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1. Three years, 24 wins
James Franklin was only at Vanderbilt for three seasons. It felt like longer. Franklin won as many games as Vandy had in its previous six years. He won as many bowls as the 'Dores had in 52 years. He engineered as many top-25 finishes as Vandy ever had.
Franklin put together a sound staff, recruited like crazy, and filled reporter notebooks with obnoxiously charismatic, footbally quotes about toughness and discipline. He backed up the talk by putting one of the SEC's most disciplined teams on the field, one capable of taking advantage of every mistake its opponent made. The Commodores went 6-2 in one-possession games in the last two years, finished 2012 with seven straight wins, and finished 2013 with five.
Franklin did an incredible job of not only winning games but resetting the bar for Vandy football; the former was great in the present tense, and the latter is the key to the future. We no longer have to speculate what it might take to win in Nashville -- we've now seen precisely what it takes. We've also seen that you can recruit at a higher level than we expected. Franklin's tenure was an eye-opening experience.
One gets the impression that Vandy fans were getting a little bit tired of the constant "Franklin to ___" rumors and of Franklin's inability to tamp them down. And while he didn't seem to have any inappropriate involvement in any cover-up, there was a sexual assault scandal on his watch. His wasn't a perfect tenure, but he's still the most successful Vandy coach since Red Sanders (who also left for a bigger-name school).
And now he's gone, off securing four-star commitment after four-star commitment for Penn State. What comes next for Vanderbilt football?
2. Stealing from Stanford makes sense
I always advocated for Vandy to hire either Mike Leach or Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo because of the uniqueness and underdog favorability of the offenses they run; while acknowledging that both coaches would bring their own set of issues to the table -- Leach obviously doesn't have the best reputation among athletic directors at the moment, and Niumatalolo is a dormant volcano mixed inside a glass case of emotion on the sidelines -- but other than a slow pace, Franklin brings little uniqueness (in terms of personality/footprint) to the table, and for this job, that is a strike against him.
I wrote that three years ago. It feels like longer. I was distracted by Vandy's woeful history, and I was wooed by more extreme examples of underdog offenses. I was unconvinced that any coach in America could pull in top-30 recruiting classes at Vandy, and I was blind to the now-obvious fact that there are plenty of ways to win football games.
In recent years, Stanford (since about 2009), Vanderbilt (since 2011), and others have proven that there's a counter to the counter. While so many teams have gotten smaller and faster to adapt to the spread-offense universe, others have decided to get bigger and stronger. While so many teams have adopted a mach-speed tempo, others have found success in slowing things down.
Granted, a persual of the rosters shows us Stanford's recruited at a higher level for a longer period of time. And granted, Stanford has established a much higher level of play overall -- while Vandy was able to constantly defeat mediocre and bad teams (last two years: 0-7 vs. teams with nine or more wins, 18-1 against teams with eight or fewer), Stanford has played at a truly elite level (11-3 and 12-2, respectively). But both teams have been using versions of the same blueprint in recent years, and worse or not, Vandy's won 18 games in two years in the SEC. That wasn't supposed to be possible.
It makes sense, then, that in looking to replace its best coach in 70 years, Vanderbilt turned to The Farm.
New head coach Derek Mason has put in the hours and miles since his career as a Northern Arizona cornerback ended. He moved from Idaho State (running backs coach, 1997-98), to Bucknell (defensive backs coach, 1999-2001), to Utah (receivers and special teams coach, 2002). He spent a year at NMSU, then moved to Ohio, then spent three years with the Minnesota Vikings. He landed on Harbaugh's staff at Stanford in 2010, became defensive co-coordinator for David Shaw in 2011, then became outright D.C. in 2012.
And while he isn't the sole reason for this (other coaches played a role, as did a drastic upgrade in recruiting), it's not a total coincidence that Stanford's defense averaged a Def. F/+ ranking of 82.3 in the three years before his arrival and 9.0 after.
Mason's got the bona fides, and one assumes he has as good a chance as anybody of either maintaining Franklin's momentum or generating even more. But as I find myself saying often, difficult jobs remain difficult. A good coach can have some success at Vandy, but it will take a great one to build off of what Franklin established.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 9-4 | Adj. Record: 6-7 | Final F/+ Rk: 50|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|29-Aug||Ole Miss||28||35-39||L||34.9 - 30.2||W|
|7-Sep||Austin Peay||N/A||38-3||W||31.6 - 16.8||W|
|14-Sep||at South Carolina||10||25-35||L||27.4 - 31.9||L|
|21-Sep||at Massachusetts||118||24-7||W||28.1 - 33.1||L|
|28-Sep||UAB||115||52-24||W||35.6 - 24.3||W||4.3|
|5-Oct||Missouri||14||28-51||L||33.6 - 35.9||L||2.9|
|19-Oct||Georgia||22||31-27||W||27.5 - 11.4||W||3.1|
|26-Oct||at Texas A&M||23||24-56||L||17.1 - 31.7||L||1.1|
|9-Nov||at Florida||48||34-17||W||21.5 - 30.4||L||0.3|
|16-Nov||Kentucky||97||22-6||W||17.3 - 17.4||L||-2.0|
|23-Nov||at Tennessee||72||14-10||W||21.2 - 19.1||W||-1.1|
|30-Nov||Wake Forest||81||23-21||W||27.6 - 31.6||L||-5.1|
|4-Jan||vs. Houston||46||41-24||W||24.3 - 18.5||W||-1.0|
|Points Per Game||30.1||55||24.6||46|
|Adj. Points Per Game||26.8||75||25.6||43|
3. Fine until Austyn went down
Inside last year
Scheduling's a funny thing. Using the adjusted scores above, we see that Vanderbilt was quite likely a better team over the first half of the season. But the Commodores began the season 4-4 thanks to a load of five top-30 opponents in the first eight games. The schedule eased up down the stretch, with five teams ranked 46th or worse, and VU won five in a row while playing worse football.
- Adj. Points Per Game (first 7 games): Vandy 31.2, Opponent 26.2 (plus-5.0)
- Adj. Points Per Game (next 3 games): Opponent 26.5, Vandy 18.6 (minus-7.9)
- Adj. Points Per Game (last 3 games): Vandy 24.4, Opponent 23.1 (plus-1.3)
The defense held mostly steady throughout, playing consistently above-average ball, but the team's overall quality took a hit when senior quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels went down. He tore his ACL against Georgia, missed the A&M and Florida games, managed to return to play three games down the stretch (at a decreased but still relatively effective level), then had surgery and missed the bowl game.
Backup Patton Robinette, then a redshirt freshman, had a chance to stake a solid claim to the starting role in 2014 and beyond, but he struggled. He completed just 52 percent of his passes, took a sack on one of every eight pass attempts, and threw more interceptions than touchdowns. He showed some big-play potential, but not quite enough to secure the starting job. (His fake jump pass against Tennessee, however, was devine.)
And with the loss of both AC-S and star receiver Jordan Matthews, the passing game is in a state of flux heading into the fall.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||43.0%||64||Succ. Rt. +||96.5||73|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||29.9||66||Def. FP+||99.4||66|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.6||40||Redzone S&P+||102.0||52|
|Q1 Rk||111||1st Down Rk||37|
|Q2 Rk||54||2nd Down Rk||98|
|Q3 Rk||102||3rd Down Rk||119|
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Patton Robinette||6'4, 214||So.||3 stars (5.6)||46||88||642||4||5||52.3%||12||12.0%||6.0|
|Johnny McCrary||6'4, 230||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Stephen Rivers (LSU)||6'7, 236||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Wade Freebeck||6'5, 212||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
4. QB grab bag
Robinette has starting experience and showed at least a little bit of potential explosiveness in averaging 14.0 yards per completion. He also picked and chose his rushing spots well, gaining at least five yards on 26 of 59 non-sack carries. Johnny McCrary is an athletic former four-star recruit who had a nice spring. Stephen Rivers is a big-armed graduate transfer from LSU with strong blood lines. Wade Freebeck is a Mason recruit with size and potential.
If you spend 30 seconds searching the Internet, you can find a prediction that Robinette is the front-runner, that McCrary has the upper-hand, that Rivers is clearly the guy, and that Freebeck might see the field sooner than later. In terms of pure uncertainty and unpredictability, this is one of the most noteworthy fall-camp position battles in the SEC this year.
|Jerron Seymour||RB||5'7, 196||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||164||716||14||4.4||4.6||32.3%|
|Brian Kimbrow||RB||5'8, 185||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||81||341||3||4.2||4.3||37.0%|
|Patton Robinette||QB||6'4, 214||So.||3 stars (5.6)||59||260||7||4.4||2.9||44.1%|
|Derek King||RB||5'11, 205||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||5||23||0||4.6||6.5||20.0%|
|Ralph Webb||RB||5'10, 196||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Dallas Rivers||RB||6'1, 225||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Jerron Seymour||RB||5'7, 196||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||30||19||126||63.3%||8.4%||50.0%||4.2||-106||4.2||15.7|
|Jordan Cunningham||WR||6'1, 175||So.||4 stars (5.8)||24||15||123||62.5%||6.7%||33.3%||5.1||-61||5.1||15.3|
|Kris Kentera||WR||6'4, 220||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||20||10||100||50.0%||5.6%||82.4%||5.0||-39||3.8||12.4|
|Steven Scheu||TE||6'5, 250||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||15||9||123||60.0%||4.2%||75.0%||8.2||10||7.6||15.3|
|Brian Kimbrow||RB||5'8, 185||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||9||5||19||55.6%||2.5%||14.3%||2.1||-46||4.3||2.4|
|Latevius Rayford||WR||6'1, 192||So.||3 stars (5.7)||3||2||29||66.7%||0.8%||N/A||9.7||5||0.0||3.6|
|Trey Wilkins||WR||5'11, 210||Sr.||NR||3||2||4||66.7%||0.8%||0.0%||1.3||-20||1.1||0.5|
|DeAndre Woods||WR||6'3, 215||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|C.J. Duncan||WR||5'11, 195||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Gerald Perry||WR||5'10, 165||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Nathan Marcus||TE||6'5, 238||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Mitch Parsons||TE||6'4, 250||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Trent Sherfield||WR||6'0, 185||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
5. Where do the touches go?
While we're dealing with uncertainty, let's talk about Vandy's skill position lineup. The Commodores return a pair of decent, replacement-level running backs in Jerron Seymour and Brian Kimbrow; both have shown decent play-making ability, but neither were efficient enough to account for the loss of 2012 star Zac Stacy. Seymour was the steadiest of the bunch, and Kimbrow still occasionally showed the four-star potential that made him one of Franklin's most high-profile early signees.
But if a youngster like redshirt freshman Ralph Webb or freshman Dallas Rivers wanted to go off in camp, he could almost certainly earn some carries. And one assumes that with a Stanford guy as head coach and a pro-style guy (former UCLA head coach Karl Dorrell) as offensive coordinator, there will be plenty of carries to go around.
There are also plenty of targets to be seized by whoever wants them. In Jordan Matthews, Jonathan Krause, and running back Wesley Tate, Vandy loses three players who accounted for two-thirds of last year's targets. Matthews was leaned on more than any receiver in the country; his target rate (his percentage of his team's overall targets) was the second-highest in FBS behind Boston College's Alex Amidon, but he was also targeted 49 more times than Amidon. In a slow, reasonably run-heavy system, Matthews had the eighth-most targets in the country. Losing him is like losing your No. 1 and No. 2 receivers. And losing Krause also means that the best change-of-pace deep threat is also gone.
Leading returning wideouts Jordan Cunningham and Kris Kentera (a converted tight end) combined for a woeful 5.1 yards per target in about three targets per game last year. Cunningham is a former four-star recruit, and two more four-star freshmen (wideout Trent Sherfield and tight end Mitch Parsons) enter the mix this fall.
But it's certainly safe to say that any and all candidates are welcome to step forward and earn playing time, especially if Stanford head coach David Shaw's "if you practice well, you see the field, even if you're on the third string" ethos rubbed off on Mason (as it appears to have).
|Wesley Johnson||LT||51||1st All-SEC|
|Joe Townsend||C||6'4, 312||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||22|
|Jake Bernstein||LG||6'4, 306||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||20|
|Spencer Pulley||RG||6'4, 300||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||17|
|Andrew Bridges||RT||6'6, 285||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||17|
|Andrew Jelks||LT||6'6, 305||So.||4 stars (5.8)||9|
|Will Holden||LG||6'7, 310||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0|
|Kevin McCoy||RG||6'5, 295||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0|
|Blake Fromang||RT||6'7, 295||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0|
|Barrett Gouger||C||6'4, 305||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0|
|Sean Dowling||LT||6'5, 288||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Delando Crooks||LG||6'5, 312||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Cole Hardin||RG||6'4, 305||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Bailey Granier||LT||6'6, 345||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
6. An experienced, unsuccessful line
There is instability at both quarterback and wideout this fall, but at least the line's experienced. Vandy returns five players with starting experience (87 career starts), four of whom have at least 17 career starts. This unit was great in short-yardage situations last year and kept run defenders out of the backfield for the most part.
As you see from the numbers of above, however, they did not create many second-level opportunities for their backs. Though if you watched Vandy a decent amount last year, you came away wondering if that was because of the backs or the line. (I lean toward the backs, which really isn't any more encouraging.)
Regardless, there is experience in the run game, for (mostly) better and (maybe a little) worse. And Dorrell and company will absolutely lean on the run game if they can get away with it.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||43.2%||74||Succ. Rt. +||94.1||82|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||33.3||7||Off. FP+||106.5||5|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.0||53||Redzone S&P+||105.8||39|
|Q1 Rk||64||1st Down Rk||60|
|Q2 Rk||27||2nd Down Rk||68|
|Q3 Rk||80||3rd Down Rk||31|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Adam Butler||DE||6'5, 305||So.||3 stars (5.7)||12||20.5||2.9%||6.0||0.0||0||2||1||0|
|Barron Dixon||NT||6'4, 295||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||13||17.0||2.4%||4.0||2.5||0||2||0||0|
|Vince Taylor||NT||6'1, 310||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||13||14.0||2.0%||0.5||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Torey Agee||DE||6'4, 280||So.||3 stars (5.5)||8||2.5||0.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jay Woods||DE||6'3, 280||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Nifae Lealao||NT||6'5, 314||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Sekou Clark||DE||6'3, 260||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Riley Tindol||DE||6'5, 275||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)|
7. The predictable transition
Mason's brought Stanford ILBs coach David Kotulski with him to Nashville to serve as defensive coordinator. Kotulski has both D.C. experience (from 1990 to 2011, he was coordinator at Saint Mary's, Bucknell, Utah State, Holy Cross, and Lehigh) and, over the last two years, plenty of exposure to the Stanford 3-4 that Mason will attempt to deploy. There are some fine, defensive minds on this staff, but one figures it might take at least a year to get all the right pieces in the right places. Or, at least, enough pieces in the right places.
Vandy has seen the typical 4-3 to 3-4 position changes this offseason -- lots of defensive ends moving to OLB, defensive tackles moving to defensive end, and fat defensive tackles staying at defensive tackle. At first glance, size (often a concern when converting to a three-man line) doesn't appear to be problematic, especially if blue-chip tackle Nifae Lealao is ready to contribute right away.
But in terms of proven pieces, you've got sophomore Adam Butler (who is big and quick enough to potentially become a star at 3-4 end), nose tackles Barron Dixon and Vince Taylor, and ... that's it. Depth is an obvious concern.
With the conversion of a young set of ends into a young set of OLBs, there is quite a bit more depth and play-making potential at linebacker. Four-star junior Caleb Azubike was inconsistent as a sophomore but could thrive in the role of outside play-maker, Kyle Woestmann is a passing downs missile, and sophomore Stephen Weatherly showed pass-rushing potential in limited opportunities. Throw in pass-deflection master Darreon Herring at inside linebacker, and you could see one of the best pass-supporting linebacker units in the country here.
If the line holds up, the linebackers could be outstanding. But that's a pretty scary "if."
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Darreon Herring||ILB||6'1, 232||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||13||64.0||9.1%||3.0||1.5||1||10||0||0|
|Kyle Woestmann||OLB||6'3, 250||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||13||29.5||4.2%||7.0||6.0||0||1||1||0|
|Jake Sealand||ILB||6'2, 232||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||13||29.0||4.1%||2.5||0.0||0||1||1||0|
|Caleb Azubike||OLB||6'4, 260||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||10||26.0||3.7%||10.0||4.0||0||1||0||0|
|Ja'karri Thomas||ILB||6'1, 230||So.||3 stars (5.6)||13||16.5||2.4%||2.5||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Stephen Weatherly||OLB||6'5, 260||So.||3 stars (5.6)||12||15.0||2.1%||5.0||3.5||0||0||0||0|
|Jimmy Stewart||OLB||6'4, 232||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||13||12.5||1.8%||2.5||2.0||0||1||0||0|
|Casey Hughes||OLB||6'1, 220||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||13||12.0||1.7%||2.0||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Harding Harper||ILB||6'2, 240||So.||3 stars (5.6)||13||3.5||0.5%||2.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Nigel Bowden||ILB||6'1, 245||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Jonathan Wynn||OLB||6'4, 244||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Landon Stokes||OLB||6'4, 235||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Charles Wright||OLB||6'3, 230||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Hawkins Mann||ILB||6'3, 230||Fr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Paris Head||CB||6'0, 185||So.||3 stars (5.6)||13||18.5||2.6%||0||0||3||1||0||1|
|Andrew Williamson||FS||6'1, 208||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||12||15.5||2.2%||1||0||2||0||0||0|
|Jahmel McIntosh||SS||6'1, 205||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||13||13.0||1.9%||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Torren McGaster||CB||6'0, 192||So.||3 stars (5.6)||13||12.5||1.8%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Darrius Sims||CB||5'9, 182||So.||3 stars (5.7)||13||9.0||1.3%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Tre Bell||CB||5'11, 172||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Jalen Banks||FS||5'11, 190||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Ryan White||FS||5'9, 188||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Oren Burks||SS||6'3, 212||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Taurean Ferguson||CB||5'9, 185||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Emmanuel Smith||SS||6'2, 205||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Bryce Lewis||CB||6'0, 175||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Tre Herndon||CB||6'1, 174||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|LaDarius Wiley||CB||6'1, 195||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Tre Tarpley||SS||6'0, 195||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
8. Rebuild in the back
If Vandy's linebacking corps lives up to full potential, maybe the Commodores can eke out a strong pass defense. It was a relative strength for a number of years, but a lot of the reasons -- last year's four senior starters -- are gone. Kenny Ladler was a hawk in every sense of the word (five forced fumbles, nine passes defensed), and Andre Hal was one of the best on-the-ball defenders in the country for two years. In all, last year's starters combined for 13 tackles for loss, 10 interceptions, 27 break-ups, and Ladler's five forced fumbles. That's outstanding.
Last year's staff was smart enough to give the backups playing time while redshirting five relatively exciting true freshmen; that was certainly a nice parting gift for the new staff. Sophomore corner Paris Head showed solid ball skills, safety Andrew Williamson picked off two passes in limited opportunities, and if two or three of the incoming freshmen and redshirt freshmen are ready for action, the secondary might not be a lost cause.
Still, it is going to be infinitely younger than last year's unit, and with youth come breakdowns. Expect inconsistency, even if there's upside.
|Taylor Hudson||6'3, 220||Jr.||48||42.9||2||5||11||33.3%|
|Colby Cooke||6'3, 220||So.||14||45.1||2||6||8||100.0%|
|Darrius Sims||KR||5'9, 182||So.||25||22.8||0|
|Brian Kimbrow||KR||5'8, 185||Jr.||12||16.0||0|
|Special Teams F/+||30|
|Field Goal Efficiency||27|
|Punt Return Efficiency||50|
|Kick Return Efficiency||102|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||44|
9. Good special teams a must
Stanford is 24-5 with two Pac-12 titles since Andrew Luck left Palo Alto. That's an amazing thing to say and a supreme endorsement of Mason's defense, among other things.
But it's also a sign of the power of special teams and field position; Stanford ranked eighth in Special Teams F/+ in 2012 and third in 2013. You know about Ty Montgomery and the Stanford return game, but the unit as a whole was well-rounded.
Vandy's punting game was great, and the Commodores return both punters responsible for that. Sophomore Colby Cooke was incredible late, with 12 punts for an average of 46.6 yards in the final two games. The rest of the unit is questionable, though. Carey Spear was solid in both kickoffs and field goals, and he's gone. Plus, a nondescript return game must replace both punt returners. Cooke and Hudson should mean decent field position, but Vandy might need a bit more than that.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|22-Nov||at Mississippi State||26|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-1.1% (60)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||36|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||7 / 14.6|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||10 (6, 4)|
10. Win at home
On a play-for-play basis, I'm relatively confident about Vanderbilt's defense; there will be breakdowns, and I fear the line will wear down as a game progresses. But I see potential for another top-50 unit here, and holding steady while under serious transition is never a bad thing.
The offense will hold Vandy back, perhaps significantly. The running game should be competent and semi-efficient, and I assume whoever wins the QB job will be competent as well. But this offense had three play-makers last year -- Jordan Matthews, Jordan Matthews, and Jonathan Krause -- and now has no proven big-play threats.
Vandy will have to win games with field position and defense, but a decent home slate makes a fourth consecutive bowl a possibility. All four non-conference teams are underwhelming, to put it politely (though ODU could punish a shaky, young secondary), and in Ole Miss, Florida, and Tennessee, Vandy hosts three quite beatable SEC foes. (Meanwhile, Kentucky and MSU aren't exactly out of reach on the road.)
There are enough beatable opponents here to assure six wins, which would now seem a bit disappointing at VU, but I don't see Vandy as one of the SEC's better teams.