Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Vanderbilt should win six games in 2012 and be bowl bound again

Dynamite year ahead for Vandy?
Vanderbilt football has a spring in its step, and the primary reason is head coach James Franklin. In his first year, he breathed emotion into a program that struggles to consistently win. The result was a six-win season and a Liberty Bowl berth. Despite an offseason that saw a few missteps (insulting comments about women, charges of tampering with players at Maryland), Franklin appears to have his team ready to roll this year. The result should be another six-win season and the first back-to-back bowl berths in school history.

The team's strength is its offensive backfield, specifically its running backs. Zac Stacy and Warren Norman anchor a unit that is among the best in the Southeastern Conference (and that is saying a lot). If quarterback Jordan Rodgers can just be consistent, the offense should be able to control the clock and put numbers on the board.
If there is a major difference compared to last year, it is that the schedule is not as inviting. Last year, the Commodores opened with three home games against beatable foes (Elon, Connecticut, and Ole Miss), which got them off to a hot start.  This year, the schedule is more challenging even though they avoid playing Alabama, LSU and Arkansas.
Here is Vanderbilt's schedule:  Aug. 30 vs. South Carolina, Sept. 8 at Northwestern, Sept. 15 vs. Presbyterian, Sept. 22 at Georgia, Oct. 6 at Missouri, Oct. 13 vs. Florida, Oct. 20 vs. Auburn, Oct. 27 vs. Massachusetts, Nov. 3 at Kentucky, Nov. 10 at Ole Miss, Nov. 17 vs. Tennessee, Nov. 24 at Wake Forest.
The games against Presbyterian and Massachusetts are guaranteed wins for the Commodores so there are two wins right there.  Where will the other four come from?  The season begins at home against ninth-ranked South Carolina. While some have expressed frustration about opening the season with a conference foe that is so good, I think this is good for Vandy. Playing Carolina so early allows them to avoid the wear and tear of the season that usually hurts their depth, which will help in this game. I am picking Carolina to win, but this game should be an interesting measuring stick regarding the program's growth.
The game at Northwestern is a huge swing game if the team is going to return to a bowl. Northwestern is a solid Big 10 program, and both schools face similar challenges when it comes to competing in a power conference.  However, when it comes to SEC/Big 10 matchups, a person should always take the SEC school (even if the game is on the road).  So, Vanderbilt should win this one.
Next, Vandy plays Presbyterian then travels to Georgia. Georgia is the best team in the SEC Eastern Division.  I do not see Vandy winning, but it is another measuring stick game. How far has Vandy's program come?  This is one of those games that tell us.  With a loss here, Vandy ends September with a 2-2 record.
October opens with a trip to Missouri and likely another loss. I am not convinced the Commodores are to the point they can go on the road and beat a big state school (even one new to the conference).  After this, a pivotal three-game homestand begins with games against Florida, Auburn, and Massachusetts. I already stated the Massachusetts game will be a victory.  Both Auburn and Florida should be much improved, but I cannot see Vandy losing both those games at home. I am taking Vandy to beat Auburn and finishing October with a 4-4 record.
November opens with two road games at Kentucky and at Ole Miss.  These are the two weakest teams in the SEC, and Vandy should win both to improve to 6-4. However, I seem them losing their last two. In recent years, the Commodores have played worse against Tennessee at home than in Knoxville.  Also, I know Vandy waxed Wake Forest last year, but the Demon Deacons are too good not to be motivated for revenge for that embarrassment.
So, Vandy will finish 6-6, and that should be good enough for a trip to the Music City, Liberty or Independence bowls.

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