The Vanderbilt Commodores made a bowl game last year. For a school that’s not known for slinging the pigskin, this was a big accomplishment. The challenge now is to build on that and take another step forward this year.
First and foremost, four-year starting quarterback Kyle Shurmur is off to the Kansas City Chiefs and trying to win a roster spot there. The battle this year is between Ball State Cardinals transfer Riley Neal and Deuce Wallace, and coach Derek Mason says he will not announce a starter prior to the opener against the Georgia Bulldogs.
On the bright side, running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn returns, and top wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb is back, so the cupboard for the new quarterback is not exactly bare. The expectation should be that Vaughn will carry the load while the new quarterback gets acclimated, and Lipscomb will catch some passes and do work in the open field. Tight end Jared Pinkney is also back. Pinkney caught 50 passes last year for 774 yards and hauled in seven touchdowns.
Here is where things get a little tricky for the ‘Dores. Two of their top three tacklers are gone in Jordan Griffin and LaDarius Wiley. Dimitri Moore, who recorded 84 tackles last year will be asked to step up and become The Guy.
Leading sack man Kenny Hebert is back. He recorded just 14 tackles last year, and four of them were sacks. He is the definition of a pass rusher. Defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo will look to take a step forward as well. He recorded 28 tackles last year with 6.5 TFL and 2.5 sacks. Both starting safeties are back as well. The defense has some questions, but thankfully Derek Mason can coach defense.
The schedule makers sure didn’t do the Commodores any favors. They open with Georgia at home, travel to West Lafayette to face the Purdue Boilermakers and get a bye week before the LSU Tigers come to Nashville. It lessens for a week with Northern Illinois, then the first conference road game in Oxford against Ole Miss. Other games include at Florida, at South Carolina, and at Tennessee. At least they don’t play the Alabama Crimson Tide?
Prediction: 4-8 (1-7 SEC)