Vanderbilt Football: 2015 Season Preview

facebooktwitterreddit

When media, coaches, and players assembled in Birmingham, Alabama for the 2015 SEC Media Days,  the media predicted the winner of the SEC Championship as well as divisional winners.  The top six finishers in both the SEC East and West, as well as Mississippi State, have been covered so far in this series.

Georgia (166), Auburn (108) and Alabama (92) ran away with the first place division votes.  Tennessee (36) was far behind, but also fairly well ahead of most of the other teams in the SEC.  The next closest team was Missouri (20).  After Missouri, no team received more than 10 first place division votes (LSU). Arkansas (6) leads the rest of the SEC teams, though none of them are viewed as serious threats to win their division by the media.

While Ole Miss (3) received less first place votes than Texas A&M (4), more voters still predicted the Rebels would finish ahead of the Aggies.  Mississippi State (2) was projected to finish last in the SEC West in 2015.

More from SEC Football

In the SEC East, South Carolina (1) leads the bottom four of the SEC East.  There were two other teams that also received one first place vote, however.  Florida is a part of the group that received one first place vote in the SEC.  Overall they finished behind South Carolina and ahead of Kentucky (1).    Vanderbilt (the only team to have 0 first place votes) was picked to finish last in the SEC East.

After reaching 9 wins for two straight years under James Franklin in 2012 and 2013, the Commodores fell on hard times in 2014.  After winning a combined 9 conference games in 2012 and 2013, Vanderbilt went winless in the SEC in 2014.  The troublesome signs were there from the beginning, as Vanderbilt was embarrassed at home 37-7 by Temple to kickoff the season.  Things never got better, as Vanderbilt limped to a 3-9 season under first year Head Coach Derek Mason.

The media does not seem to think things will change in 2015, as Vandy is projected to finish last in the division and conference as a whole.  What would need to happen for Vanderbilt to not finish last and possibly squeak into a bowl game?  How bad could it get?

What Needs to go Right . . .

It is important to note that as much as this section is going to be about what needs to go right for Vanderbilt, it could also be called “what needs to go wrong for the other SEC East teams.”  That is the situation for Vanderbilt this year.  In order for them to climb out of the cellar and potentially make a bowl, other teams will certainly have to have disappointing seasons.  To begin, Vanderbilt’s offense must improve.  According to Saturday Down South, Vanderbilt’s offense ranked 122nd in total offense.  The worst of the offensive woes was the quarterback situation.  4 different players started at quarterback for Vandy (Patton Robinette, Stephen Rivers, Johnny McCrary and Wade Freebeck), but none impressed.  Using vucommodores.com depth chart and statistics, only McCrary threw for more

Nov 22, 2014; Starkville, MS, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores quarterback Johnny McCrary (2) drops back to pass the ball during the game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Davis Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

touchdowns than interceptions in 2014 (9-8).  This is obviously an important position that must be fixed for Vanderbilt to have a shot at success in 2015.  The other improvement is the coaching.   As Chris Low of ESPN.com    reported, Mason made massive overhauls to his coaching staff.  The two biggest changes were that he replaced both his offensive and defensive coordinators.   Mason was able to nab Andy Ludwig (Wisconsin) for his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.  It is an impressive hire, as Low reports that Ludwig has also been an offensive coordinator at Cal, Oregon, San Diego State, Fresno State and Utah.  A veteran coordinator is a huge plus for a marginally experienced head coach.  Mason put himself in the defensive coordinator spot for 2015.  If he can replicate the success in that position he had while he was at Stanford, Vanderbilt has a shot.  If the defense is not drastically improved, Vandy will struggle and  Mason will be on the job hunt in 2016.

What Could go Wrong . . .

Just like the previous section could have been written under a different title, this one could be written under the title “What if Everything goes as Expected . . .” instead.  Expectations for Vanderbilt are low in 2015.  They are not projected to challenge for a bowl or even 6th in the SEC East.  The most positive note on the personnel side is the hope that Johnny McCrary can improve the quarterback situation.  According to vucommmodores.com, the 2014 SEC Freshman of the Week (Nov. 1) had the completion percentage, passing yards and passing touchdowns that topped all other quarterbacks.  While that stat line (51.3/985/9) is far from impressive, the fact that he only started the team’s final 5 games aids the impressiveness of his ability to top the other quarterbacks.  He also tied a school record with five touchdown passes against Old Dominion.  But if McCrary cannot put up those numbers against SEC competition (and many suspect he cannot), the Commodores will continue to sink in 2015.  Vanderbilt’s schedule  also does the ‘dores no favors.  Vanderbilt draws Ole Miss and Texas A&M from the SEC West and will likely lose both.  Their non-conference schedule consists of Western Kentucky, Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee and Houston.  Between Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee and Houston, losing two out of conference games is not out of the realm of possibility.  Vanderbilt could be improved in 2015 and still see their win total decline.

Worth Considering . . .

Derek Mason’s original staff at Vanderbilt was called “ . . . one of the most impressive staffs in Commodore history” by vucommodores.com.  He was again able to add some impressive names to his staff in 2015, but that will not mean anything if they are unable to improve on Vandy’s 3-win campaign from 2014.

Vanderbilt has gone backwards after enjoying success under James Franklin.  What is worse is that the majority of the SEC East should be improved in 2015.  South Carolina has the least reason to see an improvement, but most believe Steve Spurrier will find a way to make this season more successful than the last.

With the SEC East improving and Vanderbilt stuck in neutral, Vanderbilt finishing last in the SEC East is the safest SEC pick in 2015.  I would empty my savings on it were I a betting man.

More from Southbound and Down