— NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Coach James Franklin is using how tough a schedule Vanderbilt has played to put a positive spin on the Commodores' start this season.
The teams that have beaten the Commodores have a combined record of 23-3 with three ranked in the top nine when they beat Vanderbilt.
Throw in Missouri, and Vanderbilt's five FBS opponents in the first six games have a combined 26-7 record. It's strong enough that Sagarin rated Vanderbilt's first six games as the third-toughest schedule in the Football Bowl Subdivision behind only Missouri and Washington.
Franklin wants his Commodores to keep all that in perspective and fix the mistakes they committed in last week's 31-17 loss to Florida as they finish up the final half of the season.
"There are no moral victories, but I do think you keep things in perspective for them and make sure they understand ... how our schedule started and how our schedule finishes," Franklin said Monday.
Vanderbilt became the first team to score on then-No. 4 Florida in the fourth quarter and rallied within 21-14. Big plays cost the Commodores as they gave up three touchdown runs to quarterback Jeff Driskel, the last a 70-yarder after Vandy pulled within a TD, a blocked field goal and a fake punt that went 54 yards.
The Commodores (2-4, 1-3) now enter a stretch with no ranked opponents trying to become bowl eligible for a second straight season. That has never happened in the program's history, and that might be why Franklin is working so hard to remind his Commodores of what they've done so far as he encourages them to keep playing and improving.
"It's all how you spin it and you handle it with your team," Franklin said. "If you still have really good chemistry and your kids still have a great attitude and they believe and they're passionate and excited about what the future holds, I think it's a positive if they can see the big picture. That's our job as coaches to explain it to them."
Franklin said Vanderbilt fans got excited by the Commodores' 3-0 start to his debut season and what counts is that they wound up in a bowl game, just the program's fifth ever.
Up next is Auburn (1-5, 0-4) on Saturday with a second straight sellout at Vanderbilt. It's the first time since September 1996 when Vanderbilt sold out against Notre Dame and Mississippi that the Commodores have sold out consecutive games. This three-game home stand ends Oct. 27 with a visit from Massachusetts.
Then the Commodores visit Kentucky (1-6, 0-4) and Mississippi (4-3, 1-2) before the home finale against Tennessee (3-3, 0-3) and the regular season finale at Wake Forest.
Franklin said strength of scheduling really only counts for programs playing for the national championship and that no one will be asking at the end of this season about the ugly win against Missouri or an easy victory over Presbyterian of the Football Championship Subdivision. He said each win counts the same.
"We're doing some nice things," Franklin said. "We need to get better. We lost to a good team this past weekend, but for us to get to where we want to be as a program, you can't make the type of mistakes that we made against that type of an opponent."
Stopping quarterbacks who run well is the big focus this week in practice for the Commodores, especially with Auburn showing the ability to use freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace more as a run threat. Defensive end Johnell Thomas watched two of Auburn's games before talking with reporters Monday.
"That's what we're going to be focusing on quarterback runs I'm sure," Thomas said. "We opened it up to other teams. They see where we made some mistakes there in that category. It's something we're working on."