THREE THINGS WE KNOW
1. Chris Marve is a stud.
Chris Marve is a name anyone who follows SEC football should know, as he's one of the best defenders in the conference. Strangely unheralded in high school, Marve was just a two-star recruit when he landed at Vanderbilt. He made a name for himself quickly, as he started as a redshirt freshman and was named a Freshman All-American by Rivals.com.
Last season, he was chosen as second team All-SEC by the coaches. He was the SEC's second-leading tackler with 121 total tackles, and he placed third with 57 solo tackles and three forced fumbles. He should be even better this year because he had surgery this spring to clean up a nagging shoulder injury that he played through last year.
2. The team is set at running back.
Warren Norman, the SEC's Freshman of the Year in 2009, managed to go for over five yards a carry despite playing for a team with no passing game to speak of. Zac Stacy had a nice freshman year himself, averaging 4.5 yards per attempt while splitting time with Norman. Kennard Reeves isn't a bad third option either.
Patching together a good offensive line for these guys to run behind is a concern, with much of the unit either fighting injuries or being outright question marks. However, another year of experience for the now-sophomore duo should leave them ready to relieve some more pressure from the passing game with consistent production on the ground.
3. Help is on the way.
No matter which source you look at, Vanderbilt's 2010 haul is the best the school has ever signed in the era of ranked recruiting classes. It was still last in the SEC, but it was ahead of 14 other BCS programs by Rivals's count and ahead of 15 other BCS programs by Scout's reckoning. It shows that the bowl visit is still paying off for the school despite a rough 2009 season.
Bobby Johnson's general preference is to redshirt players, but playing true freshmen played off last year especially with Norman and Stacy. This group of incoming players, being a relatively talented bunch, should have some opportunities to see the field. The trio of three-star receivers in particular would appear to have a chance to play some and help upgrade the passing game.
THREE THINGS WE DON'T KNOW
1. Who will play quarterback.
Larry Smith is still listed as the starting quarterback right now, but it's more due to inertia than anything else. After his solid play in the bowl win over Boston College, he was expected to step in and be a good quarterback for the team last year. Instead, his passing efficiency was a pitiful 88.0, and he completed less than half of his passes. Junior Jared Funk and JUCO transfer Jordan Rodgers will push him for the job, and the team has to hope that the competition will bring out the best in someone.
2. Where the points are going to come from.
This one kind of stems from the last one, but it's still a big question. Vanderbilt's scoring last year was the lowest in the conference, and it would have been even lower without Norman running three kickoffs back for touchdowns. The question mark at quarterback is exacerbated by the fact that John Cole is the only proven wide receiver, and the team can only go so far by leaning on the run game. For Vandy to move up in the world, it will probably need to get some defensive points to go along with those special teams scores because defenses in this league are unforgiving.
3. Where the wins will come from.
In the non-conference schedule, only Eastern Michigan looks like a sure win. Northwestern won eight games last year, UConn went bowling, and Wake Forest was a win away from the post season. The SEC West opponents the Commodores draw are LSU, Ole Miss, and Arkansas, which isn't the worst they could do but isn't easy either. The SEC East has more than its fair share of question marks, but even if all the teams underachieve, is anyone but Kentucky realistically in reach?
Getting guys back from last year's injury horror show and actually having a bye week this season will help, but the schedule doesn't set the team up for instant success.