Vandy ranked for first time in 24 years

Published 6:56 pm Sunday, September 21, 2008

NEW YORK – The Southeastern Conference needs to find another pushover.

Vanderbilt, for years the weakest team in college football’s toughest league, moved into the AP Top 25 on Sunday for the first time in 24 years.

The Top 25 teams in The Associated Press college football poll, with first-place votes in parentheses, records through Sept. 20, total points based on 25 points for a first-place vote through one point for a 25th-place vote, and previous ranking:

Record Pts Pvs

1. Southern Cal (62) 2-0 1,621 1

2. Oklahoma 3-0 1,484 2

3. Georgia (2) 4-0 1,475 3

4. Florida (1) 3-0 1,442 4

5. LSU 3-0 1,363 6

6. Missouri 4-0 1,360 5

7. Texas 3-0 1,174 7

8. Alabama 4-0 1,132 9

9. Wisconsin 3-0 1,091 8

10. Texas Tech 4-0 962 11

11. BYU 4-0 919 14

12. Penn St. 4-0 891 16

13. South Florida 4-0 798 12

14. Ohio St. 3-1 790 13

15. Auburn 3-1 785 10

16. Wake Forest 3-0 711 18

17. Utah 4-0 574 20

18. Kansas 3-1 555 19

19. Boise St. 3-0 363 —

20. Clemson 3-1 300 23

21. Vanderbilt 4-0 242 —

22. Illinois 2-1 224 22

23. East Carolina 3-1 201 15

24. TCU 4-0 117 —

25. Fresno St. 2-1 105 25

Others receiving votes: Oregon 100, Oklahoma St. 98, Virginia Tech 63, Colorado 39, Nebraska 32, Connecticut 26, Tulsa 19, Miami 17, Michigan St. 14, Georgia Tech 8, Kentucky 7, Northwestern 7, Ball St. 6, South Carolina 3, Florida St. 2, North Carolina 2, West Virginia 2, Minnesota 1.

The unbeaten Commodores are No. 21 in the latest rankings.

“I think it’s a pretty good reward for a good start,” Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said Sunday in a telephone interview. “Our guys are pretty smart. They realize it won’t help you win games.

“They’re already a pretty confident bunch. They’re going to go into games thinking they’re going to have a good chance to win.”

At the top of The Associated Press media poll, little changed after No. 1 Southern California and No. 2 Oklahoma had the week off.

No. 3 Georgia and No. 4 Florida held their spots and LSU moved up one place after a 26-21 victory at Auburn, giving the SEC three teams in the top five.

Last week the SEC became the first league to have five teams in the AP top 10, but Auburn dropped five spots from No. 10 to 15th this week, leaving the SEC with four in the top 10, including No. 8 Alabama.

The Big 12 also has four top-10 teams with Oklahoma joined by No. 6 Missouri, No. 7 Texas and No. 10 Texas Tech.

But with Vanderbilt entering the rankings, the SEC still leads all conferences with six ranked teams.

Wisconsin is No. 9.

Vanderbilt improved to 4-0 for the second time in four seasons, but just the fourth time since World War II, with a 23-17 win at Mississippi on Saturday.

Vanderbilt, the only private school in the SEC and the smallest by student body, was ranked as high as 19th in 1984 after starting 4-0. That season the Commodores finished 5-6. The last time Vanderbilt had a winning season was 1982, when it went 8-4 and played in the Hall of Fame bowl.

Despite not being able to break through with a winning record, the Commodores have shown marked improvement in seven seasons under coach Bobby Johnson.

Last season, Vanderbilt was 5-3, needing one more victory for bowl eligibility, and lost its final four games.

This season was expected to be a rebuilding year of sorts for Vandy, with only nine returning starters, and six players from last season’s team making NFL rosters, including three draftees.

The offensive and defensive lines, as well as the linebackers, needed a makeover, but Johnson had experienced players to plug in.

“We had some offensive linemen who had played a good bit,” he said. “We had some linebackers who had played before, so it wasn’t like we’ve been putting all true freshmen in there.”

While SEC powers such as Florida and Georgia often toss talented freshmen into the fray, Vanderbilt has far fewer blue chippers on campus, so the plan is to let young players develop and be ready to play as juniors.

“We’ve been trying to get them bigger, stronger and better and ready to play in SEC,” Johnson said.

The Commodores have also beaten Miami of Ohio, South Carolina and Rice, getting contributions from all over.

“The best thing we’ve been doing, all three phasses have been stepping up when we need to. When we were having trouble moving the ball against South Carolina, the defense stepped up. When we were having trouble stopping Rice, the offense stepped up.”

Vanderbilt’s running game ranks second in the SEC behind mobile quarterback Chris Nickson, averaging 140 total yards per game, and leading-rusher Jared Hawkins.

“The administration has done a good job of allowing us to stay here and work our system,” Johnson said.

Two more teams from non-BCS conferences crashed the gates, too. No. 24 TCU was ranked for the first time this year and No. 19 Boise State won at Oregon 37-32 to make it in.

No. 11 BYU is one of three Mountain West Conference teams in the latest Top 25, a first for that league, along with No. 17 Utah and No. 24 TCU. The non-BCS league with three ranked teams was the Mid-American Conference Nov. 9, 2003, when Northern Illinois (21), Miami of Ohio (23) and Bowling Green (25) made it.

The Western Athletic Conference has two teams in the latest rankings — Boise and Fresno State, which stayed at No. 25 after going to double overtime to beat Toledo 55-54.

Add in East Carolina of Conference USA, which dropped eight spots to No. 23 after losing 30-24 at North Carolina State, and six of the Top 25 teams are from non-BCS conferences.

Penn State is No. 12, followed by South Florida (the only ranked Big East team), Ohio State and Auburn.

Wake Forest is 16th, followed by Utah, Kansas, Boise State and Clemson.

The final five are Illinois, Vanderbilt, East Carolina, TCU and Fresno State. Falling out after losses were Florida State, Oregon and West Virginia.