College Football Countdown | No. 74: Vanderbilt

James Franklin was never many of a quarterback, nonetheless it took until a one-year army during Washington State in 1998 for Penn State’s newest manager to come to grips with his jaunty stipulations – turns out he couldn’t have played on college football’s tip level, Franklin decided, nonetheless maybe a Football Championship Subdivision …

But it’s a humorous thing: Franklin didn’t finish a pass for Vanderbilt in 2014, nor scurry for a five-yard measure to lift a Commodores past Tennessee – dual wins in a quarrel and counting, by a proceed – nor make 112 receptions for 1,477 yards, singlehandedly peaceful Vanderbilt to another nine-win deteriorate notwithstanding a consistent and volume courtesy of a nation’s chosen defensive backs.

Franklin usually corralled a talent, identified a contributors and solidified a genius – an absurdly considerable set of achievements that will dawdle in Southeastern Conference history, to be sure, yet resources immediately transferrable to former Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason and Vanderbilt’s new staff.

The usually thing Franklin didn’t leave behind is experience. Vanderbilt earnings usually 10 starters, a second-fewest in a SEC, brazen of usually Missouri. No organisation will have fewer comparison contributors. No module in a SEC earnings a smaller commission of final season’s sum offense; no SEC organisation earnings a smaller cut of final year’s tackles.

This is a short-term issue, not a long-term concern. Vanderbilt’s 2012 recruiting category ranked 29th in a Football Bowl Subdivision, per Rivals.com. The 2013 organisation came in ninth – yeah, ninth, in box that missed your attention.

View these classes as Franklin’s interruption gift, a ribbon-tied benefaction left on Mason’s table as a David Shaw counterpart aims to replicate his predecessor’s success. Today, these former recruits are redshirt freshmen and sophomores, redshirt sophomores and juniors. Tomorrow they’ll be seasoned veterans, primed to continue a program’s vehement run as an SEC contender.

LAST YEAR’S PREDICTION:

So can Vanderbilt kick Tennessee – again? Top Mississippi in a opener? Again, it’s usually with a grade of terror that we collect Vanderbilt to do anything yet continue a skyrocketing trajectory. However, we do consider a Commodores tip out during 7 or 8 wins during a unchanging season. If we had to guess, I’d contend it’s a 7-5 symbol streamer into a postseason.

2013 RECAP:

In a nutshell: Vanderbilt finished a year ranked 23rd in a USA TODAY Sports Coaches Poll, brazen of Notre Dame, Nebraska, Texas, Miami (Fla.), Virginia Tech, Michigan, Georgia and Florida – oh, and Tennessee, before we forget. The best part: No one was surprised. The Commodores simply matched a team’s preseason expectations, holding nonetheless another step brazen in and out of a SEC and burnishing Franklin’s repute as one of a up-and-coming coaches in college football. Vanderbilt kick Florida in Gainesville for a initial time given 1945 and usually a second time in a rivalry’s history. In a module first, a Commodores kick a Gators, Georgia and Tennessee in a same season. Vanderbilt reached and won another play game, securing back-to-back nine-win finishes for a initial time in about 90 years. No one was surprised.

High point: Beating Tennessee for a second year in a row. Keep in mind this fact: Vanderbilt surfaced a Volunteers usually twice between 1976 and 2010.

Low point: Two bad losses. The invulnerability left in setbacks to Missouri (51-28) and Texas AM (56-24).

Tidbit: One of a defining characteristics of Franklin’s reign was a Commodores’ ability to tighten with a flourish. Vanderbilt went 12-3 after Oct during his three-year run, including a 10-0 symbol during a final dual seasons. In comparison, Vanderbilt went 11-53 in Nov from 1993-2010. The Commodores have won 9 in a quarrel in Nov alone, a program’s longest such winning strain given 1903-5.

Tidbit (SEC edition): Vanderbilt enters 2014 carrying won 15 of a final 20 games. This is a second-best symbol in a SEC during this span, trailing usually 18-2 Alabama.

Tidbit (coaching edition): Mason’s staff includes usually one carryover from Stanford, yet it’s a large one: David Kotulski, before a Cardinal’s inside linebackers coach, will work hand-in-hand with Mason in transitioning a Commodores to a 3-4 bottom defensive set. Mason also defended regulating backs manager Charles Bankins, a plain decision; hired linebackers manager Kenwick Thompson divided from San Jose State; unclosed a really earnest immature defensive line manager in ex-Utah State partner Frank Maile; and hired dual assistants divided from Ohio in parsimonious ends manager Gerry Gdowski and descent line manager Keven Lightner. Former UCLA manager Karl Dorrell will offer as descent coordinator and quarterbacks manager after spending a past 6 seasons in a NFL.

ARBITRARY TOP FIVE LIST:

Franklin’s best wins during Vanderbilt

1. Vanderbilt 41, Tennessee 18 (2012)
2. Vanderbilt 14, Tennessee 10 (2013)
3. Vanderbilt 34, Florida 17 (2013)
4. Vanderbilt 30, Mississippi 7 (2011)
5. Vanderbilt 17, Auburn 13 (2012)

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Offense: Like Franklin, all-league far-reaching receiver Jordan Matthews leaves Vanderbilt with a interruption gift: Matthews showed a Commodores how to work. As a offense moves forward, Mason and his staff wish Matthews’ bequest of bid and unmatched work ethic drip down by a mostly untested and unproven expel of far-reaching receivers, a organisation that contingency rope together – a loyal by-committee proceed – to replicate during slightest a apportionment of Matthews’ mislaid production. It’s going to be an intensely immature group, true, yet let’s not nap on a talent level. Take sophomore Jordan Cunningham (15 receptions for 123 yards), a sublimely means second-year writer with a support and athleticism to rise easily as a Commodores’ go-to target. While Vanderbilt isn’t awaiting a vital breakthrough – improvement, yet not all-league honors – Cunningham’s prolongation competence establish a health of a receiver corps as a whole.

But he’s not a usually key. A second loyal sophomore, Latevius Rayford, forged out a slight purpose in a offense before blank a season’s final 7 games with an injury. Kris Kentera, a 220-pound junior, could minister easily as a possession receiver, fasten youth parsimonious finish Steven Scheu over a core center of a field. But Kentera will be a sole youth in a rotation: Cunningham and Rayford are assimilated by a series of loyal and redshirt freshmen, a organisation paced by second-year freshmen Gerald Perry, C.J. Duncan – keep an eye on him – and DeAndre Woods. As we’ll see in a secondary, this is a immature organisation that needs time to develop; it’s also a organisation with measureless potential.

Let’s not worry about one thing: Vanderbilt will run a football with intimidating efficiency. One reason for ground-game confidence stems from a returning talent along a descent line, a section that merely – merely, as if this isn’t a high sequence – needs to reinstate all-conference left tackle Wes Johnson. Vanderbilt will fill Johnson’s boots with sophomore Andrew Jelks, who creates a pierce from a clever side after creation 9 starts as a rookie. In turn, a Commodores can reinstate Jelks with comparison Andrew Bridges, a able starter who excels some-more in insurance than in relocating defenders. There’s no doubt along a interior: Jake Bernstein during left guard, Joe Townsend during core and Spencer Pulley during right guard. When accounting for starting talent, returning knowledge and altogether depth, I’d arrange this line in a tip half of a SEC.

The backfield is also a strength. While Wesley Tate departs, Vanderbilt earnings gifted juniors Jerron Seymour (716 yards, 14 touchdowns) and Brian Kimbrow (341 yards), a vigourous and effective running-game duo. My sole concern: Seymour is devastatingly effective in a red zone, yet can a Commodores fist out successful turns in short-yardage situations – a bit of an emanate a deteriorate ago? That competence lead to an increasing purpose for little-used Derek King, a 210-pound junior; it could also meant situational touches for comparison fullback Kellen Williams, a converted linebacker tasked with replacing Fritz Lassing.

Defense: Only 3 returning starters: bad. That all 3 returning starters will line adult during a same position: good. That all 3 returning starters play linebacker in Mason’s new 3-4 bottom scheme: even better. The Commodores contingency feel secure in a intensity of a second level, where converted ends Kyle Woestmann (40 tackles, 6.0 sacks) and Caleb Azubike (31 tackles, 9.5 for loss) will mount adult and occupy a Commodores’ gaps during outward linebacker. Both seem some-more than versed for a task: Woestmann and Azubike competence really good rise off a ground, regulating a pass-rush techniques and stop-the-run strength indispensable to surpass during a new position. Both are going to be fantastic.

This span will side youth Darreon Herring (84 tackles), an obscenely underrated second-year starter, and associate youth Jake Sealand (45 tackles); inside, a Commodores can also call on sophomore Ja’karri Thomas – like Herring, he moves to a interior from outward linebacker – and redshirt freshmen Nigel Bowden and Zach Cunningham. Let’s remember: Mason’s invulnerability is tangible by linebacker play. It’s a good thing, therefore, that Vanderbilt is in really good figure on a second level.

Vanderbilt has a bodies indispensable to control a nose yet lacks proven talent during end, that is a poignant courtesy – for now, during least. Come a finish of August, four-star partisan Nifae Lealao competence have solidified one of a dual open spots on a outside; Lealao is a prototypically sized 3-4 finish who chose Vanderbilt over offers from Oregon, USC, UCLA and Wisconsin, among others. In addition, Mason can intrigue around a miss of viable options during finish by changeable those newly minted outward linebackers down a spin – radically consistent a grade of coherence and multiplicity into this 3-4 set. It’s a improved conditions inside: we adore sophomore Adam Butler (25 tackles, 6.0 for loss), who looks like a monster, and a mixed of Butler and seniors Vince Taylor and Barron Dixon should reason down a installation in a middle.

The good news stops there. Vanderbilt is starting from blemish in a secondary, where 4 comparison starters contingency be replaced, and will need a vigourous and prolific front 7 to extent a repairs along a behind end. Now, one cut of good vibes: Vanderbilt competence scuffle during times today, yet this immature core – a sophomore and redshirt freshmen cornerbacks, a many four-star recruits from Feb – paints a splendid design for a future. Mason’s initial signing category enclosed during slightest 7 prospects set for a defensive backfield; two, Trent Sherfield and Emmanuel Smith, come with four-star billing.

So they’ll get a moment during things come August, nonetheless Vanderbilt seems to have identified a tip organisation during cornerback: Paris Head (22 tackles, 3 interceptions), Torren McGaster and Darius Sims, all sophomores – Head and McGaster third-year sophomores – and considerable redshirt beginner Tre Bell. A second redshirt freshman, Oren Burks, has a distance to fit into a hybrid purpose as a Commodores’ fifth defensive back. The intensity among this organisation is as high as you’ll find in any SEC delegate – taken as an whole group, that is. Let’s give them time to rise in these increasing roles. It’s a hold some-more seasoned during safety, where Vanderbilt should feel secure in how ably juniors Andrew Williamson (20 tackles, 2 interceptions) and Jahmel McIntosh can fill a spots left empty by Kenny Ladler and Javon Marshall, respectively.

Special teams: The Commodores’ special teams will onslaught a hold yet kickoff dilettante Carey Spear, who effectively negated a intensity for lapses in coverage – and gave a invulnerability room to breathe – by putting scarcely dual of 3 kickoffs into a finish section for touchbacks. That could be an issue. Of equal courtesy are these subpar lapse teams: Vanderbilt needs to get some-more from Kimbrow, Sims, Cunningham and others on kickoffs and punts.

POSITION(S) TO WATCH:

Quarterback: A two-man quarterback foe will supplement another 4 contenders for a starting pursuit come tumble camp, nonetheless it’s my sense we can extent a contention to 3 contenders in particular: Patton Robinette, a sophomore who led a Commodores to wins opposite Georgia and Florida final fall; Johnny McCrary, a high-profile redshirt beginner mostly praised by Mason for his opening during a spring; and youth Stephen Rivers, an LSU send set to arrive in Aug with evident eligibility.

It’s anyone’s game. Robinette is a gamer – not a game-manager, mind you, yet a gamer – with a legs to supplement another dimension to this offense. He also adds a spin of game-day knowledge unmatched by his dual primary challengers; he lacks hold as a thrower, however, and that’s a vital issue. McCrary competence be a program’s many ballyhooed quarterback partisan in years: Mason had mostly certain comments on his display during drills, maybe giving a beginner a slight advantage streamer into summer conditioning. Then there’s Rivers, another top-tier partisan bumped out of a starting pursuit with a Tigers. If he can learn a complement – and that’s a high sequence in such a brief duration – Rivers could pierce brazen of both obligatory options and squeeze a starting job. It’ll be an engaging foe in August. One some-more thing: Robinette’s athleticism should give him some arrange of purpose in a offense regardless of either or not he earns a tip spot.

GAME(S) TO WATCH:

Kentucky: Say one thing about a before regime: Franklin and a Commodores didn’t remove opposite defective competition. Kentucky would still validate in this regard, nonetheless we consternation if a Vanderbilt organisation entrance off dual SEC dates in 3 weeks – Mississippi and South Carolina, a latter a week before – will have adequate in a tank to equivocate a painful, season-changing upset. But isn’t this report a peach? Vanderbilt draws a Rebels and Mississippi State from a West Division; lift Temple, Massachusetts, Charleston Southern and Old Dominion in non-conference play; and get a Rebels, South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee during home.

SEASON BREAKDOWN PREDICTION:

In a nutshell: This is a immature organisation undergoing a transition to a new coaching staff, that in spin will exercise new schemes within a register and returning crew indoctrinated in Franklin’s offense and defensive approach. The biggest transition comes on defense: Mason’s 3-4 set is going to work splendidly in a prolonged term, we believe, and will shortly come to conclude a football module as a whole – as we saw during Stanford, where mixed runs to a Rose Bowl have been built on a foundational strength of a rock-solid descent front and a plan-changing defensive front seven. Yet there will be flourishing heedfulness in a interim, as a returning crew adapts to a changeable proceed in style, scheme, genius and aggressiveness. For now, a invulnerability competence strike a few hiccups opposite high-quality competition.

This is a devious proceed of observant a following: Vanderbilt’s still squeezing out 6 wins in 2014 – and we feel really strongly about this. Another 9 wins? Not with this volume of changeover, both on a margin and along a sidelines: Vanderbilt is still frighteningly immature and inexperienced, so awaiting a delay of new formula is too high sequence for a Commodores to handle. But concealment 6 wins behind a clever younger core, a superb new staff and an easy-as-pie report … we can’t suppose a unfolding where Vanderbilt doesn’t nick during slightest dual SEC wins to safe behind into a postseason.

And I’m astounded that this isn’t a consensus. The Commodores will go 4-0 in non-league play – this is for sure. So this talented-but-raw organisation can’t lift out an additional dual wins during SEC action? we would be repelled if this organisation sticks during 5 wins. Now, let’s speak about a issues: Vanderbilt is young, as noted; needs to totally renovate a receiver corps; is capricious during quarterback, to put it lightly; will be relocating to a new intrigue on defense; contingency find dual solid ends; is now controversial in a secondary, nonetheless really promising; and lags behind a SEC’s bend on special teams. It’s not a good organisation – not a nine-win team, in my opinion. But this is a play organisation with a intensity for conspicuous expansion during a second half of a season. Six wins is in a cards, nonetheless we do worry about a peculiarity of a Commodores’ victories.

Dream season: Vanderbilt does it again, winning 9 games during a unchanging deteriorate notwithstanding a immature and fresh starting cast.

Nightmare season: The Commodores slip behind to 3-9, dropping all 8 games opposite SEC foe – yes, even Kentucky.

UP NEXT:

Who’s No. 73? This program’s initial competition in 2014 was a second competition during a initial season.

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