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SEC Football Preview 2014: Vanderbilt Discovers the Meaning of a Rebuilding Season

Have the Commodores ever been good enough to go through a rebuilding year? After a few good seasons, it looks like Vanderbilt takes a small step back

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

As I worked through which teams to place where in the SEC East, the case of Vanderbilt vs. Tennessee proved confusing to me. (Year2 has the emails to prove this.) Because the tiebreaker basically comes down to the game between the Commodores and the Volunteers, and I'm still not sure I can make heads or tails of that.

More on Tennessee next week, obviously, but the concerns about Vanderbilt are pretty clear. Their biggest offensive stars are basically gone, their defensive backfield is dangerously inexperienced and the Commodores face a transition year as they move toward a 3-4 defense -- a move that often pays off in the long run after some short-term pain. The offensive line has a good deal of experience, and there's some talent in the Commodores' front seven on defense, but this is a rebuilding year for Vanderbilt.

Which is sort of an oddity to begin with, and something that makes this Vanderbilt team hard to get a handle on. The phrase "rebuilding year," of course, indicates that you're in between periods of time where you have or expect to accomplish something -- and that's a new phenomenon for Vanderbilt. We're not used to assessing a Vanderbilt team coming off of three consecutive bowl seasons and back-to-back years with nine victories. We're not used to a coach doing so well in Nashville that he's hired away instead of retiring or getting fired. The former is unprecedented and the latter is rare.

So what does a rebuilding year for the "new Vanderbilt" mean? Some expect the Commodores to fall all the way back into the basement in the SEC East -- though from here, Kentucky looks to be a year away from threatening to pass Vanderbilt. The out-of-conference schedule poses few serious challenges, given that three of the four opponents are either currently in the FCS or were as recently as three years ago, but there are no gimme wins out of the West.

Everything, including keeping the bowl streak alive, appears to come down to the season finale against the Volunteers. It wouldn't be a complete upset if Vanderbilt won, which is why it's not listed as the Commodores' best chance for an upset. But it's also not something Vanderbilt can count on this year, and for now the odds appear to ever so slightly favor the road team.

Place: 6th in the SEC East
Record: 5-7, 1-7 SEC
Could be: 4-8 to 8-4
Best chance for an upset: SOUTH CAROLINA
Bowl: None
8.28.14 | TEMPLE | WIN
9.6.14 | vs. OLE MISS (LP Field) | LOSS
9.13.14 | UMASS | WIN
9.27.14 | at KENTUCKY | WIN
10.4.14 | at GEORGIA | LOSS
10.25.14 | at MISSOURI | LOSS
11.1.14 | OLD DOMINION | WIN
11.8.14 | FLORIDA | LOSS
11.29.14 | TENNESSEE | LOSS