On The Rise: Vanderbilt Commodores 2017 Schedule Analysis

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SHREVEPORT, LA - DECEMBER 26: A Vanderbilt football helmet on display at the Camping World Independence Bowl between the Vanderbilt Commodores and the NC State Wolfpack on December 26, 2016, at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, La. (Photo by John Bunch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

Vanderbilt Commodores 2017 Schedule Analysis

To say the least, Derek Mason and his Vanderbilt Commodores finished the 2016 season on a high note. They beat Ole Miss and spanked Tennessee in the final two games of the season. They also became bowl eligible, which was the icing on the cake. In those last two games, Kyle Shurmur and the offense were an unstoppable force. As Mason kicks off his fourth season at the helm, he is locked into a three-year contract extension, while his team is fully equipped with experience and talent. Ralph Webb is returning for his senior season and a chance to run deeper into the record books, while Oren Burks is primed to step up and fill the hole left by All-American, Zach Cunningham.

On The Rise

As Mason said at SEC Media Days, “Vanderbilt football is on the rise.” The 2017 season has the potential to be the best season ever under Mason, IF everyone stays healthy and IF the offense comes out fast and swinging like it did those final two games. Yes, they have some holes to fill on the O-Line however, Coach Norcross has a young and experienced group to play with. It is no secret that there is a huge hole in the defense but, the defense has their most athletic front seven to date. And of course, their number one weapon, the mind behind the greatness known as “Black Death”, Derek Mason himself.

Warning: the predictions outlined below will cause a kerfuffle.

Ultimately, it is what will happen this season if the football gods give Vandy a break and play nice. That is, of course, if the referees stop with their ridiculous, non-existent calls against the ‘Dores. Finally, if this underrated, yet extremely talented, Vanderbilt football team plays to their utmost potential, this is what will happen.

The Upset Kings of The SEC East

Last year, Commodore Nation witnessed Mason’s first SEC road win at Georgia, a bowl berth and a tweeting Vest. They also suffered through the annual struggles with South Carolina and Florida. This year, the ‘Dores are faced with an extremely tough four-game stretch in September. They will take on non-conference opponent, Kansas State, in week three. Alabama will make an appearance in Nashville the following weekend. Week five, they travel to the Swamp to take on the Gators. Then, in week six they are hosting Georgia at home. That means the Commodores are playing FOUR Top 20-ranked teams in the first six games of the season. Challenge accepted. Now, let’s upset that AP Poll!

Game 1: Vanderbilt at Middle Tennessee State, September 2nd 

7:00pm CST Floyd Stadium, Murfreesboro, TN

Vandy opens Saturday, September 2nd at MTSU. The ‘Dores will be ready to play. MTSU is staffed with a new defensive coordinator, Scott Shafer, and they will again be lead by junior quarterback, Brent Stockstill, and his returning receiving corps. The Blue Raiders lost their entire defensive front from last year. Hopefully, Shurmur and the experienced offense can get into a solid rhythm against MTSU’s depleted defense. However as we all know, no game is ever a sure win. Both teams will be working out the kinks that come with the first game of the season. The Commodores lead the all-time series, 14-3 and will be ready to ball.

Vanderbilt 32, MTSU 24

 

Game 2: Alabama A&M vs. Vanderbilt, September 9th

3:00pm CST Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, TN

Vanderbilt’s seasoned offense should be confident and secure in Andy Ludwig‘s offensive schemes, as Alabama A&M rolls into Nashville week two. The Bulldogs are strong defensively with a veteran crew returning, and their offense will have a new quarterback under center. All the while, Mason will have his “Black Death” Defense ready to protect Dudley Field. I will reiterate — there are NO sure wins, ever. Vandy will prepare for the Bulldogs like they will prepare for every other team this season. Mason has been known to say, “Always try to be better than you were the day before”. You better believe that his team will be getting better EVERYDAY this season.

Vanderbilt 35, Alabama A&M 28

 

Game 3: Kansas State vs. Vanderbilt, September 16th

6:30pm CST Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, TN

Second home game of the season and first Top 20-ranked opponent of the season. Kansas State has a legendary head coach in Bill Snyder with a legendary reputation. They have returning quarterback Jesse Ertz, who they expect to be great this season. Lucky for Vandy, the coaching staff includes one of the top defensive coordinators in the country. Mason loves a good chess match; he will be ready for everything Snyder sends his way. The Wildcats defense is riddled with holes, which should be excellent for Ralph Webb and Khari Blasingame to weave their way through. Don’t get me wrong, this is going to be a tough game for Vandy. Yet, the Commodores will prevail in Nashville.

Vanderbilt 30, Kansas State 27

 

Game 4:  Alabama vs. Vanderbilt, September 23rd

TBD, Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, TN

This game will have Dudley packed with Crimson as people flock to Nashville to see this game. We all know Alabama is 25 players deep in every position. Vanderbilt will come out swinging, and they will put up a good fight. I would love to call an upset here, although we all know that Saban will not allow his team to lose two games in a calendar year. Alabama has a chip on their shoulder, and everyone in their path to the Natty has a target on their back  I do have faith that Vanderbilt will hold their own against the Tide much to Saban’s dismay.

Vanderbilt 23, Alabama 30

 

Game 5:  Vanderbilt at Florida, September 30th

TBD, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, FL 

Game three against a Top 20 opponent is in the Swamp. While it is never an easy spot to play, Florida is dealing with team issues and replacing key players. It is also important to remember that last year, Vanderbilt beat Florida in time of possession and first downs, as well as total yards. Yet again, however, the turnovers killed the ‘Dores. The game between Vandy and Florida always seems to come down to the turnovers. Shurmur should be settled into his offense and be comfortable with his offensive arsenal on the ground and in the flats, which will allow Ludwig to dig deeper into the the playbook. Look for Burks, Tre Herndon and JoeJuan Williams to have statement games.

Vanderbilt 10, Florida 13

Game 6: Georgia at Vanderbilt, October 7th

TBD, Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, TN

Finally, game four verses a Top 20 opponent. Georgia will be looking to avenge their homecoming loss from last season. They will be a stronger team with a second year under their head coach Kirby Smart. Last season, the “Black Death” defense and Zach Cunningham held the Bulldogs to a measly 75 rushing yards. The defense could make short work of the Bulldog offense as their O-line seems to be their biggest concern. All the while, their defensive front is stout and athletic, Shurmur will have to utilize his wide receiver and tight end options to make an impact.

Vanderbilt will have a hard time overcoming Georgia’s thirst for revenge. I have every confidence in the world that Vanderbilt is better than the most think they are. I wanted to call this game an upset last season and I did not. So, as I vowed to do in my season review, I will trust my gut. The Commodores WILL beat Georgia. Again.

Vanderbilt 27, Georgia 24

Game 7: Vanderbilt at Ole Miss, October 14th

TBD, Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, MS 

Ole Miss was the game last season where Shurmur caught fire. The ‘Dores running game plowed through Ole Miss like they were a block of swiss cheese. While Ole Miss has an uncertain season ahead of them, interim head coach Matt Luke knows what it takes to win in Oxford. Shea Patterson will lead the team that is looking for stability. In 2015, Vanderbilt went into Oxford and they almost walked out with a win. Anyone who watched that game in 2015 saw the potential of Mason and his underrated team. Vanderbilt loves to spoil a homecoming, and Oxford will be just the place.

Vanderbilt 13, Ole Miss 10

Game 8: Vanderbilt at South Carolina, October 28th

TBD, Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, SC

Good news for Vandy fans, Elliot Fry is no longer a Gamecock, so that 55 yard career-long field goal he kicked last year with 35 seconds left, will not happen again. Vanderbilt went into the half with a 10-0 lead, and the Gamecocks rallied back, with Fry putting the nail in the coffin. Jake Bentley is returning at quarterback with several offensive weapons at his disposal. Their defense on the other hand is thin and inexperienced. It is a late October game, and if Vanderbilt’s offense is living up to potential and Shurmur is firing on all cylinders, the Commodores will finally get their win over South Carolina.

Vanderbilt 21, South Carolina 17

Game 9: Western Kentucky at Vanderbilt, November 4th

TBD, Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, TN

Western Kentucky is being lead by a new their HC, Mike Sanford. Sanford and Mason worked together at Stanford. In fact, Mason offered Sanford the OC job in December 2014 but he turned it down to go to Notre Dame. The Hilltoppers have a strong quarterback in Mike White. Their running game is solid, as well as their pair of experienced wide receivers. There are some holes to fill in the defensive front seven, while their secondary is force to be reckoned with. I think Vanderbilt will be on a roll this late in the season. They always play WKU tough. It will be a close game that will be won by the energy of the home team, as Dudley will be packed to watch this rising Commodore team.

Vanderbilt 38, WKU 35

 

Game 10: Kentucky vs Vanderbilt, November 11th

TBD, Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, TN

Kentucky is being picked to be a major contender in the SEC East, and the Wildcats have a rock solid running game. Their O-line is being touted as one of the best in the conference, while their defensive front is still being rebuilt. The secondary should have no problem picking up the slack. Last year, Vanderbilt was sluggish and got behind, essentially beating themselves by making little mistakes. This game, I am on the fence about. Kentucky will be in their groove, so I am going to say Vandy will lose this one by the skin of their teeth. However, I am totally okay if I get this one wrong.

Vanderbilt 10, Kentucky 13

Game 11: Missouri at Vanderbilt, November 18th

TBD, Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, TN

Missouri only won four games last year. Their offense is returning 10 starters, including quarterback Drew Lock who had some highlights in 2016. At the same time, their defense was atrocious at best. The ‘Dores will play a good, fundamentally solid game against Missouri, as Webb and Blasingame will take advantage of Missouri’s inexperienced defense. The “Black Death” D will have to keep an eye on Lock and his receiving corp; they should be in rhythm this late in the season. I would love to say this will be an easy win for Vandy, but the minute you do that, it all goes to hell in a hand basket.

Vanderbilt 35 , Missouri 17

Game 12: Vanderbilt at Tennessee, November 25th

TBD, Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, TN

Tennessee is ranked 25 in the current AP poll. I hear it is Tennessee’s year to win the SEC East. Obviously, the Vanderbilt faithful have enjoyed the 45-34 win for the last nine months and will continue to ride that win till the minute the teams take the field again on November 25th. The Volunteers are a team in transition with a boat load of unanswered questions. They have to replace Joshua Dobbs on offense and Derek Barnett on defense.

While it is no secret that Neyland is always a tough stadium to play in, Vanderbilt will have to overcome the sheer noise of the raging orange crowd. If the Vols defense is as inconsistent as it was last year, it should be a great game for the Vanderbilt offense. If — wait strike that — when Vanderbilt beats Butch Jones at Neyland this year, I fear that Vol Nation will tie him to the goalposts. Since he is currently the only Volunteer coach to lose to Vandy three times since the 1920’s. As the play between these two teams is always tough, it will be a grudge match. The Vanderbilt offense will be on fire, and the seniors on “Black Death” defense will want this W on their watch. Mason’s defense loves a good upset. They will pull one off against the Volunteers at Neyland.

Vanderbilt 21, Tennessee 17

Final Season Prediction: 9-3

The Future is Now

I wrote these words last season, and they are even more appropriate this season.

Derek Mason is one of the best defensive minds in the game. He will give the SEC East more than it can handle. The Vanderbilt defense is being talked about as one of the best in the SEC. As long as the offense doesn’t get behind, they should have no problem keeping themselves in the game. Vandy needs to play smart and eliminate the turnovers. If Vanderbilt can keep everyone healthy, they will be the upset kings of the SEC.

Mason told the Vanderbilt faithful in July, “The future is bright, but the future is now.” This is an experienced team that can play with the best of them. Although, Vandy has a tough September, if they come out of that with more than one upset, they just might break into the Top 25. It will be another exciting year for the Commodore Nation. This is a well-built and talented team. Mason has his team committed, trained, and ready to compete. Vanderbilt football is on the rise.

Main Photo

SHREVEPORT, LA – DECEMBER 26: A Vanderbilt football helmet on display at the Camping World Independence Bowl between the Vanderbilt Commodores and the NC State Wolfpack on December 26, 2016, at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, La. (Photo by John Bunch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

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