Vanderbilt football: 10 bold predictions for the 2019 season
Let’s get bold.
Well, not too bold. Sorry, Vanderbilt fans. I’m not about to sit here and predict a 10-win season that ends with a New Year’s 6 Bowl. These are bold predictions, not drunk predictions.
That came off a bit mean. I think Vandy will be one of the more fun teams to watch this year because I think many a point will be scored whenever the Commodores are around (that’s two-fold).
So with that, here are my bold Vandy predictions for 2019:
1. Ke’Shawn Vaughn sets Vandy’s single-season rushing record and then some
Bold to say he’ll break it? Eh, not incredibly bold if Vaughn stays healthy. Reaching Ralph Webb’s 1,283 rushing yards almost happened last year for Vaughn, who had 1,244 to earn No. 2 on the single-season list. That was with 93 fewer carries than Webb, too. As long as Vaughn is healthy, 1,500 rushing yards is realistic for someone who had the most yards per carry in SEC play as a junior. “Sneak” hits 1,500 and caps a historic career in Nashville.
2. Jared Pinkey, Kalija Lipscomb combine for 2,000 receiving yards, 20 touchdowns
That’s saying a lot. Just for reference, Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Irv Smith Jr. combined for 2,025 yards and 21 touchdowns last year, and that was as good as any receiver-tight end combo in the country. And they had Tua Tagovailoa …. Last year, Pinkney and Lipscomb were at 1,690 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns, albeit with Kyle Shurmur at quarterback. Riley Neal’s ability to stretch the field will determine if 2,000/20 happens in 2019.
3. Vandy ranks among the top 10 nationally in increased attendance
What has 2 thumbs and just announced it’ll sell alcohol in general seating areas at its stadium? Vandy.
(Well, it doesn’t have 2 thumbs, but you get the point.)
I think that helps home attendance, as well as the promising offensive potential of this team. Fans want to see high-flying offenses. It also helps that Vandy’s first 2 home games are against Georgia and LSU, both of which have fan bases that travel well. Last year, the Commodores averaged an SEC-worse 28,045 fans. This year, with renovation plans in place and all of those aforementioned bump opportunities, Vandy can increase its home attendance by roughly 3,000 fans per contest and rank among the top 10 nationally in year-to-year improvement. I think that happens.
4. The Commodores beat Top 25 Kentucky
No Vaughn last year and Vandy still almost beat the Wildcats and their historic defense. With Vaughn this time around, I think the Commodores beat a better-than-expected Kentucky team for Mason’s first win against a Top 25 team since Kansas State in 2017.
5. This is Jason Tarver’s last year at Vandy
Here’s my thinking: I realize Tarver is Mason’s guy. Like, so much so that he let him live at this house when he hired him last year while he and his family transitioned from the move. But a couple of scenarios could yield this result. He could wildly surpass expectations and have other potential NFL opportunities — he spent 13 of his 15 years coaching at the NFL level — or he could struggle, and Mason could be put in a tough spot with a new athletic director. Would Mason outwardly fire Tarver? I doubt it, but a “mutual agreement to part ways” could be in store if the defense plummets in 2019.
6. Riley Neal is in the top 5 in the SEC in completion percentage
Someone who attempted over 1,200 passes at the FBS level is already a career 60% passer. I think Neal puts up a number even better than that with all the weapons he has to work with. Last year, No. 5 in the SEC in completion percentage was Drew Lock at 62.9%, so I suppose it’s not the boldest prediction on this list to say I think Neal exceeds that. But for someone who’s at the bottom of pretty much every SEC quarterbacks power ranking, that’d be significant.
7. A top 40 offense is in Nashville
That’s my way of saying I believe Vandy’s offense will rank in the top 1/3 in FBS. That’d be a significant jump from a group that was No. 71 last year with a lot of the same pieces. Again, that was with Shurmur. The Big 3, if healthy, should be able to fuel a potent group that has plenty of 40-point performances this year. Last year, a top 40 offense produced 32 points per game. This group should absolutely do that.
8. … but a near No. 100 defense is also in Nashville
That’s my way of saying I believe Vandy’s defense will rank in the bottom 1/4 (about No. 95 or worse) in FBS. I have major concerns about a group that lost a ton of key defensive pieces (Vandy ranks No. 119 in percentage of returning defensive production). That’s what will make 2019 Vandy feel like 2017-18 Ole Miss. The defense will limit the team’s overall potential and make it a frustrating, “what could’ve been” season.
9. Tennessee ends the streak
Hey, considering recent history, isn’t it bold to predict the Vols to beat Vandy? Perhaps I’m asking the wrong audience that question. The Vols finally have the size up front to impose their will against Vandy and Jeremy Pruitt’s defense gets after Neal.
10. Vandy sets a program NFL Draft record
Never in the modern era has Vandy had 3 offensive players drafted in the same year. I think the Big 3 changes that this year. Vaughn and Pinkney are both picked on Day 2 and Lipscomb is a Day 3 guy who many consider to be a nice late-round steal. Shoot, I’ll even take it a step further. Pinkney becomes the highest Commodore drafted since tackle Chris Williams went No. 14 in 2008.
It turns out to be a nice, fitting sendoff for a trio that opted for 1 more year in Nashville.