2012 Record: 9-4 (5-3 in SEC)
Head Coach: James Franklin (15-11 at Vandy, 7-9 in SEC)
Last Bowl Game: 2012 Music City Bowl: beat NC State 38-24
Stadium: Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, TN (capacity = 40,550)
Home Field Advantage: ranked 31st out of 69 BCS teams
SEC East Road Games: 9/14 at South Carolina, 11/9 at Florida, 11/23 at Tennessee
SEC West Opponents: 8/29 vs Ole Miss, 10/26 at Texas A&M
Stats to Fear: converted just 33.51% of third downs (12th in SEC), scored TDs on just 50% of red zone trips (12th in SEC)
Stat to Cheer: held opponents to 43.59% TD rate in red zone (1st in SEC)
Advanced Stats (Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking): 43rd out of 124 teams
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: Offense: 7, Defense: 6, Special Teams: 1
Key Defensive Returnees: S Kenny Ladler (90 tackles), LB Chase Garnham (84 tackles, 6.5 sacks), S Javon Marshall (83 tackles), LB Karl Butler (51 tackles), CB Andre Hal (48 tackles)
Key Offensive Returnees: RB Brian Kimbrow (413 yds rush, 6.26 ypc), WR Jordan Matthews (94 rec, 8 TD), WR Chris Boyd (50 rec), T Wesley Johnson
Silly me, I thought Vanderbilt would struggle last season. I thought they would have trouble with their schedule and was concerned about the players they lost. They started out just 1-3 and then 2-4 but after that they did a great job turning the corner and won some close games (Missouri, Auburn and Ole Miss). Less than fifteen points separated Vandy from being 5-7 in the regular season instead of 8-4 but that's what good teams do and make no mistake about it, Vandy was a good team last year.
This year, the Commodores must replace a two year starter at QB, Jordan Rodgers, and they will do so with Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels. Rodgers wasn't a world beater at QB but he was a guy that the team rallied around so Carta-Samuels will need to not only be a good QB but also a leader on the field. The biggest loss on the team is Zac Stacy. Stacy ran for over 1000 yards and had 10 TDs. The Commodores still have some good options in the backfield like Brian Kimbrow and Wesley Tate but it will be hard to replace the impact that Stacy had. When talking about the best units on the team you cannot do so without discussing the receivers. Jordan Matthews is an All-SEC talent and his tag-team partner, Chris Boyd, is a fine second option. Carta-Samuels definitely has some talent to work with at the skill positions. The OL returns 73 career starts. They lose two starters but they return RT Wesley Johnson and five more players that have started at least four games.
Overall, Vandy did a decent job stopping the run but they did get gashed by the upper-echelon teams of the SEC East as South Carolina ran for 205 yds, Georgia ran for 302 and Florida gained 326. Vandy will have to reload a bit along the line as they lose three of their top tacklers from last season. The LB corps only has to replace one player so they should continue to improve. The strength of the Vandy defense last year was the secondary and they return their top three players and this will continue to be a strength of the Dores.
The schedule starts out with a great match-up against the Ole Miss Rebels. The Rebels look like a team on the rise and this will be a benchmark game for both teams. The good news for the Dores is that they should get out of the gate quickly this year because three of their first five games are against Austin Peay, UMass and UAB. They key stretch of the season is from Oct 19th through Nov 9th. The Dores must play Georgia and then go on the road and play Texas A&M (a big step up from last year's revolving West opponent: Auburn) and Florida. I do like Vanderbilt's chances as Tennessee is in a rebuilding stage and Missouri is still a big question-mark. I think this team will closely resemble last years squad but they may drop an extra game as one of those close ones may slip away. Make no mistake, this Vanderbilt squad is not your daddy's Vanderbilt squad as James Franklin has them headed in the right direction.
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