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SEC Football Preview 2014: Vanderbilt's Season Starts in September. It Might Also End Then

The first month of the schedule could be the key to figuring out what the Commodores have to look forward to in 2014

Frederick Breedon

There's some good news for Vanderbilt fans in this year's schedule. First of all, there won't be a need to travel much this year; the Commodores leave the city of Nashville just four times in 2014, and only one of those trips -- to Columbia (MO) -- is more than five hours' driving time. The other bit of welcome information is that while Vanderbilt doesn't get the easiest pick out of the SEC West, it hardly gets the toughest. The Commodores play Ole Miss and Mississippi State, both of which are likely to be good teams but neither of which is likely to be Alabama or LSU.

This could tell us all we need to know. If you were looking for a month that would give you an idea of what to expect out of a team, it would be hard to create something quite as good for that purpose as Vanderbilt's first five games. You have some pretty bad mid-majors to make sure that the Commodores can still pack away the cupcakes. You have three teams from the three tiers of the SEC: Division contender South Carolina, Ole Miss and a likely terrible Kentucky team. Vanderbilt needs to win at least three of these (and maybe four) to feel good about their bowl chances; winning fewer than three games could mean the whole season is going to come unglued.

Watch that first step... After leaving the city limits of Nashville just once in August and September, Vanderbilt plays two of its three October games on the road. And it's paying those visits to Georgia and Missouri. Georgia could actually be a better team this year (they were better than their record in 2013), and while Missouri will likely take a step back in 2014, they're not going to fall off the map. It's not unreasonable to think that Vanderbilt will only be favored in the home game against Charleston Southern. On the other hand, a win at Georgia or at Missouri would open up the chances for a bowl bid -- and maybe more.

Home again, home again. Vanderbilt has managed to swing playing eight games in their home city, which is a good set-up if you can get it. In any case, we'll know a lot more about what to think of this month when Vanderbilt gets here. If they have five wins by now, a bowl bid is pretty much assured, given that Old Dominion is essentially a de facto FCS team. Four wins could leave them needing an upset, depending on how good Tennessee and Mississippi State are. Anything less than that and the wheels are probably coming off, so November would become nothing more than a month to survive.