SDS kicks off a series looking in-depth at teams and their biggest subplots heading into 2013. Up first: Vanderbilt.
- Mississippi State
- Ole Miss
- South Carolina
- Texas A&M
1. Becoming elite
James Franklin is building a legitimate program in Nashville. When offered to take other jobs around the country, Franklin elected to stay at Vanderbilt and remain loyal to the program that took a chance on him. Hats off to him for that decision, but it only makes him more attractive as a coach. The program notched back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time in history, along with finishing ranked for the first time since 1948. So, what’s the next step? The Commodores are looking to become an elite program, and it’s arguable whether or not there is enough talent assembled right now. In order to truly get the respect the program desires, 10 wins with an upset over a ranked team would do it. They have four chances in 2013 against South Carolina, Georgia, Texas A&M and Florida. But becoming elite doesn’t mean getting to the top; it means staying at the top. The Commodores kick off 2013 in the midst of a seven-game winning streak.
2. Run defense
In order to become elite, the run defense must make bigger strides. The secondary and linebacking corps are more than enough to make this a top-five overall defense in the SEC, but the one position that will make or break this unit is the defensive line. Three starters gone, headlined by Rob Lohr, are worrisome for Bob Shoop. DE Walker May, the lone returning starter, is a player, and DE Kyle Woestmann progressed throughout the season. But tackle impact and depth is a real concern. In order to become an elite team, the defensive line has to become elite. Vandy finished 8th in the SEC in run defense, but they somehow have to find a way to become a top-five run defense and finish near the 40-sack mark for the season.
3. A new leader
Quarterback Jordan Rodgers gives way to Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels in 2013. ACS only had 25 passing attempts last season, hardly enough sample size, and anytime there’s a new quarterback, there’s reason for worry. Franklin ultimately knows ACS is the key to the offense taking a step forward or backward, because he has all the necessary assembled talent around him to achieve success. He threw for 3,655 yards, 19 TDs and 13 INTs in two years at Wyoming. But the SEC is a whole new ball game, even for a quarterback with experience and talent around him.
SDS takeaway: For the Commodores to take the next step and become elite will be tough, but not impossible. Furthermore, this is Franklin’s best chance with key veteran players on both sides of the ball. After 2013, the Dores will lose as many as six starters on offense and seven on defense. Can they get to the top in 2013? Somehow, yes, but staying there will be quite challenging for the near future. It will be entertaining to see whether or not this group accomplishes their lofty goals in 2013.
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