Sports Outside the Beltway

Bama Opens 2006 SEC Season at Vandy

Alabama hosts Vanderbuilt tomorrow to renew its rivalry with the SEC’s doormat. The last time the Tide lost to the Commodores, their current head coach was their sophomore quarterback (and your humble scribe a high school senior).

Mike Shula had plenty of success as an Alabama quarterback, but there’s one game he’d just as soon not talk about. It was 1984, and he was a sophomore quarterback facing Vanderbilt, not far removed from his first career start. Care to reminisce, coach? No, he doesn’t. “I appreciate you bringing that up,” the Crimson Tide coach said, grinning.

The Commodores won that one 30-21 but have lost the 17 subsequent meetings with the Tide entering Saturday’s game, the league opener for both teams.

Now, Alabama (1-0) has John Parker Wilson, a sophomore quarterback making his second career start. A meaningless coincidence?

Tide linebacker Terrence Jones sure hopes so. He knows Alabama fans don’t soon forget — or forgive — losses in such a traditionally lopsided series. After all, Alabama is 41-2 against the Commodores (0-1) since 1961. The two teams haven’t met since 2002, but it’s all about perception. “If you lose to Vanderbilt, it’s probably going to be a real tough blow to your confidence,” Jones said. “Everybody doesn’t give Vanderbilt enough credit for what they do. They see them as the worst team in the SEC. But if you lose to them, people will start to think bad about you.”

No joke. Vanderbilt is a quality university but is only technically in Alabama’s league. Losing to Vandy would be an embarrasment for the Tide and something the Vandy players would be telling their grandchildren about.

Indeed, it’s odd to me that the Commodores didn’t follow the Tulane Green wave off (in 1966) to a conference more their speed. Vandy would be quite competitive–a force even–in something like the Mountain West. They’re good enough to give the SEC boys a tough fight every now and again but they will never win a conference title. That they’re the SEC’s only private university makes them an even stranger fit.

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