2010 Record: 2-10
2010 Bowl Result: N/A
2010 Against the spread: 3-9
2010 over/under: 6-6
Returning starters: 19 (11 offense, 8 defense)
Throughout August we are releasing pre-season previews for all the major college teams. Our College Football Handicappers are doing plenty of research to make sure we release winners every week during the upcoming season.
Last season Vanderbilt was one of the worst teams in the country. The Commodores were 2-10, and finished last in the SEC in offense, defense, scoring, run defense, and pass efficiency. New coach James Franklin looks to turn around a program that has had two winning seasons since 1980. Franklin has said he wants to emulate the success that Stanford and Northwestern have had recently. Both are relatively small private institutions that have been able to create a nice balance between high academic standards and success on the football field. Vanderbilt returns 19 starters including all 11 on offense, so they should improve on the 2-10 record from a year ago. Although, in the rugged SEC that might be easier said than done.
Here is a look at Vanderbilt’s offense, defense, special teams, and schedule.
Not surprisingly for a team that was 2-10 last year, Vanderbilt’s offense was anemic. They ranked #110 out of 120 teams in yards per game with 302.6 yards a game and #112 in scoring 16.9 points a game. The passing game averaged 159.4 yards a game and the rushing game averaged 143.2 yards a game.
Franklin brought in John Donovan to run the offense. Donovan has said he wants to open up the passing game more. That of course starts with the quarterback position. Senior Larry Smith and junior Jordan Rodgers, who is the brother of the Packers’ Aaron, are expected to split the snaps this year. Smith completed 47.4% of his passes last year for 1,262 yards, 6 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He split time with Jared Funk at quarterback. Smith led the Commodores in carries with 105 for 248 yards and 4 touchdowns. Rodgers might not be as talented as his brother, but he is still generating a ton of buzz. He missed all of last season with a shoulder injury. He led Butte Junior College to a national title in 2008 before coming to Vanderbilt. Expect Smith to get most of the snaps until Rodgers adjusts to the offense, but Rodgers is the more talented quarterback if healthy.
Junior Warren Norman broke the SEC all-purpose yards by a freshman record two seasons ago. He regressed as a sophomore but did miss the last month of the season with a hand injury. Norman had 77 carries, 459 yards, and 4 touchdowns before the injury. Junior Zac Stacy will be the back-up. He also missed most of November with a concussion. Stacy had 66 carries, 331 yards, and 3 touchdowns before the injury. Sophomore Wesley Tate filled in last year when both backs were injured. He had 40 carries for 140 yards and no touchdowns. He will get more touches this year. Also, all three will catch a few balls out of the backfield. The three combined for 25 catches for 167 yards, but no touchdowns last year. If the three backs can stay healthy, and get some help from the offensive line, Vanderbilt has the potential to be explosive running the ball. They showed flashes of dominance last year running for 205 yards against Eastern Michigan and 202 against Kentucky.
The Commodores spread the ball around last season with 8 players catching at least 10 passes and no player had more than 34 catches last season. Senior tight end Brandon Barden was the top receiver with 34 receptions, 425 yards, and 3 touchdowns. Senior Austin Monahan is the back-up tight end. He missed all of last season with a leg injury, but if healthy can be a dangerous receiver.
Junior John Cole is the leading returning wide receiver. He had 25 catches, 317 yards, and a score last year. Sophomore Jordan Matthews had 15 catches, 181 yards, and 4 touchdowns as a freshman last year. Sophomore Jonathan Krausse had 24 catches for 243 yards. He didn’t score as a receiver but did have 6 carries for 121 yards,a nd 2 scores on option plays. Redshirt freshman Chris Boyd, Senior Udom Umuh, and sophomore Brady Brown will also get targets.The passing game will do much better with Rodgers under center as Smith is a much better runner than a passer.
The offensive line returns all 5 starters from last year, but the unit allowed 36 sacks and wasn’t good at run blocking either. Depth could be a problem as the roster is pretty thin after the 5 starters. Junior RT Ryan Seymour si the best player on the line. He had a shoulder injury early last year but recovered to become the anchor of the line. The line should improve this year, but has a long way to go to even be competent.
Like the offense, the defense struggled badly last year. They gave up 422.4 yards a game which ranked #95 in the country. The pass defense gave up 226.2 yards a game and the rush defense was shredded for 196.2 yards a game. The pass defense was ranked #75 in the country but if teams could rush for almost 200 yards a game, they didn’t really need to pass the ball. Vanderbilt gave up 31.2 points a game last season. The Commodores return 8 starters this year.
The defense will improve this year under new coordinator Bob Shoop, but like the rest of the team has a long way to go. The pass rush should be a lot better this season led by senior LB Chris Marve. The strength will be the secondary led by Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson. The defense has to play better against the run and improve on third downs.
Junior Ryan Fowler returns as the kicker after hitting on 8 out of 13 field goals last year. He didn’t make one kick over 31 yards last year. He isn’t very accurate from over 40 but has the leg to kick from 50.
Junior Richard Kent returns as the punter after a great year as a sophomore. He averaged 41.8 yards per punt and forced 21 fair catches and landed 27 inside the 20.
Warren Norman will return kicks. He averaged 25 yards per return last season before the injury sidelined him. As a freshman he had 3 touchdowns on kickoff returns. Zac Stacy and John Cole will return punts. Cole averaged 7.9 yards per return last year.
Vanderbilt opens with 3 straight home games against Elon, UConn, and Ole Miss. They have a chance to equal their win total from last year in those three games as Connecticut is rebuilding and Ole Miss is coming off a 4 win season, but neither is a guaranteed win for Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt travel to South Carolina and then Alabama after the home stand. The Commodores have another three game home stand after that with games against Georgia, Army and Arkansas. They close with 3 out their last 4 on the road, including trips to Florida, Tennessee, and Wake Forest, sandwiched around a home game against Kentucky. Vanderbilt will not be favored in any game except Elon (if you can even find a place that will book it), Army and maybe Ole Miss. Even if they win those two and upset some combination of Connecticut, Ole Miss, Kentucky and Wake Forest, I don’t see any more than 4 wins for this team. Even that might be a stretch.
Not only was Vanderbilt 2-10 straight up last year but they were 3-9 against the spread. The Commodores were 2-5 ATS at home and 1-4 on the road. The over/under was 6-6 including 3-4 at home and 3-2 on the road.
Game to play Vanderbilt
Last season one of Vanderbilt’s two wins came at Ole Miss 28-14. This year the Rebels come to Nashville. Vanderbilt should have enough to win a close game. Neither team will be favored by more than 3 or 4 points in this contest.
Game to play against Vanderbilt
Take your pick. Last season, Vanderbilt lost by 2 points to Northwestern but every other game was decided by 14 points or more. Vanderbilt will be better this year, but they will still get beaten badly by SEC powers like South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida.
Check out our college football odds page for the best line on every game.