Let’s get something clear right off the bat here: the Vanderbilt Commodores, ranked No. 38 in Rant Sports Top 100 College Football Teams in 100 Days, are just as talented or a better than the next 20 College Football teams on this list.
Yes, Commodores head coach James Franklin has done an outstanding job of building an excellent football program at a top-tier academic institution. In fact, there is no doubt that if the Commodores were playing in another other major football conference, they would easily be in the top two or three. That’s right all you Big 12, Pac 12, ACC and Big 10 fans; don’t slight a four- or five-loss Commodore squad in the SEC, because they are still better than 70 percent of your conference.
And don’t tell Franklin last season was just a fluke.
“Vanderbilt had been to four bowl games in 122 years. We’ve been to two bowl games in two years. We were able to win nine games last year. Haven’t won nine games at Vanderbilt since 1915. Longest winning streak to end the season in the SEC last year was us. We’re part of what we call the 20-20-20 Club. That is us and Notre Dame Fighting Irish are the only two schools in the country that finished in the top 20 on the football field, that had a top 20 recruiting class, and are in the top 20 academic institutions. We’re very, very proud of that stat as well.”
Vandy’s hopes will lie in the arms and legs of senior quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, who takes over for Jordan Rodgers. Samuels was a two-year starter for the Wyoming Cowboys before transferring to Nashville. He is not as quick and athletic as Rodgers but will have the weapons around him to continue to lead the Commodores to victory.
The defense will be anchored by senior linebackers Chase Garnham and Karl Butler. Garnham had 8.5 sacks in 2012 while Butler has 11.5 tackles for losses.
If you didn’t pay attention to the Commodores last season, you need to get to know senior wide reciever Jordan Matthews. At 6-foot-3, 205-pounds he will be the main target for Samuels and a player who wants to prove he is one of the best, if not the best, receivers in the SEC. If Matthews can get near or eclipse his 1,300-plus yards and eight touchdowns he tallied in 2012, you can easily make an argument he is the head of the class in the SEC.
The backfield is also loaded for Vandy with Wesley Tate, Brian Kimbrow and Jerron Seymour. Seymour returns after missing all of the 2012 season due to injury and is the closest in style to Zac Stacy, who finished up his senior season with 1,200 yards.
The key to another nine-win season for Vanderbilt in 2013 will be its defensive line, which is led by a pair of solid players returning in Walker May and Caleb Azubike. May collected 10.5 tackles for losses in 2012, and Azubike is a versatile athlete who can play both end and tackle. But the defensive line core is lacking some depth when it comes to SEC game experience, meaning freshmen Landon Stokes and Jay Woods may see more minutes than coach Franklin would probably want.
The secondary is still solid, anchored by Second-Team All-SEC corner Andre Hall. The defensive backfield is experienced, athletic and only allowed seven touchdown passes last season.
And here comes the hammer. Vandy opens up the 2013 season by jumping right into the SEC slate, hosting the Ole Miss Rebels. They also host the Kentucky Wildcats, Missouri Tigers and the Georgia Bulldogs in SEC action.
Now get ready for this.
Vandy will travel to face the South Carolina Gamecocks to open up their road SEC schedule, then have back-to-back games on the road at the Texas A&M Aggies and the Florida Gators, and end it with a trip to face the Tennessee Volunteers. Yeah. Brutal.
But despite the tough schedule, this Vandy team is still good enough for seven wins at least and will be a team no one wants to face in a Bowl Game.
2013 Vanderbilt Commodores Schedule
August 29 – Mississippi
September 7 – Austin Peay
September 14 – at South Carolina
September 21 – at Massachusetts
September 28 – UAB
October 5 – Missouri
October 12 – BYE
October 19 – Georgia
October 26 – at Texas A&M
November 9 – at Florida
November 16 – Kentucky
November 23 – at Tennessee
November 30 – Wake Forest
M Shannon Smallwood is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the US Basketball Writers Association.
Follow him @woodysmalls.