Vanderbilt got a pretty good draw with this year's schedule. The Commodores play in the SEC, so there will be a handful of difficult matchups. But for Derek Mason's team, which returns 18 starters, there should be a glimmer of hope on the horizon.]
Not only does Vanderbilt avoid Alabama and Auburn from the SEC West, but also it also gets two out of three of the SEC East's top contenders, Georgia and Missouri, at home. Accompany that with what looks to be an uninspiring non-conference schedule and the prospect of a bowl game looks possible.
Here is a look at Vanderbilt's 12 regular season games, ranked from easiest to toughest matchup:
12. Sept. 19 vs. Austin Peay
The Governors haven't squared off against an SEC team since they played both Tennessee and Vanderbilt in 2013, losing by a combined 83-3. They finished that season 0-12. In 2014 they showed little improvement, rounding out the year 1-11. This game will be a breeze for the Commodores.
11. Oct. 3 at Middle Tennessee
Going on the road against a bowl eligible C-USA team from last year that returns 13 starters could be a challenge for Vandy. Luckily, it's not a long trip. If traffic isn't too bad, the Commodores should make it to MTSU's Floyd Stadium in under an hour.
10. Sept. 3 (Thursday) vs. Western Kentucky
The Hilltoppers are no joke and no stranger to the SEC. They have beaten Kentucky in their last two meetings, so Vanderbilt fans shouldn't feel overconfident about this one. Western Kentucky returns 14 starters from an 8-5 team that knocked off undefeated Marshall near the end of 2014. Look out, Vandy.
9. Oct. 31 at Houston
Western Kentucky might actually be Vanderbilt's best out-of-conference opponent. However, the Houston game is on the road and is sandwiched right in the middle of SEC play. By this time in the year, the Commodores could be banged up. Houston will be a formidable adversary. The Cougars return some key pieces from a team that knocked off Pitt in the bowl season.
8. Nov. 14 vs. Kentucky
The Wildcats return a pair of solid running backs in Jojo Kemp and Stanley "Boom" Williams as well as an experienced offensive line known for its run-blocking ability. Yet, the most important piece of the offense will be quarterback Patrick Towles. Hopefully, Vanderbilt's defense will be improved enough to slow down Kentucky's offensive attack.
7. Nov. 7 at Florida
New head coach Jim McElwain is looking to improve the Gators' offense in 2015, but the defense should still be pretty good, especially in the secondary. The Commodores showed few signs of life last season when trying to throw the football and Florida will likely be able to hold Vanderbilt to few points. But can Florida score enough themselves to get a win in The Swamp?
6. Oct. 24 vs. Missouri
Mizzou has won the SEC East in back-to-back years, but last year the Tigers struggled to a 24-14 victory over Vanderbilt. As bad as Vandy was, the Commodores showed some promise against their SEC East rivals, losing close games to Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina and Tennessee. Vanderbilt could have success running the ball against a depleted defensive line for the Tigers.
5. Oct. 17 at South Carolina
The week before the tilt against Mizzou, Vanderbilt will find itself in a treacherous environment in the other Columbia. Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks will be on the hunt in 2015 after blowing multiple fourth-quarter leads a year ago. This will be a difficult matchup for Vanderbilt, especially on the road.
4. Nov. 21 vs. Texas A&M
The Aggies may be one of the most underrated teams in college football. They return eight starters on both sides of the ball, including their starting quarterback, running back and three best receivers from a year ago. Legendary defensive coordinator, "Chief" John Chavis, could have an immediate impact by simplifying the defense. Vanderbilt will have its work cut out when the Aggies visit Nashville.
3. Nov. 28 at Tennessee
Vanderbilt has won two of the past three against the Vols, but the tables have turned for the better in Knoxville. Tennessee fans are still irate over Patton Robinette's fake jump pass touchdown into the checkerboard in 2013. With talent such as Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Hurd, Derek Barnett and Curt Maggitt, the Vols should be able to enact their revenge.
2. Sept. 26 at Ole Miss
While they avoid most of the SEC West's elite contenders, Vanderbilt still has to deal with its permanent draw in Oxford. And although Ole Miss leads the series only 49-38-2, they are light years ahead of the Commodores on the field right now. Prosperous recruiting has put Ole Miss back on the map and the Rebels will be favored by double digits when Vanderbilt comes to town early in the season.
1. Sept. 12 vs. Georgia
Georgia is without a doubt the most difficult game on Vanderbilt's schedule. Fortunately, the game will take place in Nashville, but it might not make a difference when Nick Chubb gets his motor running. There is some hope for Vanderbilt's defensive line this season, but both sides of the ball will have to play their best game of the year to have a chance in this one.