2010 Vanderbilt Preview
Vanderbilt LB Chris Marve
Vanderbilt LB Chris Marve
Posted May 13, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Vanderbilt Commodores

Vanderbilt Commodores

Preview 2010

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Robbie Caldwell 
1st year
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 23, Def. 23, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 26
Ten Best Vanderbilt Players
1. LB Chris Marve, Jr.
2. RB/KR Warren Norman, Soph.
3. SS Sean Richardson, Jr.
4. CB Casey Hayward, Jr.
5. RB Zac Stacy, Soph.
6. WR John Cole, Soph.
7. DT Adam Smotherman, Sr.
8. LB John Stokes, Sr.
9. OT James Williams, Jr.
10. OT Ryan Seymour, Soph.
2010 Schedule

Sept. 4 Northwestern
Sept. 11 LSU
Sept. 18 at Ole Miss
Sept. 25 OPEN DATE
Oct. 2 at Connecticut
Oct. 9 Eastern Michigan
Oct. 16 at Georgia
Oct. 23 South Carolina
Oct. 30 at Arkansas
Nov. 6 Florida
Nov. 13 at Kentucky
Nov. 20 Tennessee
Nov. 27 Wake Forest

The margin for error in the SEC is paper thin to begin with, but for Vanderbilt, the difference between going bowling and being miserably bad is microscopic. The out-of-the-blue departure of head coach Bobby Johnson doesn't help.

Robbie Caldwell has been around for the last seven years as an offensive line coach, and he has to be the main man now after Johnson's shocker. Is he ready? Can he come up with some magic or is he going to keep the team in a holding pattern. If anything, this gives the Commodores a reasonable excuse for not being in for a big year, but on the positive side, this means SEC teams will dismiss the usual layup game even more than usual; Vandy can really sneak up on everyone.

The 2008 team was one of the feel-good stories of the year with a 5-0 start including wins over Ole Miss, Auburn, and South Carolina, but those three victories were by all by a touchdown or less, as were wins over Kentucky and Boston College. The offense was horrible, finishing 117th in the nation averaging 256 yard s per game, but the defense came up with just enough big plays to get by while the O seemed to take advantage of every opportunity. Last year, the offense was miserable once again, but it averaged 30 yards more per game and had a more dangerous ground attack. The defense wasn't awful, the pass defense finished ninth in America and there were some bright spots on the special teams, but instead of a 7-6 year the Commodores finished a horrible 2-10 with an eight game losing streak to close out the year.

So what was more like the real Vanderbilt, 2008 or 2009? The answer might be both. Vandy wasn't very good in either year, but the defense wasn't as opportunistic last year and the right breaks didn't come.

The brutal reality is that Vanderbilt is stuck in the nation's nastiest college football contest and there are never going to be any conference layups. If everything doesn't break the right way and every break doesn't go the Commodores' way, they can't win. They can be competitive and can stick around against teams looking ahead to bigger and better things, but they need a lot of luck to get enough wins to be in the hunt for bowl games.

It's more of the same for this year's team, only it has some major-league weapons in the backfield in running backs Warren Norman and Zac Stacy. The potential is there for a better passing game if JUCO transfer Jordan Rodgers (Aaron's brother) plays a big role or if Larry Smith upgrades his accuracy, and the line has promise if the tackles can be healthy. It might not have seemed like it, but there was an improvement to the running game last year even though the passing game was among the worst in the nation. After the last few years, there's nowhere to go but up.

The defense won't be at the level it was at in 2008, but it has plenty of speed and athleticism across the board with a tremendous linebacking corps, a nice-looking secondary, and a defensive front that can move, but needs to be far better against the run.

Record-wise, the Commodores should be somewhere in between the tallies of the last two years, but it's going to take some magic and a whole bunch of positive early momentum to get back into the bowl dream discussion. As always, Vandy will be plucky, but they also need plenty of luck to go with it.

What to watch for on offense: Even more from the running backs. Warren Norman and Zac Stacy combined as true freshmen to give the Commodores a dangerous ground attack with plenty of promise and potential for the next few years. Throw in the veteran Kennard Reeves and the big-time talent and size of Wesley Tate, if he can get back from a foot problem, and the running game will be something offense should be able to count on game in and game out. The O line, as banged up as it might be, should be good enough to pave the way, and the backs should come through.

What to watch for on defense: A tremendous year from the outside linebackers. The Commodores lose Patrick Benoist and Brent Trice from the outside, and while they were great, the linebacking corps could be more dangerous and more disruptive without them. Chris Marve is an all-star in the middle who'll be in the hunt for SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors allowing the outside defenders to be able to do whatever they want. John Stokes, Archibald Barnes, Dexter Daniels, and Tristan Strong are all athletic, they all have pass rushing potential, and they'll all be turned loose by defensive coordinator Jamie Bryant to make more big plays in the backfield.

The team will be far better if … the passing game isn't next-level bad. There might not be a Jay Cutler around to wing the ball all over the field, but the passing offense can't be as completely and totally ineffective as it has been over the last two seasons. The running backs are talented enough to carry the offense as long as there's a little bit of a threat of a deep ball, but Vandy's inefficient passing hasn't done anything to scare anyone's defensive back seven. Even mediocre play from the quarterbacks will bring a huge change in the record.

The schedule: Eastern Michigan. That's the one almost-certain win. Everything else will be a fight as the Commodores will likely be the underdog in the other 11 games including the home opener against Northwestern and the season ender against Wake Forest. The one game against someone they own size, Kentucky, is on the road, and missing Mississippi State from the West hurts. There are chances to make some noise with some big home games against LSU, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee, but if Vandy can win just one of those it would be a tremendous success. Three of the final four games are at home and the road trips are spread out.

Best offensive player: Sophomore RB Warren Norman. He stepped in as a true freshman and came up with an all-timer of a season setting the SEC record for all-purpose yards by a freshman (breaking Herschel Walker's record) with 1,941 yards and kickoff return yards with 1,050. He's not going to have to be a workhorse with other strong rushing options to take the pressure off, but there will be times when Norman makes the offense work.

Best defensive player: Junior LB Chris Marve. A hitting machine, Marve followed up a 105-tackle freshman campaign with 121 stops last year becoming the first SEC player to ever come up with 100 tackles or more in his first two years. He's just now starting to generate a buzz outside of the world of the SEC die-hards, and he should be in the mix for All-America recognition as a do-it-all playmaker who'll be a lock for another 100 tackle season if he stays healthy.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Larry Smith, or senior Jared Funk, or junior Jordan Rodgers. Funk and Rodgers are passers while Smith is supposed to be a dual-threat playmaker who can lead an offense with his athleticism. However, Funk hasn't seen any real action, Rodgers is an unknown coming in from the JUCO ranks, and Smith has been awful throwing the ball and hasn't done enough on the ground. The quarterbacks were better this offseason, but one of them has to step up and be the type of passer who can keep the chains moving. Two years without a passing game is enough.

The season will be a success if … the Commodores win five games. The team isn't good enough to get to a bowl game without a ton of good breaks, and there aren't any layups on the schedule except for the Eastern Michigan date. Even so, there's enough athleticism and upside pull off an upset here and there over a Kentucky or a South Carolina, and with Tennessee and Wake Forest both beatable on the right day, getting to five wins would be a nice step forward.

Key game: Sept. 4 vs. Northwestern. The Wildcats are better than the Commodores, but they're going to be the type of team that doesn't pull away from anyone. This should be a close battle throughout, and Vandy has to take advantage at home in the must-win opener with LSU, at Ole Miss, and at Connecticut to follow. 0-4 is a possibility with an opening day loss.

2009 Fun Stats:
- Time of possession: Opponents 33:49 – Vanderbilt 26:11
- Field goals: Opponents 17-of-17 – Vanderbilt 16-of-21
- Passing touchdowns: Opponents 13 – Vanderbilt 6

- 2010 Vanderbilt Preview | 2010 Vanderbilt Offense
- 2010 Vanderbilt Defense | 2010 Vanderbilt Depth Chart
- Vanderbilt Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006