by J.R. Lind
This Week In The Drome, We're Throwing Idea Grenades
Home Vs. Away: Up in Philadelphia, they've got something called the Big 5. It's an annual all-city, round-robin college basketball series featuring Villanova, Temple, LaSalle, Penn and St. Joseph's.
They've been doing it for nearly 60 years and its survived conference re-alignment, TV contracts and the lure of playing in the Virgin Islands.
In this week's dead-tree, I contend Nashville — in the great Music City tradition of liberally borrowing good (and, well, sometimes bad) ideas from other cities — should totally rip this idea off.
Vanderbilt, Belmont, Lipscomb, TSU and (to make five, we'd have to go a little far afield) MTSU each have distinct histories, personalities and fanbases and, again with the exception of the big state school in Murfreesboro, are pretty compactly located. The seeds of rivalry are there. Even the green shoots are there — over the course of three or four seasons, these teams all play each other anyway.
Drop the Tennessee Temples and the Arkansas-Little Rocks and the other hyphenated, directional schools and set this up. Each school gets four games, two home and two away, with a rotation that puts a few games every year at Bridgestone or, if we truly want to rip off the City of Brotherly Love and go old-school as they do with games at The Palestra, at Municipal Auditorium.
The series doesn't have to be compacted into a few weeks — indeed, it couldn't be, with Belmont and TSU's games tied up into the OVC schedule. It could stretch from November into January, as the Big 5 does. The little schools get a boost by playing against SEC and Conference USA competition. The big schools get an unexpected strength of schedule bonus by playing against often-competitive mid-majors. And if the season goes pear-shaped for somebody? Heck, maybe they have a chance at the Music City 5 trophy anyway.
This is an idea whose time came years ago and it's now time to give it some momentum.
The Week Behind
Picture Me Bowling: Maybe simply qualifying for a bowl game is ho-hum stuff now. With Saturday's 22-6 win over Kentucky, James Franklin has the 'Dores bowl eligible for the third straight season.
That's not just commendable, not just laudable — it's something that, four years ago, would have been laughable. But now it's the expectation.
So Vanderbilt — and rightly so — has to look for other achievements on which to hang their fitted Vineyard Vines hats. First season with wins over Georgia and Florida? Check (and the first win at Florida since 1945). Maybe an out-of-state bowl game for the first time since 1982? Looks likely.
But get this: with the win Saturday, the all-time series record between Vandy and Kentucky is all square: 41 wins apiece (plus four ties in the era before the powers-that-be decided that as Americans, we'd find ties unseemly for whatever reason). Until Saturday, Vandy had a losing record all-time against every single conference opponent.
One down, 12 to go.
You Were Saying? : After the Predators ended the CMA road trip on a four-game losing streak, featuring a nightmarish lack of offense, Nashville's hockey fans were already drawing up lists of the top prospects in June's draft, expecting the Predators to be all-but-locked in to a lottery pick.
And they very well may end up at the top of the first round yet — it is, after all, a long season, just now passing its quarter mark. If they play as they have this week, though, those cynical draft lottery dreams will have to be put away for another year.
In the back-end of one of the toughest back-to-backs imaginable, the Predators surprised everyone — the NHL, themselves, their own fans — with a 7-2 win at home against Chicago the night after a lifeless 4-1 loss in Pittsburgh.
It simultaneously silenced and angered the Chicago crowd — there were multiple arrests and at least one beer-toss-push-run-away incident from the numerous Blackhawks fans who made the trip to the Music City. The maligned and ballyhooed effort to "Keep The Red Out" was unsuccessful, at least for anyone who thought the goal was to actually keep the red out. If the goal was to get Chicago fans to buy an extra ticket, it worked (the Preds say more than 1,000 of those forced purchases were donated by Blackhawks fans to be given free to military men and women). If the goal was to get some mid-summer attention for a franchise that doesn't normally get much of it, it worked. And if the goal was to rile up Chicagoans...well, that worked, too.
In any event, the Predators weren't just using up their monthly allotment of goals in one game. Tuesday, they squared off against the Auld Enemy in Detroit and young Marek "The Velvet Revolution" Mazanec earned a shut-out in a 2-0 Preds victory.
And Thursday, the Preds hung another one an Original Six team, comprehensively defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs (and their goalie, Jonathan Bernier, heretofore a Nashville bugbear) 4-2 behind Matt Cullen's first four point game since December 2002. In those three games against Chicago, Detroit and Toronto, American players have notched 19 points for the Preds. USA!
All that and Nashville is still sixth in Conference III — but keep winning and they won't be there long.
And We Thought They'd Be Down: Hearty congratulations to Rick Byrd and the Belmont Bruins, who had no problem with the big lights down in Chapel Hill, knocking off the mighty Tar Heels with a late three-pointer from J.J. Mann. They followed it by destroying Lipscomb in the return leg of the Battle of the Boulevard.
It's Our Party, We Can Do What We Want: Other than Mann's big three pointer, here's the greatest moment from the Belmont-UNC game:
The Week Ahead
Remember When?: Remember, say, the heady days of the mid-2000s and pretty much every year since the end of World War II when Vanderbilt was nowt but an afterthought to Tennessee fans, focused as they were with Floridas and Alabamas of the world? When orange-clad hands would playfully tap the heads of Vandy. "Nice try, guys," they'd say.
Those were the days.
While there's certainly no love lost between Knoxville and Tuscaloosa or Gainesville, these days the derecho of Volunteer vitriol is aimed west on I-40, a perfect storm of a rising Vandy, a rocky Tennessee and a vibrant coach in black and gold.
With wins over two traditional SEC powers already, Vanderbilt would like nothing more but to put the final jewel in this particular Triple Crown, knocking off their in-state rival — and, finally again, rival is the right word. It was curious that James Franklin started the often-scattershot Austyn Carta-Samuels against Kentucky when Patton Robinette had been so effective in the wins against Georgia and Florida, but perhaps he was using the Wildcats as a Petri dish to test whether ACS was ready for the stretch run. It'll be interesting to see who comes out under center for the 'Dores Saturday night in Knoxville. I'm not sure it'll matter either way.
Worthless Prediction: Vanderbilt 27, Tennessee 20
Black Hole, Son: While certainly the Titans have had more than their fair share of streakiness and inconsistency this year, they ain't the Raiders. Please note, any comment about the Raiders and inconsistency is applicable in pretty much every season.
The Raiders and Titans boast — probably not the right word — 4-6 records, though Oakland leads all 4-6 AFC teams in the playoff race by virtue of a 4-3 in-conference mark. That's notable because not only are they 0-3 against the NFC, all three losses were to the moribund NFC East, including a 29 point loss to Philadelphia.
The Raiders quarterback is undrafted rookie Matt McGloin out of Penn State, who the Raiders had to turn to because the organization doesn't believe in using first-round draft picks on quarterbacks, preferring instead to take kickers, punters and anybody who runs a sub-4.4 40 in the first round.
Worthless Prediction: Given these two teams, expect some sort of silliness, like a fake fair-catch kick or something. Titans (x + iy)2, Raiders Thin Lizzy Opening For Busta Rhymes At The Utah State Fair.
What's Next?: After playing 10 games in 10 different venues, the Predators get a little stretch of mostly home-cooking during Thanksgiving week, with visits from the Rangers and Phoenix, Saturday and Monday, respectively, a quick trip to Columbus Wednesday and a Thanksgiving night tilt against Edmonton Thursday. Philadelphia comes in Saturday night.
Other than the Coyotes, these are all very winnable games and if the last three wins portend any kind of run, there's not much on the schedule that would stop it. The Preds will have to hope that the rookie Mazanec can hold it together a little longer, though expect at least one start from Carter Hutton, the man who was brought in to back-up Pekka Rinne originally.
Worthless Prediction: So long as they don't lay an egg, the Preds should bank some points this week and, at the very least, keep pace with the rest of the climbers in the West.
Email to jrlind[at]nashvillescene[dot]com. Radio Tuesdays on 102.5. Every day at PostSports.