There’s a new era at Vanderbilt. Derek Mason’s replaced James Franklin as the new head coach, and he arrived at the SEC Media Days looking AWESOME in a bow tie (he won the best-dressed contest by some mile).

But can Mason’s awesomeness translate into a good Vanderbilt team in 2014? 

LAST SEASON

Vanderbilt finished with a 9-4 (4-4 SEC) record, which includes wins over Georgia, Florida and Tennessee. They also managed to lose one of the games of the season on Opening Day against Ole Miss (by damn that was a good game!).

OFF-SEASON

After all the showmanship of head coach James Franklin, you wouldn’t have thought that he was just auctioning for a bigger job. Well, Bill O’Brien left Penn State for Houston….and James Franklin left Vanderbilt for Penn State. And Derek Mason left Stanford (where he was defensive co-ordinator) to be Vanderbilt’s head coach.

The rape case of 2013 (which involved four former Vandy football players) rumbled on, but in 2014, there wasn’t a lot more…you know, if you discount D-Line coach Vavae Tata getting arrested for drunk driving then leaving the scene of an accident. He’s pleaded guilty, and will serve jail time. Players-wise? None. But the Commodores had enough crap in 2013 to last them a lifetime.

RECRUITING

Vanderbilt finished dead-last in the SEC, which doesn’t surprise us bearing in mind the inopportune time of Franklin’s leaving, plus the academic requirements that make the school the most difficult to qualify for in the SEC, but still finished 46th in the country. The signing of four-star DE Nifae Lealao, four-star S Emmanuel Smith, RB Dallas Rivers, S Trent Sherfield, and OT Cole Hardin were the highlights on a class that hardly shone out.

THOUGHTS ON THE VANDERBILT COMMODORES 2014 ROSTER

QB: WHO’S GOING TO START?

Patton Robinette is apparently favored to get the starting job in Nashville, although LSU transfer Stephen Rivers and redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary. What Robinette offers is a dual threat. In his freshman year at Vandy, Robinette rushed for 214 yards (and 7 TDs)..and threw for 642 yards and 4 TDs. Robinette’s biggest issue is going to be accuracy. Let’s not forget he threw for 5 INTs, too, and only had a completion percentage of 52.3%, which isn’t exactly setting the world alight. No wonder Mason’s a bit guarded before naming his starter. We wouldn’t be surprised if Mason has a tandem QB set-up of Robinette and Rivers before he names his true starter later on in the year.

RB/O-LINE: GROUND AND POUND?

Jerron Seymour – who had more than 700 yards and 14 TDs last year – is going to be one of the star attractions of Vandy’s offense, with Brian Kimbrow backing him up now Jonathan Krause has left. It might not be exciting, but it should be functional for Coach Mason, who’s got 83 total career stats coming back for him at offensive line.  Replacing LT Wes Johnson will be sophomore Andrew Jelks (who started 9 times) or senior Andrew Bridges. Center Joe Townsend, Jake Bernstein (LG), and Spencer Pulley (RG) will anchor an experienced interior. Despite its experience, it’s still going to have to improve against the rush – it was the second worst in the SEC is sacks allowed (33).

DEFENSE: CHANGE IN STRATEGY

Things are changing strategy-wise for Vanderbilt’s defense, with Derek Mason – a defensive GURU at Stanford (we say that in CAPITAL LETTERS BECAUSE HE WAS SO FREAKING GOOD AT HIS JOB THERE), changing from 4-3 to a 3-4. One the defensive line, we’re going to see a lot of DEs Adam Butler and Barron Dixon, and NT Vince Taylor, but it’s all about the linebackers. And they are set at that position, folks. Caleb Azubike and Kyle Woestmann are both converted DEs and cause some trouble for O-Lines, as are talented juniors Darreon Herring and Jake Sealand will guard the interior. Ja’karri Thomas will provide excellent back-up. In other words, Vanderbilt’s loaded at linebacker.

Secondary-wise,  Oren Burks is going to be playing safety instead of linebacker (we think he probably realised how deep the team was at LB) and Andrew Williamson will form your safety pairing – and new arrival Emmanuel Smith could also start if he impresses Mason. Sophomore CBs Paris Head, Torren McGaster and Darius Sims will all battle it over the CB positions.

SCHEDULE: UP AND DOWN

Aug: 30 – TEMPLE OWLS
Sept. 6 – OLE MISS
Sept. 13 – UMASS
Sept. 20 – SOUTH CAROLINA
Sept. 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 Mississippi State
Nov. 29 – TENNESSEE

We’re convinced about Derek Mason and his coaching smarts, and we’re convinced that the better Vandy’s defense looks, the more players will want to come play for him in Nashville (you know, those that are smart enough, anyway). We still think that they’ll split the first four games of their season, beating Temple and UMASS but losing to Carolina and Ole Miss. We then predict they’ll win on the road at Kentucky, lose at Georgia, beat Charleston Southern, lose to Missouri (sorry, but not a great secondary facing Maty Mauk spells trouble), beat Old Dominion, lose to Florida, Mississippi State and finally lose at home to Tennesee. Why? This team’s going to be great against the rush, but it’s going to struggle against the pass. And the offense really isn’t going to set the world alight. Sorry ‘Dores, but it’s going to be a 5-7 season (1-7 SEC).

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