Vanderbilt ready to face challenges that come with success — again

Tell someone often enough that they are not good and eventually they will try to prove you wrong.

Tell someone often enough that they are, in fact, good, and typically it won’t take long for them to believe you.

That is the issue Vanderbilt faces following Saturday’s victory at Florida. The Commodores now are one win from bowl eligibility for the third straight season on the strength of an unprecedented and largely unexpected pair of triumphs (Florida and Georgia) in the last three games, all of which is enough to make them and their supporters feel pretty good about things.

“Too many pats on the back can make you soft is what my dad’s always told me,” senior defensive end Walker May said.

In addition to the recent successes (Saturday’s victory snapped a streak of 22 straight losses to the Gators) Vanderbilt is roughly a two-touchdown favorite for this week’s home game against Kentucky (11:20 a.m., SEC Network) and might not be an underdog in any of its three remaining contests.

The whole thing is a far cry from five weeks ago when the Commodores were winless in conference play after having allowed 51 points in a loss to Missouri.

“We’ve handled adversity,” coach James Franklin said. “Now we have to show that we can handle the success.”

For a dose of reality, current players and coaches need only look at the fact that they still have twice as many conference defeats (four) as they do victories (two) and have no chance to finish with a winning record in the SEC, as they did in 2012.

Otherwise, though, they are on a similar path to the one they followed last season when they lost four of their first six but finished on a seven-game win streak. Four of those victories were by three touchdowns or more, including a 40-0 rout of Kentucky. They closed out the conference season with a 41-18 victory over Tennessee, their highest point total against the Volunteers since 1923, and never trailed in their Music City Bowl victory over North Carolina State.

Clearly, they not only handled their success over the second half of the season, they enhanced it as they went. To do so again would be nothing new.

“We’ve been dealing with this for three years,” Franklin said. “It’s not like this is the first time they’re dealing with it. When we got here it could not have been more negative. We were able to get to a bowl game in our first year. So our guys had to handle that. We had a lot of guys on our team that have been through that.

“Last year, same thing. A lot of people were questioning that we were able to have some success and we handled that as well. I do think … experience helps these guys. They’ve been through it before, the swing of emotions … not internal, but on the outside, people’s perceptions and things like that.”