The Vanderbilt football outlook for 2016 season. The Commodores have the experience now, and they might have the opportunity to do something big.
Vanderbilt, you basically have one more shot at this before the SEC East figures out just how good it really is.
It’s been a slow change in the lesser of the two SEC divisions, but the window is still open after Missouri shocked the league with two East titles before Florida managed to get to the SEC championship last season without an offense. Vandy doesn’t have enough in the bag to win the division, but in terms of coming up with a strong season, this is when it needs to happen.
James Franklin was able to take advantage of soft schedules in 2010 and 2011 with two straight bowl appearances – just one of the Commodores 15 wins over that span came against an FBS team that finished with a winning record. This year, Derek Mason doesn’t have it all that easy, but the slate is just good enough, the East just light enough, and the team is just experienced enough to get back to a bowl.
With South Carolina, Missouri and Georgia undergoing coaching changes, Kentucky being Kentucky, and Florida still likely without much of an offense, Tennessee appears to be the favorite, but that doesn’t mean Vanderbilt can’t rise up and make a little bit of noise if the defense is up to last year’s snuff.
The Commodore D did everything it could to keep the season alive, allowing just 21 points per game while standing on its head in a 9-7 loss to Florida and 14-12 defeat to a high-powered WKU team. Those two came down to two heartbreaking plays. If those go the other way – Vandy goes 6-6 and it’s a totally different narrative coming into the season.
No one’s expecting miracles out of Mason, but after undergoing a massive youth movement when he first got started – and with even more underclassmen playing key roles last season – this is not a veteran team with 16 starters returning and hope for a lot more production, especially on offense.
The O averaged just over 15 points a game and struggled just to keep drives going. After plenty of auditions, the quarterback situation finally appears to be settled for a while with sophomore Kyle Shurmur a talent who has the help he needs with Ralph Webb running the ball and a good-looking receiving corps ready to do more.
The defense should be a killer with a loaded linebacking corps and a veteran secondary that should put the clamps down. This is Mason’s specialty, and at the very least, his D will keep the team in most games. And that’s all the Commodores need – a chance.
Georgia, Ole Miss and Tennessee might be the three teams on the schedule that Vandy can’t hang with, but even on the right day, the defense might be good enough to make those games interesting.
But soon, the division big boys will get their groove back and it’ll be even harder to fight through the league play week after week. It’s not a now-or-never situation for Mason, but now is the time to start making a bigger mark.