1. Given key losses on offense like Riley Neal and Ke’Shawn Vaughn, how should we expect Vanderbilt’s new-look offense to play this coming season?
Andrew Spanel: As a person who watched a lot of Arkansas Razorback football last year, it is shocking that a team in the SEC was actually worse on offense than the Hogs. However, it’s even more worrying this season for Vanderbilt since they have to replace almost all of their skill positions starting at quarterback. Whether that’s Mike Wright or Ken Seals, it’s likely going to be a true freshman running for his life.
Josh Rothenberg: Is bad an acceptable answer? Not only do they lose Neal and Vaughn, but stud pass-catchers Kalija Lipscomb and Jared Pinkney. In a year with limited practice time and no opportunities to warm up against non-SEC opposition, this is a less than ideal situation for Derek Mason’s crew. Whoever wins the quarterback job, most likely Ken Seals, will likely be asked to create plays out of nothing a lot of the time. If the QB can step in and handle life on the run, they may have a chance. If not, you might want to look away.
Chris Novak: They’ll likely have their work cut out for them this year. There just doesn’t seem to be enough talent on this team offensively to compensate for the losses of Neal, Vaugh, Lipscomb and Pinkney. Josh brings up the point about practice time or lack thereof, and it’s a strong one. They’re gonna have an uphill battle pretty much at every turn this season.
Robert O’Neill: It’s really tough to imagine Vanderbilt making any sort of noise this year, or even winning a game. At least last season they had Vaughn and not a complete SEC schedule. This year? Yikes. It’s not ideal.
2. Defense will likely be the strength of this team with several seniors like Dayo Odeyingbo and Dimitri Moore still hanging around. How do you see this side of the ball playing this year?
Andrew: Despite Derek Mason’s background as a defensive coordinator, defense has been slipping over the last few years at Vandy. This year they bring in former Auburn DC, Ted Roof, and I think he should help. During his last stop at Appalachian State, the Mountaineers only gave up 20 points per game. Hopefully, they can get aggressive on that side of the ball.
Josh: The strength of this Vanderbilt defense lies in the front seven, where Odeyingbo and Moore lead an experienced group. Seniors Drew Birchmeier and Cameron Tidd along with transfers from Florida and Oklahoma, Malik Langham and Derek Green, provide both starting experience and legitimate P5-level depth. Along with leading tackler Moore, the linebacker corps also returns Andre Mintze, who led the Commodores with 4.5 sacks. If the offense can stay on the field enough to prevent them from getting worn out, and the secondary can take some small steps, Derek Mason and Ted Roof should be able put a solid defense out on the field.
Chris: I think it really depends on what the front seven does, as Josh alludes to. That’s where the strength of this team really lies, especially with Odeyingbo. Unfortunately with the offensive struggles likely coming their way, this unit may simply suffer from being on the field too often, so they’ll likely be a tired unit almost each and every game.
Robert: I agree with everyone else here. It definitely comes down to the front seven. If they are able to continue to develop and move along, Vandy could be OK defensively. If not, yikes.
3. Name a player you expect to be a possible surprise breakout for this team on either offense or defense.
Andrew: I’m using this term loosely, but receiver Cam Johnson should be getting some passes thrown his way.
Josh: I’m not sure how much of a surprise it is, or how much of a breakout it will actually be, but Jamauri Wakefield seems to be fully healthy after missing a lot of last year. He more than anyone seems likely to become a leader on the offensive side of the ball. As Andrew mentioned, Cam Johnson will have a good opportunity to become the next clear #1 receiver.
Chris: In an attempt to dare to be different, let me see what Andre Mintze does this year. Last year he was the team-leader in sacks and was up near the top in hurries. I think he could piece together a really solid season in 2020.
Robert: I’m actually going to go with a member of the secondary here. Safety Tae Daley led the team with three interceptions and finished third on the ‘Dores with 57 tackles last season. If the offense struggles and the defense is on the field more often, there will be plenty of chances for Daley to boost those numbers.
4. Vandy went backwards in 2019, going 3-9 after going 6-7 in 2018. Do you foresee them going over 3.5 wins this coming season?
Andrew: You might want to set that line a bit lower, chief. Their only chances are against the two Mississippi schools and Missouri, but I don’t see any one of these schools having a season bad enough to lose to Vandy.
Josh: I would be very surprised if they came close, to say the least.
Chris: I’m not certain they do, to be honest. I think this team will just have way too many offensive issues. Maybe they get lucky once or twice this season. But the cupboard is just too barren.
Robert: Not one bit. They are perhaps the worst team in the SEC.
5. What is your prediction for this squad in 2020?