For decades, Vanderbilt's football team has been cannon fodder for the rest of the Southeastern Conference. The Commodores have not had a winning record or gone to a bowl since 1982. However, I predict the worm may turn this year.
Vanderbilt will go to a bowl this year. There are two reasons why I feel this way: 1. An excellent nucleus of returning players. 2. A much more favorable schedule this year.
Last year, Vanderbilt only went 4-8, but they played a lot of young players and were still quite competitive. Four of their conference losses were by a touchdown or less, plus they logged an impressive road win at Georgia. Nineteen of their starters return from last year. Not only do they return all this experience, but the program's overall talent level has considerably improved since Coach Bobby Johnson took over. He has completely rebuilt the program and will begin seeing the fruit of all his hard work this year.
Additionally, this year's schedule is much more favorable. Eight of Vanderbilt's 12 games are at home. Plus, their games in September are much more manageable than last year. Last year, they began with road games at Michigan and Alabama, then returned home to play Arkansas.
This year, they begin with four consecutive home games, playing Richmond, Alabama, Ole Miss, and Eastern Michigan. They should win three of those four games. Later in the year, they have winnable home games against Miami (OH), Kentucky, and Georgia.
They just need six wins to qualify for a bowl. All signs point to this happening if they can only overcome their program's history of losing. A losing culture is tough to overcome. If they cannot do it this year, it may be a long time before they have this chance again.