Sports & Swag’s College Football Preview 2016 continues with our next team in the SEC power rankings. 13. Vanderbilt Commodores.
In 2015, the Vanderbilt Commodores made huge strides under the leadership of head coach Derek Mason. Especially, on the defensive side of the ball. As a result, Vandy improved from giving up 33 points per game in 2014 to just 21 per game last season. That’s a drastic improvement. Mason, has been known around the nation as a great defensive mind since his days at Stanford. Now, he’s showing it off at Vandy, in the nation’s best conference.
Mason, has recruited well in his two seasons in Nashville. But, most of that success has been on the defensive side of the ball. Not so much on the offensive side. Still, even with that, Vandy could be a very dangerous team this season. The record was 4-8 last season, but Vandy nearly beat Florida in The Swamp and gave Ole Miss all they wanted in Oxford. Imagine what they can do with just a little offensive production. Derek Mason definitely has the Vanderbilt Commodores on the upswing. But, will it be good enough to climb the SEC standings and make a bowl in 2016?
Let’s take a look at the 2016 Vanderbilt Commodores and find out.
#13. VANDERBILT COMMODORES 2015: 4-8 (2-6 SEC) Offense Rank – 13th (15.2 ppg) Defense Rank – 6th (21 ppg)
2016 Returning Starters: 8 Offense – 7 Defense
While, the defense wasn’t an issue last season, the same can’t be said about the offense. Quarterback has been a huge issue for Vandy for years. Besides, the days of Jay Cutler, it’s seemingly always been a struggle. The ‘Dores do have some experience at the position, as sophomore Kyle Shurmur, looks to be the starter. Shurmur, at 6-3, 223 lbs has a strong arm and is more of a pro-style QB. He started the final three games of last season and actually did some good things.
There is some experience at receiver. Vandy’s two leading receivers return. Juniors, Trent Sherfield and Caleb Scott return. But, they only combined for 75 catches and just over 1,000 yards in 2015. Next in line was Ralph Webb from his running back position.
Speaking of Webb, the junior was the 7th leading rusher (1152 yards) in the SEC for 2015. He added nearly 200 yards more in receptions. Webb, was easily the Commodores best weapon on offense. As a result, defenses will surely focus on stopping him. He’ll have to at least duplicate those 2015 numbers for Vandy to be successful. Providing depth will be Khali Blasingame, who moves over from linebacker and Darrius Sims.
The strength of the defense is a really good set of linebackers, led by inside backer, Zach Cunningham. He led Vandy in tackles with 103 in 2015, which was near the top of the SEC. This year, they get Nigel Bowden back. A freshman all-SEC selection in 2014, Bowden missed most of last season due to concussion symptoms. Oren Burks, moves to linebacker from safety to give the ‘Dores one of the SEC’s most underrated linebacker corps.
There’s experience up front as Vandy returns two Juniors and a senior in their 3-4 scheme. There’s also experience in the secondary with corners Trey Herndon and Torren McGaster returning. McGaster, finished near the top of the SEC with 13 pass breakups in 2015.
Tommy Openshaw, returns for place-kicking and punting duties, while Darrius Sims should be the choice to return punts and kicks. Sims, is very speedy and could be a dynamic returner. Sims, also provides depth at running back and receiver.
Like South Carolina, Vandy doesn’t have Bama or LSU on their schedule. They do get Ole Miss at home in November, and visit Auburn from the West. The ‘Dores open up with South Carolina at home. That game could end up being the difference in where each team places in the East standings.
Don’t be surprised if the Vanderbilt Commodores knock off someone they’re not supposed to, however. It’s also conceivable that Vandy could start the season 4-0. They could also be 2-2 or 1-3. Beating South Carolina and Middle Tennessee is a must. At least, splitting with Georgia Tech and Western Kentucky are important as well. Both those games are on the road, however. Getting off to a good start will be vital for a team with legit bowl aspirations like Vandy.
Here’s a look at the rest of the Vanderbilt Commodores 2016 schedule. Should be an interesting season in Nashville.