NASHVILLE, Tenn. | This may be the true measure of how good Vanderbilt is right now. Only three games feature a pair of ranked teams playing each other this week, and the Commodores, yes the Dores, are hosting one of those in Music City.
Vanderbilt, which moved into The Associated Press' Top 25 last week for the first time since 1984 with its 4-0 start, jumped two spots to No. 19 with an open date. Now the Commodores will play No. 13 Auburn in the best Southeastern Conference game this week.
The Commodores are used to hosting games between nationally ranked teams — in basketball. The Commodores knocked off then-No. 1 Tennessee on the hardcourt back in February here.
Football? This is easily the biggest football game on the Vandy campus in well, decades. Consider that the last Vanderbilt team to start 5-0 was in 1943 when the Commodores played only five games that year during World War II.
Never miss a local story.
"We want to play important games," coach Bobby Johnson said Monday. "This is exactly what we wanted. We want to compete in this great conference and win. We'll find out if we can continue to do that."
The high rankings for a program that hasn't had a winning season in 25 years has brought lots of reporters to town wanting to talk about the Commodores' current success. The game also will be nationally televised, and ESPN is bringing its GameDay show to town as well.
That has Johnson trying to remind his Commodores to focus on the game, not all the hype and attention coming with Vanderbilt's highest ranking since 1984. That No. 19 ranking lasted one game thanks to a loss to Tulane. He cautioned them about distractions before practice Sunday and talked about it again Monday.
"We have to realize what the big event is here, and that's the game," Johnson said. "GameDay is great for the fans and the people watching it on television. We've just got to play the game."
Nonetheless, Johnson knows success means increased exposure.
After arriving at Vanderbilt in 2002, Johnson won only two games in each of his first three seasons. Even a promising 4-0 start in 2005 fizzled to a 5-6 finish. Since 2005, the Commodores have improved steadily and have made a habit of upsetting Southeastern Conference opponents.
Vanderbilt expects to get receiver George Smith back from a stress fracture in his foot and tailback Jeff Jennings, who missed the past three games thanks to the bye week. Quarterback Chris Nickson, who hurt his shoulder in the 23-17 win at Mississippi on Sept. 20, threw Sunday for the first time and should have a chance to play Saturday night.
Auburn (4-1, 2-1) defeated Tennessee 14-12 last weekend and has won 13 straight games against the Commodores, dating back to the 1955 Gator Bowl that Vandy won 25-13. This will be the first time the Tigers have played Vanderbilt with the Commodores ranked.
Right now, Vandy is one of only three SEC teams undefeated in league play along with Alabama and LSU at 2-0. The Commodores have won three straight SEC games only seven times and not since 1982 — their last winning season and bowl appearance.
As for whether Johnson is taking any personal satisfaction in the 4-0 start, he said Monday it's better than 0-4.
"I'm enjoying that part of it, but we've got plenty of work to do instead of worrying about polls and what people think about us. It's very flattering, yes, but we've got a lot of work to do," he said.