The Vanderbilt Commodores have been the perennial doormats of the SEC. Last year, the Commodores brought in a young, new head coach in James Franklin and he changed the attitude of the program. They finished the season with a tough loss to Cincinnati in the Liberty Bowl, but still had a lot to build on for 2012.
Offensively, they return eight starters including quarterback Jordan Rogers and 2nd Team All SEC Running Back Zac Stacy. The offensive line returns three starters and the wide receiving corps will be one of the most experienced in the SEC. This season will be one of the few times in Vanderbilt history that the offense will be the strength of the team. If the offensive line can form a solid cohesive unit, Zac Stacy has potential for a dark horse Heisman campaign and 1st Team All SEC honors. The Vanderbilt passing offense was tied for 97th in the NCAA and Jordan Rogers will need to progress as a passer to help relieve the pressure on Stacy.
The defense returns a lot of experience on a unit that was ranked 18th nationally in total defense. Vanderbilt will need to replace Casey Hayward at corner and Chris Marve at mike linebacker. These two gentlemen were the heart of the defense and each made 2nd Team All SEC. Casey Hayward was a huge playmaker on defense that led the team in interceptions and force fumbles. Marve was a field general for the defense as well as their leading tackler. Another key loss for Vanderbilt with be defensive end Tim Fugger. Fugger led the team in sacks. This defense needs to replace these three statistical leaders if they wish to be another Top 20 defense.
Vanderbilt's schedule is very front loaded with the three toughest teams from the SEC East in their first five games. If they can manage to beat South Carolina in their home opener, they will hav a great shot at winning the SEC East. The non-conference schedule is rather easy with the only challenge being a trip to Northwestern. The toughest stretch of the season has trips to Georgia and Missouri followed by consecutive home games against Florida and Auburn. If they can emerge from that stretch 2-2 or even 3-1, they'll be on the path to consecutive bowl games for the first time in school history. Vandy avoids the big three from the West and get Ole Miss for their permanent foe. Vanderbilt should at least go 6-6 again., but I think that this will be an eight win Vanderbilt team. If Vanderbilt reaches their potential, it will be due to a total team effort.