Vanderbilt opens the season at home against Western Kentucky. If the Commodores are to have any hope of improving their record enough to get to bowl contention, this game is a must win. However, this is far from a game that is an automatic win for a payday game. The Hilltoppers feature a high octane offense and will offer a significant challenge for Vanderbilt's defense, but the game should be an exciting, high scoring season opener for the Commodores.
1Revamped Offense. After a disastrous offensive output in 2014, Derek Mason dismissed Karl Dorrell and brought in former Wisconsin offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig. With Ludwig, look for Vanderbilt's offense to shift to more power looks with running back Ralph Webb getting plenty of opportunities to shine. Along with Webb and after leading the team in receiving last season, tight end Steven Scheu will over a reliable outlet for whichever quarterback ends up...
2Winning the Job Based on the depth chart released this week, Mason has not decided on a quarterback as the game week chart was released with the most popular conjunction in the SEC, OR. Fortunately for Vandy fans, one of those options is not Steven Rivers, but Johnny McCrary and Wade Freebeck do return from the 2014 squad. After Freebeck started four games in the middle of last season, McCrary started the final five games of the season, but they only combined to complete 50% of their passes with a 10/13 td/int ratio. Considering Ludwig's success with turning in a respectable offense despite the struggles of Tanner McEvoy and Joel Stave last year, the Commodores offense could reap large benefits from the change in coaching personnel. Considering that Western Kentucky's defense was had the third worst passing S&P+ last year, Vanderbilt should be able to move the ball through the air.
3Lighting It Up. The biggest test for the Commodores might be on the defensive side of the ball Thursday night. Western Kentucky scored 34 points or more in all except one of their games last year including games of 45 points or more in the last four games of the year. The most notable of those games was the Hilltoppers 67-66 win over then-undefeated Marshall. Senior quarterback Brandon Doughty returns after a season which, excepting a four interception meltdown at Louisiana Tech, resulted in a 48/6 TD/INT ratio and a completion percentage of over 70 percent.
4A Moving Line. The odds on this game opened with Vanderbilt as a 17.5 point favorite, but the game has been the largest mover of the weekend as the line has shifted to the Commodores being listed as a 2-2.5 point underdog depending on the book. That 19.5 to 20 point movement ahead of the Georgia State at West Virginia line moving from the Mountaineers opening at -38, but currently listed at -19.5 (in full disclosure, I'm not a bettor, but I've paid too much attention to the Panthers as a result of my wife having matriculated from Georgia State...take WVU at -19.5 big time). Back to the topic at hand, if I was the betting type, the over of 62 would be more tempting than the line.
5The Name Game. Cornerbacks Wonderful Terry and Prince Charles Iworah would start on any all name team in the country, but are both starting for Western Kentucky. The two only combined for three interceptions in 2014, but both of Terry's interceptions were returned for touchdown. Terry totaled three defensive touchdowns with a fumble return thrown in.
I think that overall the 2015 Vanderbilt football team will offer a significant improvement on the 2014 version, but that does not take much. If the Commodores can simply keep games like this one competitive, that will be a marked improvement. For three quarters, the game will go back and forth before the Hilltoppers solidify their lead late. The Commodores try to win the game with this, but may come up just short of that effort. Western Kentucky 38, Vanderbilt 34