Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A little Vanderbilt love.

Vanderbilt is relatively highly thought of this year in the SEC, and for good reason -- they nearly did enough last year to get into a bowl game, and they are returning 19 starters while only loosing five. More importantly, they return almost their entire offensive line, and as anyone can tell you, that is huge.

In looking at the reasons for Vandy's success last year, we can see that their 4th place finish in rushing offense was a big reason. Returning their entire O-line except for right guard Mac Pyle, as well as their entire starting backfield argues for even more success at the running game.

Other big, but relatively undiscussed, reason for Vandy's success is that their defense was a "bend but not break" defense, sixth in the league in allowing first downs, tied with traditional powerhouse Auburn. But the biggest of them all was penalties.

Vanderbilt led the entire SEC in fewest penalties, averaging only 33.2 yards in penalties per game. Compare that to national champ Florida, who averaged 63.4 yards per game in penalties, nearly double that of Vanderbilt. This is the kind of statistic that kept them in the game with Arkansas, at Alabama, at Ole Miss, and with Florida and allowed them to beat Georgia between the hedges in Athens. Put a few more points on those close losses, and Vandy gets to a bowl.

This year, Vanderbilt has a much easier schedule, getting Alabama and Ole Miss at home, replacing Michigan with Richmond and getting Georgia at home. They get all their tough games on the road, and nobody really expects them to pull upsets at Auburn, South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee. But aside from those four apparently certain losses, every game on their schedule is winnable. While they are unlikely to beat Bama or Georgia at home, neither is impossible. And Kentucky figures to be a pretty even game. Bottom line - this is the best chance for Vandy to go bowling since ... the industrial revolution?

Vanderbilt Sports line is back, and notes the buzz around Vandy during SEC Media Days last week. He says that Commodore players are chanting B-C-S at the end of their practices, but I think that may be a bridge too far even for this team. Still, Vandy is likely to be a much tougher out this year than last.