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Vanderbilt's surprise start evokes memories

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Vanderbilt is easily the biggest surprise in the SEC this season, the team that's flown in under the radar that nobody saw coming.

The Commodores are 5-0 for the first time since 1941 in a full season. They were also 5-0 in 1943, but only played five games that season.

They try to go to 6-0 this weekend against Mississippi State for the first time since 1928.

Talk about awaking the football ghosts.

Vanderbilt's ascent to the top of the Eastern Division standings has to rate up there with some of the most surprising starts in SEC history. Here's a look at a few other teams that came out of nowhere to have big seasons during the last 25-30 years. Let me know who I've left off:

Miss. State, 2007: After six straight losing seasons, Mississippi State broke through under Sylvester Croom to win eight games, including wins over Alabama and Auburn, and capped things with a Liberty Bowl victory.

Kentucky, 2006: After three straight losing seasons and Rich Brooks on shaky ground, the Wildcats carved out an 8-5 season, culminating with a 28-20 victory over Clemson in the Music City Bowl. It was the most games Kentucky had won in a season in 21 years.

Ole Miss, 2003: Unranked to start the season, the Rebels came within a slip-down by quarterback Eli Manning against LSU of winning the Western Division title outright and going to the SEC championship game. They still won 10 games for the first time since 1971.

LSU, 2001: In Nick Saban's second year in Baton Rouge, the Tigers recovered from a 2-2 start to win the SEC championship game over favored Tennessee and then a Sugar Bowl victory over Illinois.

South Carolina, 2000: Lou Holtz was in his second season at South Carolina after a dismal 0-11 finish his first season in Columbia. But the Gamecocks rebounded to go 8-4 and beat Ohio State in the Outback Bowl.

Arkansas, 1998: It was Houston Nutt's first season as head coach after the Hogs had suffered through back-to-back losing seasons. They started out by winning their first eight games before losing the heartbreaker to eventual national champion Tennessee and finishing 9-3.

Auburn, 1993: Terry Bowden was in his first season as head coach, and the Tigers were on NCAA probation. What's more, they were coming off back-to-back losing seasons, but reeled off 11 straight wins to finish unbeaten and ranked fourth in the final Associated Press poll.

Tennessee, 1989: Coming off a losing season in 1988, Tennessee started the 1989 season unranked, then drilled No. 6 UCLA in the second game at the Rose Bowl, setting the stage for an 11-1 finish, SEC championship and Cotton Bowl victory over Arkansas.

Tennessee, 1985: The Vols were coming off a ho-hum 7-4-1 season and weren't ranked to start the year. They weathered a season-ending injury to star quarterback Tony Robinson to win their first SEC title under John Majors and then blew out No. 2-ranked Miami in the Sugar Bowl.

Georgia, 1980: The Bulldogs were coming off a 6-5 season the year before and opened the 1980 season ranked 16th in the preseason poll. Of course, a freshman on that team introduced himself to the college football world in the opener against Tennessee, and the rest is history. The Bulldogs went unbeaten and won the national title.