’re going to get hit in the mouth a few times. We understand that. Our guys are gaining confidence that if we do the small things and we’re in it in the second half, anything can happen.”
Nebraska, the closest thing to a college football paradise, land of the 355 consecutive home sellouts, experienced a crummy week, and it could get worse.
Start with last Saturday. The Cornhuskers lost at home to Northern Illinois of the Mid-American Conference. Athletic director Shawn Eichorst spoke after the game about the need for the football team to play better, but said head coach Mike Riley’s job was not in jeopardy.
Then we arrived at Thursday, when university officials fired Eichorst because, as they said, the Huskers weren’t competitive enough. Tomorrow it’ll be Saturday again and Nebraska will open its Big Ten schedule by hosting Rutgers. It’s fair to say that Riley could be shown the door rather quickly if the lowly Scarlet Knights pull off the upset.
The Hot Seat Bowl
If you’re looking for two coaches with shaky job security competing on the same field, look no farther than Jerry World in Arlington, Texas, where both Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M and Bret Bielema of Arkansas could really use a victory. After three straight 8-5 campaigns, Sumlin began the 2017 season by watching his team blow a 34-point lead in losing to UCLA. Bielema is only 10-22 in SEC games and is coming off a 28-7 home loss to No. 16 TCU, but has some winnable games ahead.
Don’t call me ‘sir’
Colorado’s kicker is a married 30-year-old Australian soccer player who didn’t boot a football until he was 22. James Stefanou has made 6 of 7 field-goal attempts and all 10 of his extra points for the Buffaloes, who will host No. 7 Washington in their Pac-12 opener. After attending Prokick Australia, where he learned the fundamentals of punting and kicking in the American game, he accepted a scholarship offer from Colorado last spring. He says he has heard every old-age joke there is, and takes the initiative in telling them. “I figure if you make the jokes, they’re not going to make them for you,” he said in an AP story.
Expatriates of the week
We’ve got two this week – Wisconsin sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook (Malvern Prep), the Big Ten offensive player of the week, and Virginia junior wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus (St. Joseph’s Prep), who earned a spot on the Paul Hornung Award weekly honor roll. Hornibrook set a program record for highest completion percentage (94.7 percent) in a game, going 18 for 19 for 256 yards and four touchdowns against BYU. Zaccheaus rolled up 225 all-purpose yards against Connecticut, with 122 of them coming on nine receptions.
Games of the week
Texas Christian at Oklahoma State, 3:30 p.m., ESPN: The Cowboys put up 59 points at Pittsburgh last week and are third in FBS in total offense at 607 yards per game. But the Horned Frogs will play the type of defense that OSU has not seen thus far; they allow an average of 265 total yards.
Alabama at Vanderbilt, 3:30 p.m., CBS3: Probably the most intriguing game of the week, this matchup in Nashville features a top-ranked Crimson Tide team that hasn’t dazzled in the last two weeks and the defensive-minded Commodores coming off an upset of No. 18 Kansas State.
Michigan at Purdue, 4 p.m., Fox29: The Wolverines just seem to be getting by on defense and a couple of timely offensive plays, but they’ll have to play a more complete, more efficient game against the Boilermakers, whose coach, Jeff Brohm, has fans excited about football again.
Mississippi State at Georgia, 7 p.m., ESPN: Mississippi State moved to the front of the “best team next to Alabama in the SEC West” line with their blowout win over Louisiana State. Georgia freshman quarterback Jake Fromm showed he could succeed in the spotlight at Notre Dame.
QB Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State, 6-5, 230, Sr., Rock Hill, S.C.
Rudolph steadily has moved up the list of Heisman Trophy candidates and helped his cause last week by passing for 497 yards and five touchdowns in a little more than one half at Pitt. In the FBS rankings this week, he is tied for second in touchdown passes (11), third in yards per pass (12.07), fourth in passing yards (378.3 per game), and fifth in both total offense (384.3 yards per game) and passing efficiency. He has a 25-6 record as a starter.
The Inquirer and Daily News Top 10
- Alabama (3-0)
- Clemson (3-0)
- Oklahoma (3-0)
- Southern California (3-0)
- Penn State (3-0)
- Oklahoma State (3-0)
- Wisconsin (3-0)
- Washington (3-0)
- Michigan (3-0)
- Ohio State (2-1)