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You can read the entire Vanderbilt Commodores preview in Athlon Sports' 2013 SEC magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
SEC East PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: James Franklin, 15-11 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: John Donovan | DEF. COORDINATOR: Bob Shoop
It wasn’t always the smoothest ride, but Jordan Rodgers will be remembered as one of the top quarterbacks in school history. Austyn Carta-Samuels, a two year-starter at Wyoming and the 2009 Mountain West Freshman of the Year, is the favorite to take over. Carta-Samuels is a dual-threat who threw for 3,655 yards and rushed for 758 in his two seasons at Wyoming. He started one game last year for Vanderbilt, throwing for 195 yards in an easy win over Presbyterian.
The Commodores will replace Zac Stacy, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher, with a three-man committee — senior Wesley Tate and sophomores Jerron Seymour and Brian Kimbrow. Tate emerged as a consistent No. 2 back last year after spending the 2011 season at wide receiver. Kimbrow was the Commodores’ second-leading rusher as a true freshman, though more than half of his 413 yards came against Presbyterian and UMass. Seymour, the No. 2 back in 2011, redshirted last fall due in part to the depth at the position.
Vanderbilt boasts the SEC’s best pair of starting wide receivers in Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd. Matthews earned first-team all-conference honors as a junior after catching a league-best 94 passes for 1,323 yards and eight touchdowns. The tight end was expected to be a bigger part of the passing attack in 2013, but Brandon Vandenburg was dismissed from the team after an offseason incident.
No position group has progressed more during the course of the past two seasons than the offensive line. This year, however, this group has a chance to be a strength from the start. The headliner is senior tackle Wesley Johnson, who has not committed a holding penalty in his career despite starting every game over the past three seasons.
The same six schools have ranked in the top six in the SEC in total defense in the last two seasons — Alabama, LSU, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and … Vanderbilt. That’s right. After finishing last in the league in total defense in 2010, the Commodores climbed to sixth in 2011 and fifth in ’12.
The Commodores feature three defensive ends — Walker May, Kyle Woestmann and Caleb Azubike — who could play for any team in the league, a statement that can’t often be made with conviction. Depth at defensive tackle is an issue.
The linebacking corps was an area of significant concern heading into the 2012 season. It became a strength of the defense by the end of the year. Coordinator Bob Shoop gives a lot of the credit to one player. “The success of the Vanderbilt defense — and the team — went hand-in-hand with when Chase Garnham became comfortable at middle linebacker,” he says.
Three starters return in the secondary, most notably senior cornerback Andre Hal, a second-team All-SEC pick in 2012.
One of the underrated aspects of Vanderbilt’s breakthrough season was the play of the kicking specialists. Placekicker Carey Spear rebounded from a disappointing sophomore season to convert 20-of-24 as a junior, and punter Richard Kent was consistently strong all season long. Spear is back, but Kent must be replaced.
James Franklin has accomplished something most thought was not possible: He’s made Vanderbilt football relevant in the SEC. The Commodores went 9–4 overall and 5–3 in the SEC. The nine wins were the most since 1915, and the winning record in the league was the school’s first since 1982. And there was nothing fluky about Vanderbilt’s breakthrough season — the Dores ranked fifth in the league in total defense and a respectable eighth in total offense. While a few key players must be replaced on both sides of the ball, there is more than enough returning talent to take this program to a third straight bowl game
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