Vanderbilt Season Win Total Prediction
Not surprisingly, head coach Derek Mason has Vanderbilt’s defense humming. The question remains whether those on the other side of the ball can step up and help the program go bowling again.
A 4-8 finish in 2015 likely failed to make an impression on many national types, but people familiar with the school noticed a difference on the gridiron. The Commodores triumphed over SEC East rivals Missouri and Kentucky in Mason’s second year at the helm, and nearly knocked off Florida. Vandy genuinely improved on a weekly basis.
With 12 starters back, logic dictates further strides this fall. Online sports book Bovada.lv projects the squad for six victories. There’s reason to believe, however, that the Commodores’ upside could be even greater.
Let’s begin with Mason’s specialty, a D that ranked No. 28 in college football last season. Zach Cunningham is an emerging star at the second level. He paced the team with 103 tackles and should shatter that mark as a junior. The ever-stalwart Stephen Weatherly migrated to the NFL, but Mason’s about to unveil a plan to offset the loss of No. 45. Essentially, Oren Burks stands to inhabit a new position. He’ll serve as a hybrid defensive back/linebacker against spread offenses. Mason’s 3-4 alignment thus adds another wrinkle for which adversaries must account.
In terms of pressure, Nifae Lealao, Jay Woods and Adam Butler bring it in spades. The front four’s ability to bend around the edge also simplifies the mission for the secondary, where Mason loves to rotate personnel. Immense excitement surrounds the arrival of Joejuan Williams, and justifiably so. Yet senior Torren McGaster continues to provide the most imposing presence on the back end.
Now comes the part of the preview that demands parental guidance. Vanderbilt was downright scary with respect to moving the rock a season ago, ranking 117th in the country in total offense and 124th in scoring offense. Kyle Shurmur drew five of the final six assignments at quarterback, tossing five touchdowns and three interceptions in that span. Wade Freebeck may see significant snaps in the Sept. 1 opener vs. South Carolina, too, as OC Andy Ludwig strives to identify the best long-term solution there.
Thankfully, Ralph Webb has the tailback gig on lock. After racking up 907 yards as a freshman, the Gainesville native’s encore consisted of a 1,152-yard campaign. If only his buddies on the outside were capable of presenting more thunder. Nobody’s asking C.J. Duncan to channel Jordan Matthews, but the 5-foot-11 target needs to demonstrate that he’s healthy and ready to create some vertical chaos. Given the youth at signal-caller, tight ends DeAndre Woods and Jared Pinkney have to rise to the occasion as well.
Up front, Andrew Jelks and Justin Skule offer strong, sturdy protection. Assorted injuries compromised the O-line’s cohesiveness last year, so anticipate much progress in that department. In fact, bank on a considerable amount of growth across the board. Vandy’s legitimately prepared to capitalize on a relatively weak group of common foes and nab a bowl bid for the first time since 2013.
MONDAY COLLEGE FOOTBALL FREE PICK: VANDERBILT COMMODORES OVER 6 WINS (+170)