If I told you that Vanderbilt would get a victory in the regular season without scoring a single offensive touchdown, picking up their own punt for a touchdown, and that the MVP would be the punter, this would sound ridiculous.
But in a bowl game, it seems that anything is possible.
With Vanderbilt’s remarkable win against Tennessee in the final regular season game, the Commodores earned a bid to a bowl game with a six-win season. This will be Vanderbilt’s ninth bowl game ever, but it will also be their sixth in the past 10 years. They will play in the Texas Bowl against Baylor.
While bowl games are nothing new nowadays for Vanderbilt, it is important to understand the wild and wacky history that is Vanderbilt’s bowl games.
So sit down, relax, pour a cup your favorite coffee, and get ready to take a deep dive into the history of bowl games and Vanderbilt
1955 Gator Bowl: Vanderbilt vs. Auburn (25-13)
Vanderbilt’s first bowl game ever became one to remember. In 1955, after only losing to Georgia, Ole Miss, and Tennessee, Vanderbilt went 7-3 on the season and was invited to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida. This was an important moment for Vanderbilt Football as this was their first bowl invitation, and it was important to do well.
Going into the game, the game was going to be tough, as they were slated to play the Auburn Tigers who were ranked eighth in the AP poll at the time. However, Vanderbilt’s quarterback Don Orr helped bring Vanderbilt their first and only victory until the 2008 Music City Bowl.
Vanderbilt was never trailing in the game, pretty much always staying one step ahead of Auburn the entire game. Vanderbilt ended up beating auburn in a 25-13 upset. Even after this bowl game appearance, Vanderbilt would fail to reach a bowl game until 1974 Peach Bowl
1974 Peach Bowl: Vanderbilt vs. Texas Tech (6-6)
After almost 20 years, Vanderbilt finally reached a second bowl game after going 7-3 on the season and finishing the season off with a tie against in-state rival Tennessee. This earned them an invitation to the 1974 Peach Bowl in Atlanta, Georgia. This game seemed to be a good matchup that proved instead to be a battle of kickers and missed opportunities.
After neither team scoring in the first quarter, Vanderbilt was able to go up 3-0 against Texas Tech at halftime. In the third quarter, Texas Tech marched down the field to tie up the ball game with a 26-yd field goal after a Vanderbilt defensive stop in the red zone. Tech was almost able to take the league with another field goal, but this attempt was blocked.
After Vanderbilt quickly retook the lead with yet another field goal (what did I say about this being a battle of kickers?) the pressure was on Texas Tech to get a score. They eventually were able to, bring the game back to 6-6 with two minutes left on the clock. After Vanderbilt was unable to convert on their final possession, the game ended in a 6-6 tie.
Were there moral victories to be had in the game? Sure. Do they matter now? Probably not. But hey, at least now a game like this would probably just have gone into seven overtimes.
1982 Hall of Fame Classic: Air Force vs Vanderbilt (36-28)
Just eight years after the 6-6 tie at the Peach Bowl, Vanderbilt went 8-3 on the season and accepted the bowl invitation to the Hall of Fame Classic in Birmingham after beating Tennessee 27-16.
Air Force, on the other hand, was the second choice for this bowl game. Stanford was the original invitee, but after the Cardinal lost to Cal on the infamous “band on the field” play, the bowl committee changed its mind and invited Air Force.
Funny how these things work out.
The game itself was also one of the wilder games in Vanderbilt’s history. Vanderbilt and Air force traded touchdowns until it was 14-14 in the second quarter. Then, with 46 seconds left, Vanderbilt pulled in front with another touchdown to end the half. Things started to look good when Vanderbilt scored again after halftime. However, Air Force somehow managed to turn things around and scored 19 unanswered points to defeat Vanderbilt 36-28.
2008 Music City Bowl: Vanderbilt vs Boston College (16-14)
In 2008, after over 25 years of losing seasons, Vanderbilt finally reached the Music City bowl coming off of a 6-6 regular season. Despite losing to Tennessee, the season was still generally viewed as a success. When College Gameday came to town, Vanderbilt achieved its first 5-0 start since 1943 after a 14-13 victory over Auburn.
However, it was the 2008 Music City Bowl that really could have been seen as the highlight of the season. Vanderbilt’s opponent was to be #24 Boston College. Both teams were known for basically one thing: defense. And boy was there plenty of defense on the field.
In the first quarter the redshirt freshman Larry Smith in his first career start at quarterback led Vanderbilt to go up 3-0 with a 42-yard field goal. Later on, they were unable to get a touchdown but went up by six with another field goal making it 6-0. In the second quarter, Boston College finally broke down Vanderbilt’s defense, scoring a touchdown and bringing the score to 7-6.
In the third quarter, in a wild sequence of events, Vanderbilt punter Brett Upson, punted the ball away. However, the ball bounced off of the knee of one of the BC players, allowing Vanderbilt to recover the ball in the end zone for Vanderbilt’s only touchdown of the game and bringing the score to 13-7.
In the fourth quarter, BC came fighting back. As they were marching, the Eagles finally found some rhythm, scoring a touchdown and going up by one point 14-13. Vanderbilt responded with three minutes left in the game, kicking another 40+ yard field goal to go ahead 16-14.
Boston College eventually ended up with the ball and just two minutes left on the clock. However, after an interception by Vanderbilt, the game was effectively put away.
Oh and by the way, Upson was the MVP of the game with his nine punts.
2011 Liberty Bowl: Cincinnati vs Vanderbilt (31-24)
After a relatively successful season with James Franklin as the head coach, Vanderbilt went 6-6 and was invited to the Liberty Bowl. Cincinnati, Big East co-champions, were also invited to the bowl game after going 9-3.
Vanderbilt went up early in the first quarter scoring a touchdown, but Cincinnati quickly responded scoring two touchdowns in the second quarter to make it 14-7 at the half. Coming out of halftime, Vanderbilt evened the score to 14-14.
After a field goal by Cincinnati, Vanderbilt responded with a touchdown to go ahead 21-17. However, after a pair of touchdowns by Cincinnati, Vanderbilt ended up losing despite another field goal. The final score was 24-31 in favor of Cincinnati.
2012 Music City Bowl: Vanderbilt vs NC State (38-24)
In what became Franklin’s best season at Vanderbilt, the Commodores went 8-4 in the regular season, making it one of the most successful Vanderbilt seasons of all time. Going 5-3 in SEC play and beating Tennessee 41-18, Vanderbilt accepted the bid to play in the Music City Bowl against NC State.
What followed was a strong performance by Vanderbilt in all quarters of play. After going up 7-0 in the first, both offenses took off in the second quarter, making the score 28-14 by halftime.
Even after halftime, the Commodores were never trailing, bringing the lead to 31-17. In the fourth quarter, NC State ended up scoring a touchdown and field goal, but it wasn’t enough to come close, especially after Vanderbilt scored yet another touchdown. The final score was 38-24 in favor of Vanderbilt.
2014 BBVA Compass Bowl: Vanderbilt vs. Houston (41-24)
As Vanderbilt continued to be successful under Franklin, the Commodores earned their second bowl win in James Franklin’s third and final season as head coach. The Commodores went 8-4 on the season, beating Tennessee 14-10 and upsetting #15 Georgia 31-27. This was enough to earn their bid to the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Alabama.
Vanderbilt was to face the Houston Cougars, the designated AAC opponent. Like the 2012 Music City Bowl, Vanderbilt started off strong, scoring two unanswered touchdowns. They continued to dominate in the second quarter with 10 more unanswered points to make it 24-0 at the half.
After halftime, Houston clearly figured out something and scored 24 unanswered points in the third quarter. Somehow, in the fourth quarter, the Commodores figured out how to score and play defense again and they put 17 more points in the fourth quarter. The final score was 41-24 in favor of Vanderbilt.
This was the last game that Franklin coached for Vanderbilt before he went off to coach Penn State
2016 Independence Bowl: Vanderbilt vs. NC State (17-41)
In Derek Mason’s third year as head coach, Vanderbilt went 6-6 in regular season play, capping off the regular season with a 45-34 victory over Tennessee, earning a bid to the Independence Bowl against eventual opponents NC State.
While having a relatively successful season under Mason, it was imperative for him to finish the year off strong. Unfortunately, this game was not such a great end to the season. While Vanderbilt did come out to put the first points on the board, NC State came up with 28 unanswered points to make it 28-3 in the third quarter.
Finally, Vanderbilt did get some offense going to get two touchdowns in quick succession, making the score 28-17. However, NC State continues to assert their dominance when they returned the ensuing kickoff 100-yd for a touchdown. To add insult to injury, Kyle Shurmur threw a pick-six in the dying seconds to end the game with a score of 41-17.