2014 CFN Preview - Vanderbilt Commodores
Vanderbilt RB Jerron Seymour
Vanderbilt RB Jerron Seymour
Posted Jun 4, 2014

CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2014 - Did the window close? Can Vandy ever do any better than last year? (Getty Images)

Vanderbilt Commodores

Preview 2014

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Head coach: Derek Mason
1st year
Returning Lettermen
Off: 19, Def. 21. ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 19
Ten Best Vandy Players
1. LB Darreon Herring, Jr.
2. DE/LB Kyle Woestmann, Sr.
3. RB Jerron Seymour, Jr.
4. C Joe Townsend, Sr.
5. LB Caleb Azeubike, Jr.
6. OT Andrew Jelks, Soph.
7. DT Adam Butler, Soph.
8. RB Brian Kimbrow, Jr.
9. LB Jake Sealand, Jr.
10. CB/KR Darrius Sims, Soph.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 28 Temple
Sep. 6 Ole Miss
Sep. 13 UMass
Sep. 20 South Carolina
Sep. 27 at Kentucky
Oct. 4 at Georgia
Oct. 11 Charleston Southern
Oct. 25 at Missouri
Nov. 1 Old Dominion
Nov. 8 Florida
Nov. 22 at Miss State
Nov. 29 Tennessee

Did Vanderbilt miss its window?

This isn't Duke worming its way through the ACC Coastal, and it's not Northwestern winning one or two key games and fighting for a big season. This is the SEC, and great seasons can still add up to a fat load of jack squat when it comes to actually competing for a championship.

Derek Mason could be Bill Belichick, Nick Saban and Vince Lombardi all wrapped up in one, but Vanderbilt is still in the SEC, it still has several disadvantages it has to overcome – even if James Franklin didn't ever want to hear any excuses about academic requirements or small school issues – and it still has to hope for the right breaks at the right time.

One problem: those breaks came last season.

Florida was a hot mess after suffering so many injuries, and Georgia was a shadow of its former self after getting banged up through the season. The Commodores let the Ole Miss game slip through its fingers late, had South Carolina and Missouri at home, and it didn't have to deal with Alabama, Auburn or LSU out of the West. A 9-4 season is impressive for a program not used to much consistent success, but that might have been the ceiling.

Franklin was a fire-breathing, no-nonsense, no-whining coach who came in demanding that Vanderbilt become a player in the SEC race, and while finishing fourth in a down SEC East might not have been what he was shooting for, it's still a hard act for Mason to follow.

Vanderbilt always rolls with the tide, and not the Alabama version. When the SEC is fantastic, the record usually reflects that going 4-20 in 2009 and 2010. When the Commodores can pull of a few upsets, and when the schedule isn't all that horrible, they go 18-8 in 2012 and 1013 with two midrange bowl wins. And that's okay.

Mason's main job will be to continually find the right parts to fit a system that works for his coaching staff and his team, and while Franklin-like energy might be a plus, it still comes down to execution. How can Vanderbilt compete with some of college football's elite teams in the best conference in America? It as to do everything right, and it needs a few magnetic players in key spots.

That could be a problem this year with star receiver Jordan Matthews gone and with an unsettled quarterback situation, but the offensive line should be a strength and there's good depth in the backfield to get the running game going early on. The passing attack might need a little while to come around.

The defense that was terrific against everyone except for the top offenses should be strong again up front in the new 3-4 alignment, but the secondary needs an overhaul. Franklin didn't leave the cupboard bare, but Mason and his staff have some work to do.

It might be tough to come up with a third straight nine-win season, but coming from Stanford, Mason knows what it takes to succeed at a smart school that has to work a little harder to succeed. Considering that just one of the last 13 Vanderbilt head coaches since 1953 come up with a winning season in his first campaign – Fred Pancoast in 1975, but you knew that – Mason might have to fight to open up that window again.

What to watch for on offense:
Offensive coordinator Karl Dorrell has to make the running game roll right away. The quarterback situation is a question mark, Jordan Matthews and Jonathan Krause are gone after catching 154 of the team's 243 catches, and the ground attack has to come up with a wee bit of consistency in a league full of loaded run defenses. The Commodores are 11-1 over the last three years when running for 200 yards or more, and last year they were able to get into the end zone with 34 rushing scores. Dorrell's top options are in the backfield with the 1-2 punch of Jerron Seymour and Brian Kimbrow, and Ralph Webb is starting to look like a nice option. With four starters returning up front, it's going to be ground and pound for a while.

What to watch for on defense: Welcome to the 3-4, and with it, some key moves. Kyle Woestmann was the team's top pass rusher last season, and now he'll move into more of a hybrid outside linebacker. The idea will be to generate even more pressure from several spots, and to rely on the linebackers to make lots and lots of plays. Derek Mason made stars out of the Stanford linebackers, and he turned Trent Murphy loose as a devastating force into the backfield from his spot on the outside. Woestmann will play a slightly different role, but the potential is there to be a statistical superstar for a defense that has a lot to live up to after finishing 23rd in the nation.

The team will be far better if… the offense starts coming up with third down conversions. The Commodores were positively dominant on fourth downs, going for it a whopping 28 times and converting on 22 of them, but they were put in the position time and again because the offense couldn't convert on third. Oddly enough, the Commodores got by Houston in the bowl win after converting just 2-of-17 third down chances, but for the most part, the offense struggled and sputtered converting just 33% of the time on the year. Time of possession wasn't a problem, but consistency was.

The Schedule: It's not a bad schedule, but here's the problem - where are the SEC wins going to come from? Non-conference play shouldn't be a fight with Temple, UMass, Charleston Southern and Old Dominion bringing in an almost-certain four wins, and then it's going to take a few upsets to get bowl eligible.

The 50/50 game against Kentucky is on the road, and while getting Ole Miss and Mississippi State from the West isn't getting Alabama and Auburn, they'll still be battles. The Commodores will have to get by South Carolina and/or Florida at home, and they can't slip against Tennessee. Can they win two of those three and also get by Georgia or Missouri on the road? It's not going to be easy.

Best offensive player: Junior RB Jerron Seymour. He's not going to have to carry the entire workload by himself with Brian Kimbrow and Ralph Webb talented and able to rotate in to keep everyone fresh, but he's going to be the main man with good speed and scooting ability through the hole. He's not big at just 5-6, but he's compact and can bring a little bit of power – he's terrific in short-yardage situations and around the goal line. Considering it might take a little while before the passing game comes around, he'll be relied on early and often.

Best defensive player: Junior LB Darreon Herring. There might not be any superstars on the Commodore defense, but if Derek Mason and defensive coordinator David Kotuski are going to make this a Stanford-like D, the linebackers are going to be great. Herring is outstanding in the open field and grew into the job on the outside last season, but he'll get help with Kyle Woestmann moving from end to outside linebacker and Caleb Azubike growing into a potential terror. Herring has the size to hold up inside and be the team's leading tackler. He needs to be the leader and steady force.

Key players to a successful season: Sophomore QB Patton Robinette. Or redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary or junior Stephen Rivers. The passing game was inconsistent and shaky when Jordan Matthews wasn't making lots and lots of plays, and now it'll be up to the quarterback to make the receivers better, and not the other way around. Robinette was a top recruit a few years ago with an Elite 11 Camp resume, and with great skills, athleticism and winning ability, winning two North Carolina state titles, but he didn't grab the job by the horns this offseason after throwing for 642 yards with four touchdowns and five picks, and running for seven touchdowns, in the mix last year with Austyn Carta-Samuels. McCrary is a dual-threat playmaker with good accuracy and upside, and Rivers – Phil Rivers' brother – comes in from LSU to compete for the job this summer.

The season will be a success if ... the Commodores come up with a winning season. The SEC is going to be better and Vandy is in transition. As long as there aren't any big mistakes against Temple, UMass, Charleston Southern and Old Dominion, it shouldn't be too hard to get two more wins to get bowl eligible, even if there aren't any layups in SEC play. Getting those two and a bowl victory would make it an impressive debut for Mason.

Key game: Sept. 6 vs. Ole Miss. It was one of the most fun games of the first half of the season with Ole Miss hanging on late to pull out a 39-35 win in Nashville to open up 2013. This year, after the Commodores start out against Temple, they get the Rebels back in their house to open up the SEC campaign, and it could be a tone-setter for the rest of the season. With South Carolina up next in conference play, followed up by three road games against Kentucky, Georgia and Missouri, this could be a must win to avoid a tough SEC start.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Third Quarter Scoring: Opponents 107 – Vanderbilt 35
- Fumbles: Opponents 33 (lost 12) – Vanderbilt 16 (lost 7)
- Penalties: Opponents 83 for 651 yards – Vanderbilt 63 for 518 yards

- 2014 Vanderbilt Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players