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I Wanna SEC You Up: A Cursory Glance at Vandy

Over the next twelve weeks we'll be giving you a preview of the SEC, with a special emphasis on the teams that our own beloved Tide will face this season. I'll try to be as objective as possible (which really only means you can expect 50% less "boo! hiss!" during Tennessee week) and we'll hopefully have a blogger or media type that covers that team time chime in to let me know just how big of a fool I've been making of myself all week long. Since I'm doing the previews in reverse alphabetical order to make Alabama's preview (a two week affair...TAKE THAT, REST OF THE SEC!) last, that must mean everyone's favorite bastion of book learnin' is up first. Without further ado, I give you A Cursory Glance at The Vanderbilt Commodores.

What? Did you honestly think I wouldn't post a cheerleader picture?

The Basics
After losing QB Jay Cutler to the NFL after the 2005 season in which Vandy posted five wins (the most since 1999 and only the second time since Gerry DiNardo was walking the sidelines in Nashville) and closed out the season by dashing Tennessee's bowl hopes with an upset win in Knoxville (tee hee..I mean, the first time they'd beaten the Vols since '82), most thought Vandy was ripe to fall back into the two and three win range they had occupied so comfortably for years. But Vandy had other plans, winning FOUR games, including a surprise upset of Georgia in Athens, and dropping four of eight by a TD or less (including a 19-25 loss to eventual national champions Florida). In fact, their average margin of defeat last season was only 12 points, and only the losses to South Carolina and Tennesse were truly bad losses. Here's how last season shook out for the 'Dores:
9/2 at Michigan L 7-27
9/9 at Alabama L 10-13
9/16 vs Arkansas L 19-21
9/23 vs Tennessee State W 38-9
9/30 vs Temple W 43-14
10/7 at Ole Miss L 10-17
10/14 at Georgia W 24-22
10/21 vs South Carolina L 13-31
10/28 at Duke W 45-28
11/4 vs Florida L 19-25
11/11 at Kentucky L 26-38
11/18 vs Tennessee L 10-39

While their average margin of defeat was only 12 points, their average margin of victory was 23 points, bolstered, no doubt, by whippings of terrible D-1A teams like Temple and Duke and a beatdown of 1-AA cupcake Tennessee State. Still, four wins is four wins, and with 18 starters returning from last year's squad, there's hope that this year could finally end Vandy's 25 year bowl drought.

Returning Starters

QB - Chris Nickson
TB - Cassen Jackson-Garrison

WR - Earl Bennett
WR - George Smith

LT - Chris Williams
LG - Josh Eames

RG - Merritt Kirchoffer
RT - Brian Stamper

C - Hamilton Holliday

DE - Curtis Gatewood
DT - Theo Horrocks

LB - Marcus Buggs
LB - Jonathan Goff

SS - Reshard Langford
FS - Ryan Hamilton

CB - D.J. Moore

This is likely the most talented and experienced team Bobby Johnson has fielded in his time at Vanderbilt, and if the Commodores can't get it done this year, will they ever? The obvious hope is that Chris Nickson, who led all rushers for Vandy, will have grown up enough after starting twelve games in the SEC to be the reliable QB Vandy needs. He had an impressive day in the loss to Kentucky (517 yards of total offense, not too shabby) and showed flashes of a QB to be feared, but he also had a knack for fumbling and was never consistent throughout the season. Word out of spring practice, though, is that Nickson has improved his deep passing and decision making skills, which the Commodores are going to need for a successful season. With an improving Nickson, an O-Line returning completely in tact, including All-SEC LT Chris Williams and RT Brian Stamper, a pre-season All-SEC pick last year that played in five games before a season ending injury, receivers Earl Bennett (who needs only 48 catches to become the conference's career leader) and George Smith to throw to, returning starter at TB Cassen Jackson-Garrison and Jeff Jennings, a part-time starter in 2005 that missed last season due to injury, coming back, the pieces are there for an offense that could put together a memorable season for Vandy fans. Like Alabama, though, their biggest concern is on defense. Last year's unit was it's best since the last century but the 'Dores were still unable to stop the pass well enough to hold opposing offenses in check. The CB position is one that is desperate for a playmaker to end the revolving door approach Vandy has taken to try and find someone that can perform consistently in coverage. Returning starter D.J. Moore had a solid season as a true freshman and will have hopefully matured into an SEC CB, but he'll likely be joined by Myron Lewis, a fellow sophomore with zero starting experience. They'll both be joined in the secondary by Reshard Langford at SS, who started every game last season while dealing with nagging injuries to produce 51 tackles, third best on the team. FS Ryan Hamilton was in and out of the starting lineup last season, but he should improve with experience to be more reliable. Tomorrow we'll take a closer look at the offense and see if there's anything behind the hype in Nashville.