Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Vanderbilt football poised to become a consistent winner in the SEC

Vanderbilt's football team was one of the best stories of the 2008 season. Having not had a winning season or a bowl berth since 1982, the Commodores scratched for six wins then beat a good Boston College team in the Music City Bowl to finish 7-6.

Their success is a reminder of just how pointless pre-season predictions can be. Most experts picked Vanderbilt to have a losing season last year. My Vanderbilt prediction was one of my worst in 2008. I said they would go 3-9 (click here to read my lamentable prediction in its entirety), and I continue to eat crow for that pick.

This year, Vanderbilt is a fascinating team to study. On the positive side, the Commodores have a ton of talent returning. Eight starters on offense and nine starters on defense are back. In the ultra-competitive SEC, a team can never have too much experience.

The key to the team is who will emerge as starting quarterback. Mackenzi Adams and Larry Smith will battle for the spot, but regardless of how it shakes out, both players will likely see time on the field during the season. If Vandy becomes more consistent at quarterback and takes advantage of having so much returning talent, the team could be considerably better this year.

However, that conclusion over-simplifies the situation in which Vanderbilt finds itself. Frankly, one issue that must be addressed is whether or not the team can handle prosperity. It is a fair question. This is a situation the program has not experienced in decades (if ever). It's easy to be the underdog, but when expectations are high, it can weigh on a team.

Additionally, this year's schedule is a challenge. Every SEC team plays a tough schedule because of how competitive the conference is. Here is Vandy's slate:

Sept. 5: vs. Western Carolina
Sept. 12: at LSU
Sept. 19: vs. Mississippi State
Sept. 26: at Rice
Oct. 3: vs. Ole Miss
Oct. 10: at Army
Oct. 17: vs. Georgia
Oct. 24: at South Carolina
Oct. 31: vs. Georgia Tech
Nov. 7: at Florida
Nov. 14: vs. Kentucky
Nov. 21: at Tennessee

The first thing that leaps off the schedule is that Vandy does not have a bye week. Will playing 12 games in 12 weeks grind the team down? Plus, the 'Dores only play six home games. This means they must find wins on the road to qualify for a bowl.

All the home games are winnable, but Georgia Tech may be too strong. The Yellow Jackets came on strong at the end of last season (just ask Georgia). However, if Vandy loses a couple at home, they could offset this with winnable road games at Rice, Army, South Carolina, and Tennessee. The Commodores should win at least two of those.

I see Vanderbilt going 6-6 again with another trip to a bowl. It won't be the Music City Bowl because bowls don't like to have teams in consecutive years. The Liberty Bowl or Independence Bowl is the likely landing spot.

If this happens, Vandy will go to a bowl game in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history.

1 comment:

Larry J. said...

Your pick for Vandy's season is right on. Coach Johnson has built a solid program. Fans better hope another school doesnt swoop in and take him