Vanderbilt enters 2013 riding a wave of momentum. The Commodores are coming off back-to-back bowl appearances and finished 2012 on a seven-game winning streak.
Coach James Franklin has Vanderbilt positioned to take another step forward this season, as the Commodores have garnered some preseason top-25 consideration. The return of 13 starters should keep Vanderbilt in the mix for eight or nine wins, while creating an opportunity for an upset or two against one of the top teams in the SEC East.
The top three teams in the SEC East for 2013 seem clear. Georgia, Florida and South Carolina are considered a step above the next tier, which features Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Missouri.
On paper, the Commodores are clearly ahead of the Volunteers and Tigers this year, but there are question marks surrounding this team. Can quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels successfully replace Jordan Rodgers at quarterback? Can Vanderbilt find a No. 2 receiver to team with Jordan Matthews at receiver? Will the defense maintain its place among the best in the SEC with three new starters on the line?
What will Vanderbilt's record at the end of the 2013 regular season? Athlon’s panel of experts debates:
Vanderbilt's 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions
8/29 Ole Miss
9/7 Austin Peay
9/14 at South Carolina
9/21 at UMass
10/26 at Texas A&M
11/9 at Florida
11/23 at Tennessee
11/30 Wake Forest
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Coach James Franklin has raised the bar at Vanderbilt. The Commodores have made back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history, recruiting is on the upswing, and the facilities are getting an upgrade. Needless to say, momentum is on the side of Vanderbilt and Franklin. Even though the Commodores will have a new quarterback and running back Zac Stacy is gone to the NFL, this team will have a chance to win nine games. New quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels could be an upgrade in terms of talent over Jordan Rodgers, and receiver Jordan Matthews is one of the nation’s best. The offensive line has made significant progress over the last few years, and the secondary ranks near the top of the SEC. Catching Texas A&M and Ole Miss in crossover play won’t be easy, but Vanderbilt should go 4-0 in non-conference play and will be favored to beat Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee. The opener against Ole Miss is a huge barometer test for both teams and should give us a good idea of how the Commodores stack up for 2013.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
James Franklin has to overcome some horrific off-season summer news off-the-field and the highest expectations in school history on it. This team has yet to pull any big upsets under Franklin as it has lost to nearly every team it has played with a winning record, so scoring some potential upsets — like, say, Georgia at home — will be critical moving forward for Vandy. Key swing games in Knoxville and against Ole Miss to start will likely determine if the Dores can land in the postseason for an unprecedented third straight year.
James Franklin has already accomplished so much in his first two seasons at Vanderbilt that should the Commodores not earn a third straight bowl invite it would be considered a surprise. In fact, it's safe to say that the bar has been raised beyond just getting to six wins and becoming bowl-eligible, as Franklin has his sights set much higher. While a trip to the SEC title game this fall is probably not in the cards, this team has enough talent and experience that it should be able to match last season's win total.
The schedule probably caps the regular-season win tally at eight, but if Austyn Carta-Samuels emerges at quarterback and the defense continues to improve, this Vanderbilt team could potentially pull off an upset on the road. And at this point, a win in Columbia, S.C., or College Station, Texas, or even The Swamp down in Gainesville, Fla., probably wouldn't shock anyone. Welcome to the current state of Vanderbilt football.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
If Vanderbilt gets to another bowl game, James Franklin remains a miracle worker, whether it’s a six-win season or nine-win season. I’ve picked eight wins during the regular season, and I’d be tempted to drop it after the sexual assault scandal has cost the ‘Dores a player who is going to make a difference (No. 2 wide receiver Chris Boyd). This is a team with a new (to them) starting quarterback and no receiver other than Jordan Matthews who caught more than 12 passes last season. The non-conference schedule is manageable, but eight wins may be a ceiling.
Josh Ward, (@Josh_Ward), Mr. SEC
Vanderbilt has reached the postseason the last two years, which has led to higher expectations in Nashville. Can the Commodores live up to them? The opener against Ole Miss will give Vanderbilt a chance to show it’s for real. Even if the Commodores lose to Ole Miss, the season still has plenty of promise. Remember, Vanderbilt began last season with an 0-2 record before it finished the year with nine wins. There are questions to be answered. Is Austyn Carta-Samuels ready to be the No. 1 quarterback? Will wide receiver Chris Boyd return to the team? He’s an important part of Vanderbilt’s offense. The Commodores won’t sneak up on anyone this year as they try to reach their third consecutive bowl game under head coach James Franklin.
SEC Logo (@SEC_Logo)
This isn't your father's SEC punching bag Vanderbilt, not while James Franklin is in town. They are coming off back to back bowl seasons for the first time in their schools history, not to mention a 41-18 beat down of instate rival Tennessee last season. They have by far the easiest non-conference schedule in the SEC, it's downright laughable. Their bye week placement is setting up quite nice for a shot at knocking off a couple of SEC East contenders, week 7 before a home game vs Georgia and week 10 before a trip to Gainesville, FL. Don't fall asleep in their defense either, last year they ranked 5th in the SEC only allowing 333.9 yards per game. The two biggest questions, how does the recent off field issues and suspensions effect the team as a whole, and their QB situation. Name to remember: Austyn Carta-Samuels, QB
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