Sunday, July 16, 2017
Bilo's 2017 College Football Preview: Vanderbilt Commodores
Derek Mason struggled to get the Commodores to six wins and a bowl game last fall, and once they got to the Independence Bowl, they were thoroughly dismantled by NC State. The Commodores head into 2017 still looking for believers, as most don't see this team finishing near the upper half of the watered down SEC East. Can Vanderbilt ride the legs of Ralph Webb to a higher level this fall?
What To be Excited About: Offense
The offense centers around the running ability of RB Ralph Webb. Webb ran for 1283 yards and 13 TDs last season. He averaged 5.13 yards per carry, and 98.69 yards per game. He could finish this season as the second leading all-time rusher in the SEC, and is one of the better backs in the nation. Khari Blasingame ran for 10 TDs last season on just 97 carries, and returns as the primary backup, as does FB Bailey McElwain.
The receiving corps is also well thought of. WRs Trent Sherfield and Kalija Lipscomb both return, as does TE Nathan Marcus. Caleb Scott and TE Justin Pinckney also return, and CJ Duncan returns as well as the top receiver from the team last season.
Tommy Osborne is back at PK, and hit 15/19 FG attempts last fall.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
Kyle Shurmer is back at QB, and was a different player the second half. He still finished the season with just nine scores, and did toss 10 INTs. If he can be that guy from act two, the Commodores will be OK. If he is the guy from act one, not so much.
The offensive line is also a work in progress, and could see some major changes. Justin Skule is slated to start at LT, but is better on the right side. If he moves back to the right side, Devin Cochran, a RS freshman, could slide in at LT. Bruno Reagan is back at RG, and should stick there, but there are questions as to how everything should stack up when camp breaks.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Vanderbilt actually was solid most of the season on defense, giving up just over 24 points per game. The best part of the defense could be in the secondary, where three starters are back in CB Tre Herndon, SS Ryan White, and FS LaDarius Wiley. Herndon finished with eight PBUs, and also led the team with two INTs. White and Wiley combined for 10 PBUs. Wiley finished second in tackles with 76, while White was right behind him with 75. Joejuan Williams will start at CB as a sophomore after a strong debut last fall. Depth at CB is excellent as well.
Sam Loy was excellent as a freshman last fall at Punter, and averaged 41.65 yards per punt.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
Nifae Lealao is a rock solid NG up front, but the rest of the line is very much in flux. Jonathon Wynn is back at DE as a senior, and projects to start, but has not lived up to any billing as of yet. Dare Odeyingbo projects to start at the other DE spot, but that is not set in stone. Depth is not great at the end spots, either.
The LB spots are mostly open for competition in the fall, and Derek Mason openly admits that he has no real set rotation at this point. Oren Burks returns to start, but is the lone returning starter. Burks did finish with 6.5 TFLs, and 59 tackles as well.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Middle Tennessee, 9/9 Alabama A&M, 9/16 Kansas State, 9/23 Alabama, 9/30 at Florida, 10/7 Georgia, 10/14 at Ole Miss, 10/28 at South Carolina, 11/4 Western Kentucky, 11/11 Kentucky, 11/18 Missouri, 11/25 at Tennessee
With so many depth issues on defense, and so many questions on the offensive line, the Commodores may be hard pressed to head back to another bowl this season. Shurmer could turn himself around, but if the line in front of him does not work it out, it may all be for nothing, because he will be running for his life. It may take some time to iron everything out, and it may not happen between now and when the season ends. Several questions could be answered in camp, but the level of talent has dipped every year since Mason took over, and this roster is an example of that. The team may not bottom out this season, but once Webb is gone at RB, it may not be long before it does.