Head Coach: Derek Mason
2018 Record: 6-7, 3-5 Conference
Bowl: 38-45 Loss to Baylor at Texas Bowl
O/U 5 wins (O +110, U -140)
To Make Final 4: +90000
Vanderbilt made its second bowl in three seasons, and it tallied 17 wins over that three-year stretch. It also defeated Tennessee three-straight times, while still falling to record a winning season under Derek Mason. So, there has been progressing, but it certainly has not reached its pinnacle. The defense has regressed each of the last two seasons, and while Mason has been something of success he also might find himself on the hot seat soon if some actual improvement fails to come with this 2019 campaign.
Kyle Shurmur exits at QB as the school’s career passing leader, and he will be replaced by senior Riley Neal. Neal enrolled as a graduate transfer, and he completed 60 percent of his looks for 7,393 yards while at Ball State. His backup Deuce Wallace is still in the picture, as a fourth-year junior who has more experience with Commodore style football. Neal has a better game resume thus far.
Vandy has lined up a lot of talent at the skill positions for whoever ultimately claims the starting role. Running back KeShawn Vaughn and wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb are both excellent, while tight end Jared Pinkney gives one more premier option for Vandy to expect big plays from. Vaughn spent his first two seasons at Illinois and he had one of the best second-halves in 2018 in the NCAA. In his final four games, he rushed for 724 yards with a 9.2 yard-per-carry average, while Lipscomb caught 87 passes, though he did average just 10.5 yards-per-catch (down from over 16 the year prior). Pickney is the best NFL prospect on the offensive unit, and he was just one of two tight ends last year with 50+ catches and a 15-yards-per-catch average.
Vandy also has sophomore WRs CJ Bolar and Amir Abdur-Rahman. Redshirt freshman Cam Johnson will get PT, as well. All three are strong passing options in the SEC, but the offensive line has to be better and it also has to replace three players that started 34 games between them last season.
Vanderbilt improved its scoring defense to allowing just 26.6 points per game last year, which was nearly a five-point improvement over the 2017 season. It did rank in the cellar of SEC run defense, though, and it was horrible stopping third downs. More size and depth on the DL will help improve this, and the recruiting class was strong at addressing these areas. The DL does return Dayo Odeyingbo, Drew Birchmeier, and Cameron Tidd. It will be vital that the Commodores can incorporate three newcomers in Brandon Maddox (JUCO transfer), Daevion Davis, and Eddie Zinn-Turner (graduate transfer).
At linebacker, Vandy is hoping for an actual stud and playmaker, having lacked on the last three seasons really. Dimitri Moore (No. 2 in tackles last year) and Alston Orji (top 2018 recruit) are the best options for making this happen, but the secondary is also lacking top-end talent. It has enough depth, but its mediocrity is just one more question for Vandy with Mason preferring depth over a couple of supreme talents. It is a stranger approach, but the results have been coming with Vanderbilt’s steady defensive improvement under his coaching.
Ryley Guay had his troubles as a placekicker, making just 13 of 22 field goals, including three misses from within 30-yards. Harrison Smith and Jared Wheatley will compete for punting opportunities, while Justice Shelton-Mosley should be the top returner as a grad transfer. The field goal issues loom as a major concern.
Vanderbilt’s loss of Shurmur lowers the expectations, and the defense has struggled in a tough conference for that to be a team’s weakness. The rebuild might not show results until 2020, and this will be a rough season for Vandy even with the strength it has at the offensive skill positions.
Prediction: 5 wins