Vanderbilt has plenty of new ink in their football record book.
For the first time in the history of the program, the Commodores played in back-to-back bowl games, and their nine-win season tied the single-season team record last accomplished in 1915. The only other team in Commodore history to reach five SEC wins in one season was in 1948, and the 2012 team matched that. The Commodores even finished ranked for the first time since ‘48.
But 2013 is a brand new year, and expectations and enthusiasm seem to be soaring among the fan base. Attendance is ever increasing, and this will be James Franklin’s best team in three seasons as the Commodores’ head coach.
What’s the ceiling for this up-and-coming program? Was 2012’s nine wins just a fluke?
Here are 10 reasons Vanderbilt can win 10 games in 2013:
1. Coaching staff remained intact
The only SEC coaching staff to remain intact for 2013 is the Commodores’ staff. Every other staff has either new head coaches or at least one new assistant coach this season. No coaching turnover will pay its dividends for James Franklin this season. Players are familiar with coaches, and coaches are familiar with players. That cohesiveness can equate to helping win more games. Despite multiple coaches on the staff being pursued by other programs, Franklin was able to retain them all.
2. Ball-hawking secondary
Vanderbilt had the SEC’s third best pass defense in 2012, behind only Alabama and Georgia. The Commodores allowed only slightly over 191 yards per game through the air and finished tied for a league-low seven passing touchdowns, and three of the four defensive backs return. Safeties Kenny Ladler and Javon Marshall and corner Andre Hal all return to give this group experience and playmakers. One area this group should improve upon is interceptions. The Dores made 11 INTs, and if that number jumps to 17 to 20 (they had 19 in 2011), it will allow the offense more opportunities to score points and create a shorter field. The defense is led by the talented secondary.
3. James Freaking Franklin
I’m a self-confessed ‘football guy’ when it comes to coaches. I want my coach to be a football guy, not necessarily a CEO-type. But James Franklin is one of the few CEO-types I’d hire yesterday. Franklin has built the brand and the program, and he has built the footprint of the future of the program. I’m still wondering how Maryland let Franklin get away. He’s innovative and enthusiastic, and he helps create energy around the program and around big games. And he won’t back down from a fight, either.
4. Fast start
It cannot be overstated how important a fast start would be for Vanderbilt. The Commodores host the Ole Miss Rebels opening night, and the Dores will be the favorite among the masses. The Rebels, however, were ranked in Sporting News’ top 25 earlier this week, and, like Vandy, have enthusiasm surrounding the program. If Franklin and the Commodores win opening night (they’ve lost the last two of three openers), then the schedule sets up almost perfectly to reel off nine wins in the regular season. With an opening night loss, we may not be having this conversation anymore.
5. Manageable schedule
The Commodores have the SEC’s 11th toughest schedule, which means it’s very manageable compared to the other 14 teams in the league. The four non-conference games scream four wins against Austin Peay, UMass, UAB and Wake Forest. Vandy usually plays South Carolina and Florida tough. Last year’s wins against Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee certainly seem attainable again. I could see eight regular season wins almost guaranteed, but getting the ninth means beating a ranked team.
6. Due for an upset
And speaking of the necessity of beating a ranked team, it’s imperative in 2013 if the Commodores want a shot at winning 10 games. South Carolina, Georgia, Texas A&M and Florida are the four preseason ranked teams, and three of them fall on the road, with Georgia being the lone home game. If Vandy wins every other game outside of these four, that’s only eight wins. And getting that ninth regular season win will be tough. Vandy didn’t beat a ranked team in 2012, and to really take that next step as a program, the Dores have to beat one of the big boys. They’re due.
7. Dynamic duo
One of college football’s most premier receiving duos lives in Nashville. Receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd combined for 144 catches for 2,097 yards and 13 touchdowns. That’s 36 more catches and 614 more yards than the next highest duo. Matthews passed up an opportunity in the NFL Draft to return to school, get his education and finish what he started. He’s projected to be a first-round pick next year. I like to call this duo the most dependable tandem in the SEC, and both will continue to carry this club on offense.
8. Special teams
Pardon me while I bore you with special teams. Vanderbilt returns the SEC’s leading kicker in Casey Spear, who made 83.3 percent of his attempts in 2012. A great kicker equates to winning close games. Just ask Florida. Punt returner Jonathan Krause also finished in the top five in return yards and returned two for touchdowns. Other than at wide receiver, the Commodores usually don’t have the players Florida, Georgia, South Carolina or Texas A&M have, and to make up for that, the Commodores have to do the little things – like special teams – in order to win a big game.
9. Better depth on both sides of the ball
Vanderbilt exited spring feeling better about being deeper on all aspects of their football team. The offensive line is deeper, a year more experienced and very versatile. Tackle Wesley Johnson is arguably the most versatile lineman in the SEC. Three backs in Wesley Tate, Brian Kimbrow and Jerron Seymour will fill the chasm left behind by Zac Stacy. The defensive backfield is set, along with an improving linebacker corps. The biggest void on defense lies at defensive tackle. And tackle is one position that must continue to improve throughout the season if 10 wins are obtainable. Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop will have his defensive line more athletic, but depth will have to continue to build. Still, playing an optimist, this group stands to be solid enough to be a top six or seven run defense.
One of the biggest factors in college football outside of just raw talent and great coaching is momentum. The mo-mo swings during games and throughout seasons are crucial for success, and right now the Commodores have the most momentum they’ve had in the history of the program.
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