2011 Record: (6-7, 2-6 in SEC)
Head Coach: James Franklin (second year head coach)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 Liberty Bowl: lost to Cincinnati 31-24
Home Conference Games: 8/30 vs South Carolina, 10/13 vs Florida, 10/20 vs Auburn, 11/17 vs Tennessee
Must Win: 9/15 vs Presbyterian, 10/27 vs UMass
Stats to Cheer: converted 75% of fourth downs; 15 of 20 (1st in SEC, 7th in Nation); had 18 plays for 40 yards or more (1st in SEC, 18th in Nation)
Stat to Fear: gave up 172 plays of 10 or more yards (10th in SEC)
Phil Steele’s Returning Starters: (Offense: 8; Defense: 7; Specialists: 2)
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Archibald Barnes (58 tackles), S Kenny Ladler (53 tackles), LB Chase Garnham (51 tackles), CB Trey Wilson (3 INT), DT Rob Lohr (4.5 sacks)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Jordan Rodgers (9 TD, 10 INT), RB Zac Stacy (1193 yards rush, 14 TD), WR Jordan Matthews (41 rec, 5 TD), WR Chris Boyd (31 rec, 8 TD)
As a first year head coach, James Franklin breathed new life into the Vanderbilt program. He had everybody talking about the Dores. The team really started to click once they made the switch at QB to Jordan Rodgers. Rodgers stats aren’t particularly impressive but he brought leadership and moxie to the QB position and it helped the rest of the team live up to and exceed their expectations. Vanderbilt had a strong buzz about them last year but when you stop and think about it, they only won two conference games. Sure they came close against Georgia, Arkansas, Florida and Tennessee but they weren’t quite able to finish the drill in year one under James Franklin.
On offense, Vandy looks poised to improve on last season. They have the leading returning rusher in the SEC in Zac Stacy, they have a QB who improved a lot over the course of last season and they have two good receivers that are also returning.
The concern for Vandy is on defense. On paper they return seven starters but the guys they are losing were difference makers and team leaders. They lose a four-year stud in LB Chris Marve. For the last four years he was either their leading tackler or second leading tackler every year. They also lose one of the best secondary tandems in the SEC in Sean Richardson and Casey Hayward. Richardson was among the top three tacklers on the team for each of the last three years and Hayward led the team in INTs for the last two seasons. In addition to those three defensive studs, the Dores also lose their leading sacker in Tim Fugger. I don’t see how Vandy doesn’t take a step back this year on the defensive side of the football.
Vanderbilt will give teams some trouble this year. They play a gritty and gutty style and aren’t afraid to chop block you when you aren’t looking. A big negative for Vandy this year is how their schedule sets up. They will most likely be underdogs in at least five of their first seven games and probably in six of their first seven. Vandy’s schedule is front-loaded and if they want to go to a bowl they are going to have to do something this year that they couldn’t last year. Upset somebody. Vandy will be a tough to beat this year but I’m not sure it shows up in their record.
2012 Prediction: 5-7
Previous 2012 Previews:
SEC: Texas A&M