BRISTOL, Conn. -- Vanderbilt has played in three consecutive bowl games for the first time in school history.
Stanford has appeared in four straight BCS bowl games, and Notre Dame played for a BCS national championship two seasons ago.
Duke, of all teams, is coming off a 10-win season.
It seems it pays to be smart in college football nowadays.
“You’re not walking into a home having to apologize about being smart,” new Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. “You’re not trying to downplay what you’re doing academically.”
Mason, who worked as Stanford’s associate head coach and defensive coordinator the past three seasons, was hired by Vanderbilt to replace the departed James Franklin on Jan. 17. Franklin had a 24-15 record the past three seasons, including 9-4 marks in 2012 and ’13.
Mason sees a lot of similarities between Stanford and Vanderbilt, both academically and athletically.
“In my mind, when I look at the landscape of college football and where we’re at, Vanderbilt is poised to have success,” Mason said. “The groundwork has been laid and gives us an opportunity to compete now. From players to scheduling, everything is in place for us to get what [we want], which is an SEC East title.”
Like Vanderbilt, Stanford wasn’t a football juggernaut until coach Jim Harbaugh arrived in 2007. The Cardinal went 1-11 in coach Walt Harris’ final season in 2006 and then had consecutive losing campaigns in Harbaugh’s first two seasons. But Stanford has won 54 games the past five seasons combined under Harbaugh and his successor, David Shaw.
“When you have brands that are very, very similar and you had the opportunity to see things work, I think you integrate the things that worked well,” Mason said. “You have to look at what the environment is like at Vanderbilt and figure out how you can make it better.”
On the field, Mason will have to replace eight starters on defense and settle on a starting quarterback. Sophomore Patton Robinette, redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary, freshman Wade Freebeck and senior Stephen Rivers, an LSU transfer, will battle for the starting job when preseason camp opens. The Commodores must also replace star receiver Jordan Matthews.
“I want to turn Vanderbilt into a quarterback school and infuse talent,” Mason said.
Sounds a lot like Stanford.