When was the last time Vandy returned 18 starters from a bowl team? I'm not certain, although you would have to go back until at least 1983, the last season in which the Commodores came off a season that included a bowl trip. If there is any reason to believe that Vanderbilt will return to the postseason in 2009, it comes from the number of players returning.
That doesn't mean, however, that there are no meaningful position battles that will have to be hashed out between now and Sept. 5, when Western Carolina comes to Nashville. At the top of the list is the same fight that has plagued Vandy so mightily over the last two years: Quarterback, where a back-and-forth between Mackenzi Adams and Chris Nickson will be replaced by a competition between Mackenzi Adams and Larry Smith.
|2008 - Mackenzi Adams||9||77.9||77||156||49.4||882||98||11.5||5||8||62||136||15.1||2.2||0||-||-|
|2008 - Larry Smith||2||101.2||19||34||55.9||167||83.5||8.8||1||1||17||40||20||2.4||0||-||-|
Smith might have given himself a bit of lead by going 9-of-14 for 117 yards and 2 TDs in the spring game, though that will mean very little by the time Vanderbilt returns in the fall. For his part, Adams was a more pedestrian 4-of-9 for 39 yards, 1 TD and a pick. From the sample size we have now, at least, Smith appears to be the better passer. His relative inexperience will likely weigh into Bobby Johnson's thinking, but look for Smith to get the nod to start the season. WCU is a gimme, even for Vanderbilt, so they can afford to experiment for at least a game.
The Commodores are set at offensive line, where five starters come back, and running back -- Jared Hawkins (139 carries, 593 yards, 4 TDs) missed spring but will be in the backfield for the season opener.
But WR will be a puzzle. TE Brandon Barden is the leading returning receiver, with 28 catches for 209 yards and 4 TDs, but wasn't even listed as a shoo-in on the team's pre-spring depth chart. (He was listed in a tie with Austin Monahan, whose one catch for five yards in the spring game matched his career total.) Barden will start when the season comes around
, as will tTop returning wideout Justin Wheeler (16, 145, 1) is out for the year. Transfers Tray Herndon and Terrence Jeffers will contribute. (Thanks to commenter DaronVU05 for pointing this out.)
Beyond that? Udom Umoh should get more playing time. CB Jamie Graham, listed as a backup for Myron Lewis, had 17 catches for 125 and 3 TDs as a WR last year. Alex Washington or John Cole will likely factor in at some point. A half-dozen receivers not listed here might at least provide some push for the front-runners.
On defense, the only real issue comes in the secondary. Lewis will start at CB. Ryan Hamilton is set at SS. But FS and the other CB position could go to a handful of players, with Graham and Casey Hayward the likeliest candidates for the other CB spot. Sean Richardson or Joel Caldwell will probably take over at FS.
Of course, there's one other returning starter that will be needed to build on last year's success: Luck. The Dores wouldn't have gotten to seven wins without it last year, and they won't match it unless they at least get a few breaks this season.
MONDAY: Vanderbilt Strives for a Sustainable Future
TUESDAY: The Commodores Calendar
LATER TODAY: Bobby Johnson: How Good a Coach Is He?; The Apprentice: SEC Coaches Finale
FRIDAY: Predictions; Final Thoughts