Vanderbilt fighting for respect
This is the second of SEC football preview series:
Vanderbilt made it to a bowl game in 2016 and Commodore fans are expecting the same this season.
Derek Mason’s third year was a thriller for Vanderbilt by beating Georgia, Ole Miss and Tennessee and qualifying for the Independence Bowl.
But their high hopes may come crashing down as the experts are predicting a 4-8 finish.
The Commodores have a win probablity of more than 50 percent in four games: at Middle Tennessee (75.7), Alabama A@M (99.8) and Western Kentucky (81.1) and SEC foe Missouri (54.0).
Vanderbilt could have a chance against Kansas State (45.6) and Kentucky (47.7).
If the Commodores can find two wins there, then Vanderbilt will go bowling again.
But their chances for any other upset wins are slim and none with games against Alabama (8.9), at Florida (16.2), Georgia (25.5), at Ole Miss (34.0), at South Carolina (30.5) and at Tennessee (18.9).
So what is the good news for the Commodores?
Quarterback Kyle Shurmur surged down the stretch, flourishing in wins over Ole Miss (273 yards, two TDs) and Tennessee (416 yards, two TDs).
Shurmur and Vanderbilt had a bad showing against North Carolina State in the Independence Bowl, falling 41-17 to finish 6-7 on theseason.
If Ralph Webb, who ran for more than 1,000 yards in the last two seasons, and Shurmur can continue to inprove then the offense has a chance to shine.
Receiver Caleb Scott averaged 22.7 yards on his 10 receptions in the final three regular-season games and finished with 466 yards on 24 catches.
The Commodore defense finished in the top half of the SEC in both yards (sixth) and points (tied for fifth) allowed per game.
They excelled in red zone defense and big-play prevention.
But they had Zac Cunningham – the best defensive player ever to wear the Vanderbilt uniform.
Senior Oren Burks will be tasked with replacing Cunningham at inside linebacker.
The secondary figures to be the strength of the defense. Depending on the formation, the Commodores will at times have five seniors on the field at the same time. “
Senior nose tackle Nifae Lealao anchors the defensive line that could be the difference between four wins and a bowl bid.
But an off-the-field incident could hurt the Commores heading into 2017.
Mason recently indefinitely suspended three players who were involved in a recent shooting at a Target store in Nashville, which occurred when they tried to recover one of the player’s stolen cell phone.
Sophomore wide receiver Donaven Tennyson, redshirt freshman cornerback Frank Coppet and freshman safety Tae Daley have been suspended from all football activities, according to the university.
Time will tell the impact of their departures.
Sept 2 at M. Tennessee
Sept 9 Alabama A&M
Sept 16 Kansas State
Sept 23 Alabama
Sept 30 at Florida
Oct 7 Georgia
Oct 14 at Mississippi
Oct 28 at South Carolina
Nov 4 W. Kentucky
Nov 11 Kentucky
Nov 18 Missouri
Nov 25 at Tennessee