Head Coach: Derek Mason
2014 record: 3-9 overall, 0-8 SEC East
2014 Postseason results: None
2015 returning starters: 8 offense, 9 defense
Odds to win 2016 College Football Championship game: 1200/1
Odds to win 2015 SEC Championship Game: 300/1
Odds to Win 2015 SEC East Division: 40/1
Regular season wins: under 3 -130 /over 3 +100
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Under previous coach James Franklin, the Vanderbilt Commodores had gone to three straight bowl games for the first time in program history. Franklin left to become the head coach at Penn State before last season. Last season, under his replacement Derek Mason, the Commodores went 3-9 in a miserable season. The only wins were over Massachusetts, Charleston Southern and Old Dominion. Apart from a 7 point loss to rival Tennessee, every other loss was by double digits.
Seventeen starters are back for Mason and the Commodores. There should be some improvement but how much in a very difficult SEC is in question.
Last year, Vanderbilt was completely inept on offense. The Commodores averaged 289 yards per game on offense, including 179 passing and 110 rushing yards. Vanderbilt averaged 17 points a game. The Commodores were #107 or lower out of 128 teams in all four categories. It also didn’t help that the Commodores were -16 in turnovers with 29 giveaways.
Mason fired offensive coordinator Karl Dorrell and hired Andy Ludwig who had been the OC at Wisconsin. Eight starters are back on offense for Ludwig.
Vanderbilt used four quarterbacks last year, because all four struggled to say the least. Two of those quarterbacks are gone. Patton Robinette has graduated and Stephen Rivers has moved on to FCS school Northwestern State. That leaves sophomores Johnny McCrary and Wade Freebeck to compete for the starting job in 2015. Both could see action this season as neither took control of the competition in spring practice. McCrary completed 51.3% of his passes for 985 yards with 9 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Freebeck threw for 376 yards with a touchdown and 5 interceptions.
Running back Ralph Webb is back after rushing for 907 yards on 212 carries with 4 touchdowns, and also making 10 catches. Sophomore Dallas Rivers rushed for 218 yards on 61 carries with 2 touchdowns and will get most of the back-up carries. The Commodores are thin at running back behind Webb and Rivers, if anything were to happen to either.
Tight end Stephen Scheu had 39 catches for 525 yards and 4 touchdowns last year. He broke his leg in spring practice though and might not be ready for the regular season. Receiver C.J. Duncan, a converted quarterback, had 28 catches for 441 yards and 4 touchdowns last season as a freshman. Junior Latevius Rayford had 36 catches for 350 yards and a touchdown. Chandler Dorrell, Trent Sherfield and Ronald Monroe will also get some catches.
The offensive line was supposed to be a strength in 2014 but the line underachieved. They struggled in pass protection and run blocking. Four starters are back in 2015 and Mason expects improvement.
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Last year, the Vanderbilt defense allowed 402 yards per game including 218 passing and 184 rushing yards. The Commodores were #107 in points allowed at 33 per game. The defense had to stay on the field for long stretches due to the offense being so terrible. Nine starters are back for Mason who serves as his own defensive coordinator.
Ends Adam Butler and Caleb Azubike are back on the defensive line. Jay Woods and Nifae Lialao should split time at the nose tackle. There is a lot of potential here but they need to get a better pass rush.
Three starters are back for the linebackers. On the outside Stephen Weatherly had 12.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks last year. Inside linebackers Nigel Bowden and Darreon Herring are also back. Bowden led the team with 78 tackles. True freshman Josh Smith could make an impact immediately especially at the other outside linebacker position where there is an opening.
The secondary returns 4 players with starting experience. Corners Torren McGaster & Taurean Ferguson, and safeties Andrew Williamson & Jahmal McIntosh are all back. McIntosh might be bumped from his starting spot by Oren Burks though.
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Kicker Tommy Openshaw made 8 of 11 field goals last year. Punter Colby Cooke averaged 42.6 yards per punt but was hurt by the terrible punt coverage team. The Commodores were last in the SEC in net punting yards at 36 yards per punt. Darrius Sims returned two kickoffs for touchdowns last season and will handle those duties again in 2015. Trey Ellis will return punts again.
Vanderbilt opens with three straight home games against Western Kentucky, Georgia, and Austin Peay. The Commodores close out September at Mississippi. October includes road games at Middle Tennessee, South Carolina, and Houston, along with a home game against Missouri. In November, Vanderbilt has road games at Florida and Tennessee, and home games against Kentucky and Texas A&M.
There are certainly winnable games on the schedule, but unless the offense improves drastically it might not matter. If they can get anything at all from the offense, I think this team can win five games. Perhaps they can even flirt with a bowl berth.
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