Vanderbilt is never going to be an elite team in the SEC, but five wins last season was a disappointment for fans after making a bowl the previous year. It was even worse considering the Commodores started with three wins and even beat Tennessee in the finale. OUtside of that, they couldn’t get much going highlighted by the 59-0 loss to Alabama and 20-plus-point losses at home to Kentucky and Missouri late in the year. Vandy will hope to make a bowl in Derek Mason’s fifth year in change, but like every other year, it won’t be easy.
There is at least some good news for the Commodores in that Kyle Shurmur is still there to lead the offense after throwing 26 touchdowns last season. Unfortunately, a few of his top options are gone, which means wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb (8 TDs) has to step up with a slew of guys behind him including tight ends Jared Pinkney and Sam Dobbs. The bigger problem for the offense is replacing Ralph Webb, who had at least 200 touches in all Four seasons at Vanderbilt, including 222 last year and a ridiculous 301 in 2016. The consensus is that Illinois transfer Ke’Shawn Vaughn will take the top spot, but it’s likely the ‘Dores will use a few guys. With an offensive line that returns all five starters, there’s at least hope the group can be better after just 24.6 points per Game and a terrible 107.2 rushing yards per contest.
The defense was routinely shredded by top competition in 2017 so Jason Tarver was brought in to lead the group after spending the last few seasons with the Raiders (coordinator) and 49ers (defensive assistant) in the NFL. Unfortunately, there will be a lot of new faces in the group with only Four starters returning.
There are pieces to work with, but it’ll be hard for a mediocre defense to improve when most of its top tacklers are gone. Linebacker should be set more than the other units led by seniors Jordan Griffin and Charles Wright, and possibly freshman Alston Orji. Along the line, everyone has to step up with brothers Dare and Dayo Odeyingbo the names to know. The secondary loses three guys, but Joejuan Williams is expected to be a top corner in the league soon and safety LADarius Wiley may already be a top guy in the SEC. Sure, there are pieces for success, but this is still a group that was destroyed by better competition last season.
The unfortunate thing for the Commodores is that they may only win three non-Conference Games in 2018 with a trip to Notre Dame standing out in the middle of September. To reach six wins, they’ll likely have to reach three in SEC play and it won’t be easy after last year’s 1-7 record. But outside of that trip to Georgia, all of their Games are technically winnable, especially without Alabama on the Schedule. Home Games against South Carolina, Florida, Ole Miss and Tennessee will be vital and will likely be where their three Conference wins come from.
Shurmur provides experience at quarterback, but without Webb in the backfield and plenty of questions on defense, Vandy could be looking at another five- or six-win season. Unsurprisingly, they are projected to finish last in the SEC East with the worst spring odds to win the National Championship (+120000 at 5Dimes Sportsbook).
2018 Vanderbilt Commodores Football Schedule
Sept. 1 vs. Middle Tennessee
Sept. 8 vs. Nevada
Sept. 15 at Notre Dame
Sept. 22 vs. South Carolina
Sept. 29 vs. Tennessee State
Oct. 6 at Georgia
Oct. 13 vs. Florida
Oct. 20 at Kentucky
Oct. 27 at Arkansas
Nov. 10 at Missouri
Nov. 17 vs. Ole Miss
Nov. 24 vs. Tennessee