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1. Change takes a lot
We lean on history in college football. Most teams play in the same stadiums they were in decades ago, with the same fight song and same school colors. Frats and sororities pomp for Homecoming. Old coaches and players stand bronzed outside of stadiums. Et cetera.
Case in point: Vanderbilt. They're toast. It's over. They're Vandy again. Hope they had fun.
The Commodores went 18-8 in 2012-13 and finished ranked in the AP poll in both years. James Franklin came to Nashville for three seasons and built a sturdy, smart squad. The Commodores were good in defense and special teams, leaned on timely big plays on offense, and put themselves in position to capitalize on mistakes. They went 24-15, and while there were perhaps lucky wins, that doesn't explain why they were successful; they were just 7-7 in one-possession games over those three years (1-5 the first year, 6-2 the next two).
Franklin signed recruiting classes that far exceeded expectations, and they're still matriculating. But when Franklin left for Penn State, his replacement didn't get off on the right foot. An absurdly young roster was mediocre on defense and nightmarish on offense, and the Commodores went 3-9, losing a few competitive games, getting blown out a few times, and barely beating the two worst teams on the schedule. They were awful, 115th in the F/+ rankings.
If this were a different school, we might talk ourselves into a Year 0 situation. Some of the most renowned coaches in college football have labored through awful debut seasons before; there are the obvious examples (Lou Holtz and George O'Leary going winless in their respective first seasons at South Carolina and UCF), but there's also another relevant one: Jim Harbaugh's first Stanford team went just 4-7 in his debut.
Second-year head coach Derek Mason spent four years at Stanford under Harbaugh and David Shaw, rising to defensive coordinator in 2012. That's the perfect preparation for taking over a program at a smart-kid school. And if Vandy had been successful for more than just a small handful of years in the last half-century, we wouldn't be writing him and his 'Dores off just yet.
But oh man, are we writing them off.
2. Stanford was still better than this
Everything I just said is true, and Mason's tenure in Nashville is far from hopeless. But that took some spin, didn't it?
Vandy was so very, very awful. How bad is 115th in F/+? Here are the 10 teams that ranked ahead of the SEC's Commodores:
105. Akron (5-7)
106. Ohio (6-6)
107. Kent State (2-9)
108. Old Dominion (6-6)
109. UTSA (4-8)
110. Southern Miss (3-9)
111. Hawaii (4-9)
112. Idaho (1-10)
113. Wyoming (4-8)
114. Buffalo (5-6)
All 10 are mid-majors, and they averaged four wins. This is 14 spots worse than Wake Forest and 16 worse than Kansas. Vanderbilt was far worse than everybody else in the power-conference orbit.
It's really hard to come back from 115th no matter how young you are.
Between youth and the "it almost literally can't get worse" factor, expect improvement. The defense has promise, and the run game might be semi-efficient. But it's hard to give too much refutation to those writing the Commodores off. It's going to take a lot to come back.
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 3-9 | Adj. Record: 3-9 | Final F/+ Rk: 115|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|22-Nov||at Mississippi State||13||0-51||L||3%||-45.0||0%|
|Points Per Game||17.2||119||33.3||106|
3. Bad at home, awful on the road
Vandy fan central
Vandy fan central
If you're scrounging for hopeful results, there are a few to lean on.
Granted, the three F/+ top-15 teams on the schedule beat Vandy by an average of 45-7, but the Commodores shut down Tennessee's offense in the season finale, limiting the Vols to 4 yards per play and averaging 4.1 themselves. Plus, they stayed within 10 points of eventual East champion Missouri on the road and didn't let Kentucky or South Carolina pull away to any major degree.
Missouri game aside, though, Vandy fit the role of "bad young team." The Commodores were occasionally salty at home and mostly abysmal on the road.
They say defense travels. When the road team has the ball is when the crowd is going to make noise. But while the defense remained about the same for VU in and out of Nashville, it's safe to say the offense didn't travel.
- Average Percentile Performance (home): 37% (~top 80 | avg. score: Opp 33, VU 21)
- Average Percentile Performance (road): 20% (~top 105 | avg. score: Opp 34, VU 10)
In four road games, VU once gained more than 240 yards and never scored more than 17 points. The 'Dores weren't exactly unstoppable at home, but they at least had moments: 34 points and 6.9 yards per play against South Carolina, 42 and 6.2 against ODU.
Of course, the offense might have stood more of a chance if VU had been able to put the same quarterback on the field from week to week. Instead, the Commodores cycled through virtually every QB on the roster.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||37.6%||108||Succ. Rt. +||89.4||113|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||30.6||82||Def. FP+||99.0||77|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||3.4||117||Redzone S&P+||81.6||119|
|Q1 Rk||114||1st Down Rk||90|
|Q2 Rk||67||2nd Down Rk||101|
|Q3 Rk||123||3rd Down Rk||114|
4. Second chance, first impression
Karl Dorrell is by all accounts a good guy, and at 51 years old, he's got plenty of coaching ahead of him. But the former UCLA coach was an interesting choice as Mason's first coordinator.
He hadn't coached in the college ranks since he left UCLA in 2007, and his last couple of Bruin offenses were lacking, to say the least: 55th in Off. S&P+ in 2006, then 83rd in 2007. His old-school, pro-style approach has had its moments -- he was Rick Neuheisel's coordinator when Colorado was putting up huge numbers in 1995, and his 2005 UCLA offense did rank fifth in Off. S&P+.
But the college game has evolved since the last time Dorrell was in charge of a good O. He was going through a learning process just as his players were, and the combination was ... not fruitful.
Under Dorrell, VU averaged 4.7 yards per play, topping the national average of 5.8 per play just twice and falling below 4 per play three times. Vandy scored 10 points in its first two games, and in the quarters most heavily focused on the game plan (Q1 and Q3), VU was horrific: 114th in Q1 S&P+, 123rd in Q3. It was ugly.
Mason saw the writing on the wall. He dumped Dorrell and brought in former Wisconsin coordinator Andy Ludwig. Ludwig's Wisconsin offense was run-heavy and slow-paced, and that probably means another heavy load for running back Ralph Webb, who averaged nearly 18 carries per game as a redshirt freshman and 24 carries for 113 yards in Vandy's three wins. He also averaged 16 carries for just 62 yards in SEC competition, but he was efficient for a freshman and could develop into a nice five-yards-per-carry back who keeps VU out of second-and-long.
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Johnny McCrary||6'4, 220||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8839||78||152||985||9||8||51.3%||4||2.6%||6.1|
|Wade Freebeck||6'5, 226||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8324||34||72||376||1||5||47.2%||7||8.9%||4.2|
|Shawn Stankavage||6'2, 195||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8406|
|Kyle Shurmur||6'4, 226||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8974|
|Ralph Webb||RB||5'10, 202||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8256||212||907||4||4.3||3.2||39.6%||3||2|
|Dallas Rivers||RB/FB||6'1, 224||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8672||61||218||2||3.6||1.8||34.4%||0||0|
|Johnny McCrary||QB||6'4, 220||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8839||18||67||0||3.7||3.1||33.3%||1||1|
|Wade Freebeck||QB||6'5, 226||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8324||5||8||0||1.6||N/A||0.0%||0||0|
|Darrius Sims||RB||5'9, 188||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8609|
|Josh Crawford||RB||5'10, 200||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8407|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Latevius Rayford||WR||6'1, 198||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8418||61||36||350||59.0%||18.3%||52.5%||5.7||-93||5.8||42.8|
|Steven Scheu||TE||6'5, 245||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8156||60||39||525||65.0%||18.0%||63.3%||8.8||55||8.9||64.2|
|C.J. Duncan (injury)||WR||5'11, 200||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8300||55||28||441||50.9%||16.5%||58.2%||8.0||86||8.0||54.0|
|Chandler Dorrell||WR||5'11, 185||So.||NR||NR||25||10||118||40.0%||7.5%||36.0%||4.7||-17||4.3||14.4|
|Caleb Scott||WR||6'2, 195||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8422||21||6||78||28.6%||6.3%||42.9%||3.7||-12||4.1||9.5|
|Ralph Webb||RB||5'10, 202||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8256||18||10||30||55.6%||5.4%||38.9%||1.7||-94||2.0||3.7|
|Kris Kentera||WR||6'4, 218||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7593||15||7||113||46.7%||4.5%||40.0%||7.5||22||8.3||13.8|
|Nathan Marcus||TE||6'5, 240||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8464||12||6||56||50.0%||3.6%||66.7%||4.7||-20||5.2||6.9|
|Trent Sherfield||WR||6'0, 200||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8649||3||1||9||33.3%||0.9%||66.7%||3.0||-5||2.6||1.1|
|Darrius Sims||RB||5'9, 188||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8609||2||2||14||100.0%||0.6%||50.0%||7.0||-9||8.1||1.7|
|Curtis Graves||WR||6'2, 198||Jr.||NR||NR|
|DeAndre Woods||WR||6'3, 235||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8786|
|Sean Dowling||TE||6'5, 270||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8625|
|Ronald Monroe||WR||6'3, 200||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8569|
|Rashad Canty||WR||6'3, 205||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8174|
|Sam Dobbs||TE||6'4, 220||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8538|
|Jared Pinkney||WR||6'4, 240||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8287|
5. So many sophomores
Dorrell's VU offense had a Stanford twinge to it: lots of rushing and plenty of passes to the tight end. Senior Steven Scheu should continue to be a nice weapon; he led VU with 525 receiving yards and did quite a bit of damage against SEC East foes. Against South Carolina, Georgia, Missouri, Florida, and Tennessee, he caught 22 passes for 374 yards. That means he caught 17 passes for 151 yards in the other seven games, but an up-and-down season is better than a down one.
Scheu is a unique weapon. He's also just about the only senior who will touch the ball. The starting quarterback will likely be either sophomore Wade Freebeck or Johnny McCrary. Sophomore Dallas Rivers will carry the ball when sophomore Webb isn't. Sophomore C.J. Duncan enters as the most dangerous returning wideout [Update: Duncan will likely miss 2015 due to a leg injury], and sophomores Chandler Dorrell and Caleb Scott might start. And sophomore Sean Dowling is at tight end after spending some time at tackle.
Vandy's 2017 seniors are going to play the largest role in determining Vandy's 2015 success. That will mean plenty of development time for the future, but it doesn't say good things about the present, especially since almost nobody put up semi-encouraging stats last year.
McCrary's first three games at QB were encouraging. He completed 62 percent of his passes at 13.7 yards per completion, with eight touchdowns to two interceptions, against Charleston Southern, Missouri, and Old Dominion. But he was horrific in the next three: 42 percent completion rate, 10.9 yards per completion, one touchdown, four picks.
Freebeck wasn't any better sans a decent performance against South Carolina. But he seemed to take to Ludwig's offense better than McCrary this spring and seems to have the edge heading into fall camp.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Jake Bernstein||RG||6'4, 310||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8364||32|
|Spencer Pulley||C||6'4, 300||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8400||29|
|Andrew Jelks (injury)||LT||6'6, 307||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8849||21|
|Will Holden||RT||6'7, 312||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8465||11|
|Barrett Gouger||LG||6'4, 308||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8586||0|
|Kevin McCoy||RG||6'5, 305||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8456||0|
|Blake Fromang||RT||6'7, 305||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8360||0|
|Delando Crooks||LG||6'5, 315||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8661||0|
|Cole Hardin||C||6'4, 300||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8585|
|Bailey Granier||LT||6'6, 315||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8445|
|Bruno Reagan||OL||6'3, 315||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8275|
|Egidio DellaRipa||RT||6'4, 300||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7900|
|Justin Skule||OL||6'7, 305||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8457|
|Jared Southers||OL||6'4, 315||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8290|
6. Experience up front
Timing might not be Vandy's friend. While the quarterback and quite a few skill position guys might peak in 2017, the line could be young then. It's loaded with juniors and seniors this year.
[Update: Starting left tackle Andrew Jelks will miss the season due to a knee injury.]
But that's a concern for later. In 2015, the VU line has far more experience than the rest of the Vandy offense. If there's actual skill here to go with the 93 career starts, the line could be alright.
"Could" is the operative word. It's hard to succeed when you're blocking for freshmen, but in the more line-reliant stats, Vandy was awful: 110th in power success rate, 81st in stuff rate. The Commodores have experience and the requisite size (the 14 players listed above average 6'5, 308), but that's not the entire battle.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||43.2%||86||Succ. Rt. +||95.0||89|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||28.4||105||Off. FP+||98.0||88|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.7||95||Redzone S&P+||95.6||82|
|Q1 Rk||101||1st Down Rk||78|
|Q2 Rk||72||2nd Down Rk||38|
|Q3 Rk||61||3rd Down Rk||79|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Caleb Azubike||DE||6'4, 260||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8663||11||28.5||4.1%||6.0||4.0||0||0||0||0|
|Adam Butler||DE||6'5, 300||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8685||12||25.5||3.7%||7.5||2.5||0||3||0||0|
|Jay Woods||DE||6'3, 280||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8996||12||21.5||3.1%||1.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jonathan Wynn||DE||6'4, 250||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8609||11||9.0||1.3%||1.5||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Nifae Lealao||NT||6'5, 315||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9501||9||4.5||0.7%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Torey Agee||DE||6'4, 282||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8339||4||2.0||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Sekou Clark||DE||6'3, 264||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8186|
|Riley Tindol||DE||6'5, 262||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7844|
7. A little bit of potential up front
With Vanderbilt's defensive success under Franklin and coordinator Bob Shoop, and with Mason's success as Stanford's coordinator, it made sense to assume the VU defense might have decent upside. Technically, there was more to like on this side of the ball, but the Commodores weren't effective.
Part of that could be youth, but I still expected more. So did Mason, evidently. He fired coordinator David Kotulski and replaced him with ... himself.
Two of Vandy's most high-profile signees are on the defensive line. Caleb Azubike has shown random glimpses of four-star pass-rushing potential, and blue-chipper Nifae Lealao saw rotation time as a true freshman.
Vandy ranked 75th in Rushing S&P+, 85th in Adj. Line Yards, and 81st in Adj. Sack Rate, and a lack of experience was less of a legitimate excuse here.
Well, it wasn't an excuse for the line, The top three linebackers were two freshmen and a sophomore, and while they made a few plays (Stephen Weatherly was an alluring playmaker), they made mistakes as well.
Regardless of where most of the blame should lie, there are pieces with potential. Adam Butler proved versatile for a 300-pounder, recording 7.5 tackles for loss and batting down three passes. And younger players like Lealao, Jay Woods, and Jonathan Wynn could realize more upside. And the ceiling's pretty high for a linebacking corps that returns Weatherly and both sophomore inside linebackers. As with so many other pieces of this team, the front seven should be better in 2016 than it will be in 2015.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Nigel Bowden||ILB||6'1, 240||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8755||11||57.5||8.3%||2.0||1.0||0||1||1||0|
|Zach Cunningham||ILB||6'4, 230||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9015||11||52.0||7.5%||6.5||1.5||0||2||1||0|
|Stephen Weatherly||OLB||6'5, 250||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8507||12||42.5||6.2%||12.5||4.5||0||1||1||0|
|Darreon Herring||ILB||6'2, 230||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8581||12||34.0||4.9%||3.5||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Ja'karri Thomas||ILB||6'1, 230||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8302||11||14.0||2.0%||0.5||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Landon Stokes||OLB||6'4, 240||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8524||10||3.0||0.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Harding Harper||ILB||6'2, 240||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8303|
|Charles Wright||OLB||6'3, 236||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7819|
|Nehemiah Mitchell||OLB||6'4, 260||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8565|
|Josh Smith||LB||6'3, 236||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9343|
|Caleb Peart||LB||6'1, 230||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8625|
|Dare Odeyingbo||LB||6'2, 252||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8544|
|Jordan Griffin||LB||6'0, 215||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8538|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Torren McGaster||CB||6'0, 200||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8463||12||56.0||8.1%||3.5||0||2||5||1||0|
|Andrew Williamson||SS||6'1, 212||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7826||12||43.0||6.2%||4||0||0||3||0||0|
|Jahmel McIntosh||FS||6'1, 202||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8252||12||32.0||4.6%||1.5||0||1||2||0||0|
|Taurean Ferguson||CB||5'9, 185||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8497||11||27.5||4.0%||1.5||0||2||4||0||0|
|Oren Burks||FS||6'3, 215||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8600||8||26.5||3.8%||0||0||0||7||0||0|
|Ryan White||SS||5'9, 190||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8918||9||26.5||3.8%||3.5||0.5||0||2||1||0|
|Tre Bell||CB||6'0, 178||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8662||9||17.0||2.5%||0||0||0||2||0||0|
|Tre Tarpley||SS||6'0, 202||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8306||11||16.0||2.3%||2||0||0||0||2||0|
|Tre Herndon||CB||6'1, 185||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8386||12||8.0||1.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Darrius Sims||NB||5'9, 188||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8609||12||3.5||0.5%||0||0||1||1||0||0|
|Emmanuel Smith||FS||6'2, 218||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8922||9||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jalen Banks||SS||5'11, 195||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8625||11||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|LaDarius Wiley||CB||6'1, 205||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8320|
|Bryce Lewis||DB||6'0, 180||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8535|
|Donovan Sheffield||CB||5'11, 182||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8982|
8. A lot of potential in the back
Vandy's pass defense was basically as good as its pass rush. If the Commodores were getting any pressure, the secondary was typically able to hold up. They allowed more big pass plays than you'd like; despite a slow tempo and the fact that they were behind frequently (and opponents were therefore leaning on the run), Vandy still allowed 108 passes of 10-plus yards (61st in the country) and 39 of 20-plus (58th). Not awful, but not good either.
The front seven should improve, and while the secondary will be led by two senior safeties and junior corner Torren McGaster, there's plenty of youth. Six freshman defensive backs made at least 8 tackles last year, and freshmen become sophomores. Toss in four-star sophomore Emmanuel Smith (who barely played) and incoming four-star cornerback Donovan Sheffield, and in theory there's a high ceiling ...
... in 2017. I'm a broken record, but 2015 will be about growth, not fully realized potential.
|Colby Cooke||6'3, 215||Jr.||66||42.4||7||11||19||45.5%|
|Tommy Openshaw||6'2, 185||So.||26||58.3||8||2||30.8%|
|Hayden Lekacz||6'0, 195||So.||18||58.6||5||0||27.8%|
|Tommy Openshaw||6'2, 185||So.||21-21||6-6||100.0%||2-5||40.0%|
|Hayden Lekacz||6'0, 195||So.||1-1||0-0||N/A||0-1||0.0%|
|Darrius Sims||KR||5'9, 188||Jr.||31||24.5||2|
|Dallas Rivers||KR||6'1, 224||So.||10||15.1||0|
|Trey Ellis||PR||5'10, 168||So.||9||5.4||0|
|Darrius Sims||PR||5'9, 188||Jr.||6||5.5||0|
|Special Teams F/+||71|
|Field Goal Efficiency||80|
|Punt Return Efficiency||20|
|Kick Return Efficiency||81|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||87|
9. Turning special teams over to the youngsters, too
Even special teams was dominated by freshmen and sophomores. Colby Cooke was one of the nation's better punters, Tommy Openshaw made all of his kicks that were under 40 yards, and Darrius Sims and Trey Ellis proved dangerous in the return game.
Sims scored twice on returns but got stopped for tiny gains a lot, and the combination of Openshaw's and Hayden Lekacz's kickoffs and shoddy coverage gave Vandy one of the nation's worst kickoff units. (Then again, the Commodores weren't kicking off very much, so the damage was limited.)
But everybody's back. Aside from sample size issues, there's little reason to think Vandy won't improve from 71st in special teams efficiency to at least the 50s or 60s.
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk|
|26-Sep||at Ole Miss||6|
|3-Oct||at Middle Tennessee||87|
|17-Oct||at South Carolina||31|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-7.6% (75)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||48 / 40|
|2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||-16 / -4.2|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||-4.9|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||18 (9, 9)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||2.8 (0.2)|
10. This is not the schedule for a rebound
Vanderbilt was a house stripped to its foundation. The Commodores were destined to be bad, and they were young enough that they should expect to improve.
It's not too late for Mason, but it would have been hard to start worse. It began with a blowout loss to Temple and finished with an 0-8 SEC campaign, and only a few youngsters hinted at upside.
Plus, some of Mason's decisions were questionable. His hire of Dorrell was a bit of a red flag, and the fact that he had to fire both coordinators after a single season (and that he trusted only himself to lead the defense) raises major questions about his ability to work with assistants. And some of his 2015 Media Days quotes came across as somewhere between odd and naive. (For one: "I assumed just because we were in the SEC we’d play like an SEC team. We didn’t.")
So yeah, Mason's Commodores have a long road, and while Year 0 situations happen and coaches make mistakes early in their first head coaching tenures, there's quite a bit for Mason to make up for.
This time, his schedule is tougher, as well. Vandy will take on a team that ranked higher last year in 11 of 12 games, and two of the worse teams (MTSU, Houston) play host.
Mason still has time, and his roster is still all sorts of hopeful, but his odds aren't great.