Three Things We Know
1. That it's an uphill climb.
As covered yesterday, Vanderbilt wasn't just down in 2010. It was way down. The Commodores managed to eke their way to the good side of 10 points per game in SEC play, but it wasn't by much and the defense regressed. That's to be expected given the uncertainty in the program and the injuries withstood. Still, 2009 wasn't a picnic either. The bottom fell out of the team after the 2008 bowl, and it's not going to be easy to reverse the trend.
2. Who the defensive anchor will be.
Perhaps the best defender in the conference that few have heard of is LB Chris Marve. He had 80 tackles last year and leads all SEC defenders in total career tackles. Despite missing time to injury last year (like nearly every important Commodore), he still got second team all-SEC honors for the second straight season. As great as he is though, he'll need some help from the D-line. The Commodores have allowed over 200 yards of rushing per game (adjusted for sacks) each of the last two years.
3. That it's not anyone's first rodeo.
It's possible that one of the three true freshman quarterbacks will win the starting job, but he would be an exception, not a rule. The most recent depth chart as of publishing lists just seven underclassman starters, with three of them being the top line receivers. The news gets better when you notice that three of the seven—OT Wesley Johnson, DE Walker May, and S Kenny Ladler—made the Freshman All-SEC Team for 2010. This is a veteran team.
Three Things We Don't Know
1. Just about anything about James Franklin.
Franklin has coached in the Pac-10, Big 12, ACC, and NFL, but Vanderbilt is his first SEC job. I don't think the SEC is so unique that it can only be understood from within, but that fact just means that we don't know much about him. Maryland didn't even play an SEC team during his time there as offensive coordinator. He doesn't appear to have been a game changer for the Terps, but he wasn't in charge. And hey, maybe bringing in fresh blood is just what the program needs.
2. Who the quarterback will be.
Did you see the recent post about the crazy quarterback situation for the Commodores? Technically they will have seven quarterbacks fighting for the job this fall, though one is a walk-on. Still, bringing in three true freshman quarterbacks when there are already three scholarship veterans on the roster is a big sign that Franklin was not impressed with those vets. It should be a competitive battle come fall practice.
3. What to make of the defense just yet.
While we can be reasonably sure that Marve will be a standout on the defense, it remains to be seen how it will be run. Franklin decided to go with a co-coordinator system, hiring Bob Shoop from William & Mary and Brent Pry from Georgia Southern. Those defenses were among the best in I-AA last year, but now they're back on the top level and working together. That's not a bad strategy, as Vanderbilt would have considerably trouble plucking a top rate coordinator from the I-A level, so there's potential with them. How it will come together remains to be seen, but Vandy needs a spark there. The defense, which traditionally kept the team in games opposite a bad offense, slipped over the last couple seasons.