SEC 2010 // Vanderbilt Actually Plays a Schedule

Vanderbilt once again faces a pretty tough schedule, in part because the Commodores insist on playing "teams" from other "conferences" that actually have a "chance." There are three other BCS-league teams on the schedule -- three! -- and no FCS guarantee game to be found. (There's a happy medium between this and the Rich Brooks School of Scheduling, y'all.)

OUT OF THEIR LEAGUE

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Earlier this week
Monday Vanderbilt Hopes to Wake Up from the Nightmare
Tuesday Vanderbilt Returns a Ton of Starters. That's Good, Right?; Three Things We Do and Don't Know

NORTHWESTERN | Sept. 4
Mike Kafka is gone, but much of the rest of the Wildcats' starting lineup returns after a very successful (by Northwestern standards) 8-5 campaign in 2009. Pat Fitzgerald has built a solid, perennial bowl contestant in Evanston, and his .551 winning percentage is actually 115 points higher than the school's historical average. Our friends at The Rivalry, Esq. -- who might soon have the unenviable task of covering 57 teams in nine divisions -- see another above-average season in Northwestern's future.

at CONNECTICUT | Oct. 2
A team that came within fifteen points of being undefeated last year returns 16 starters this season and welcomes Vanderbilt into its stadium. At least it's in October, so there's a good chance it won't be frigid when the game in East Hartford kicks off. Vanderbilt best watch RB Jordan Todman, who ran for 1,188 yards and 14 TDs in 2009. The Huskies generally win when they run the ball well and play strong defense. Vanderbilt's offense ought to take care of the latter part on its own; it will be up to the Commodores defense to keep this one close.

WAKE FOREST | Nov. 27
The Vanderbilt of the ACC plays the Wake Forest of the SEC. Or something like that. It's easy to draw the comparisons between Wake and Vanderbilt -- academic, private institutions in BCS conferences that often turn them into doormats -- but Wake has simply done better under Jim Grobe than Vanderbilt has with Bobby Johnson as head coach. (Last year was Wake's first losing season since 2005, and Grobe is eight games over .500 at the school.)

THE QUEST FOR AN SEC WIN

SOUTH CAROLINA | Oct. 23
After years of struggles against South Carolina and the Head Ball Coach -- Steve Spurrier had a 14-0 record against Vanderbilt before the 2007 season -- Vanderbilt defeated the Gamecocks twice in a row in 2007 and 2008, the former marking the beginning of the end for then-No. 6 South Carolina. But the Gamecocks won last year, breaking whatever psychological hold the Commodores might have had in the series (have those words been written about any Vanderbilt series in the last 50 years?), and South Carolina looks to be a slightly better team this year.

at KENTUCKY | Nov. 13
This is probably the best chance Vanderbilt has to avoid another winless season in the SEC. But even that looks shaky; Vanderbilt has lost five of the last six against the Wildcats and hasn't consistently defeated UK since the mid-1990s. On the other hand, Kentucky returns just 13 starters and is undergoing a coaching transition from Rich Brooks to Joker Phillips. If Vanderbilt is going to be taken seriously in the SEC East, this is the kind of game the Commodores have to win regularly. Too bad that this year, they land on Kentucky's schedule between a bye week and Charleston Southern.

TENNESSEE | Nov. 20
Vanderbilt hasn't won this game since 2005, and that was the first time the Commodores emerged victorious since 1983. But this could be a down year for the Vols, who have 13 returning starters and are recovering from the wild end to the Lane Kiffin Quasi-Era. That's not to say that Vanderbilt has a good chance of winning this one, mind you -- just that it's one of the better opportunities they have outside of the usual suspect of Kentucky.

OTHER GAMES

9.11.10 | LSU The conference opener. The Bayou Bengals will have played North Carolina in the Georgia Dome the week before and could very well be a Top 10 team. (LSU + nonconference win = They must be good enough to be ranked!!!) If neither of these teams have improved their offenses from last year, this could be a hard game to watch.

9.18.10 | at MISSISSIPPI I'm not yet in the camp that says that Ole Miss is in for a crash this year. I think they'll be a 7-5 or 6-6 type team, but even .500 SEC teams usually defeat Vanderbilt. And the Rebels will have faced only Jacksonville and Tulane before this one.

10.9.10 | EASTERN MICHIGAN Even Vanderbilt needs a cupcake, and it has to be a particularly confectionary piece of pastry for the Commodores. Enter Eastern Michigan, which ranked better than 88th in one major stastistical category last year: Its NCAA-leading passing defense, which was probably related to its NCAA-worst rushing D.

10.16.10 | at GEORGIA If you want to make up a trap-game scenario where Vanderbilt might beat one of the upper-tier SEC teams, this is about as close as you can get. The sequence for this portion of Georgia's schedule is Tennessee-Vanderbilt-Kentucky-Florida. And the Kentucky game will be a revenge game. Then again, Vanderbilt is the homecoming opponent ...

10.30.10 | at ARKANSAS The Vanderbilt defense could face its strongest challenge of the season, at least so far, as it attempts to rein in the Bobby Petrino passing attack. Can Vanderbilt score against even Arkansas' defense?

11.6.10 | FLORIDA Good luck with that.

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