So we all know about new quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels from having a Wyoming dynasty on NCAA '11 right? Okay, maybe that was just me. Either way, I'm #TeanAC-S. I'm sure that will be trending in no time. Carta-Samuels is a dual threat quarterback who transferred to Vanderbilt after his sophomore season at Wyoming, but could not beat out Jordan Rodgers (who is his brother again?) for the starting qb spot. He is more of a dink-and-dunk quarterback and didn't attempt that many passes per game when he played for Wyoming. He can make some plays with his feet and it will be interesting to see how his scrambling ability translates to playing against SEC defenses.
Tailback Zac Stacy was a tremendous loss for the Commodores. He had over 1,100 rushing yards last year and 10 touchdowns. Wake fans are familiar with Mr. Stacy as he went for 180 yards and two touchdowns against us. Vanderbilt will turn to Wesley Tate. Although Tate had 8 touchdowns last season, he only averaged 3.5 yards per carry, which is is cause for concern. Speedster Brian Kimbrow, who averaged 6.3 yards/carry last season on limited carries will be Tate's backup.
Jordan Mathews returns as Vanderbilt's premier wide receiver. Mathews had nearly 100 catches last season for over 1,300 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns. He is one of the finest receivers in the nation, but it will be interesting to see how they utilize him this season. Rodgers is a a more effective downfield passer, so you have to wonder if the home run threat of Mathews will be diminished by Carta-Samuels' lack of arm strength. Vanderbilt lost Chris Boyd due to an unfortunate off-field incident that we will not discuss on this blog. Regardless, Boyd is a major loss as he had 774 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns last season.
Vandy's offensive line could be a question mark again this year. They lost left tackle Ryan Seymour who had 35 career starts and right guard Josh Jelesky who had 16 career starts. They do return six players who have had starting experience before, including right tackle Wesley Johnson (not the bust from Syracuse) who has 38 career starts. Their line should be average this season, but I'd expect them to take a step forward next season.
The interior of their defensive line is going to be a question mark for the Dores. They lose three of their top four defensive tackles from last season. Their ends, however, should be solid as Walker May (10.5 tackles for loss last season) returns and he will be opposite 4-star sophomore Caleb Azubike who had a very solid freshman campaign last year with four sacks. Junior Kyle Woestmann should also provide depth at the defensive end position.
Vandy should again have an outstanding linebacker corps. They lost outside linebacker Archibald Barnes, but they return everyone else. Chase Garnham and and Karl Butler will be a formidable pair. They also have two true freshmen four star recruits if injuries occur. This unit will not be an issue for James Franklin and his staff.
The Vanderbilt secondary is probably the strongest unit on the team. Good luck trying to throw against this guys. They were 14th in the nation last season in passing defense. They start four seniors and cornerback Andre Hal is one of the premier corners in the country. Good luck trying to go deep on these guys. Accuracy and decision making is absolutely critical against them.
Kicker Carey Spear is one of the finest kickers in the nation. He didn't miss a kick inside of 40 yards all of last season, and was 7-11 on kicks of 41 yards or longer. He was also 100% on PAT. Jonathan Krause will serve as returner extraordinaire. Last year he averaged more than 11 yard per punt return and took two to the crib.
I believe this team will take a step back from last year's 9 win season. They were lucky in close games, going 3-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less, including two victories by exactly one point. Ole Miss is a huge game for them on August 31st. Ole Miss is experiencing a revival under the direction of Hugh Freeze and makes for a very difficult opening game for Austin Carta-Samuels. Games against South Carolina, Georgia, Texas A&M, and Florida almost feel out of the question at this point. If you give Vandy wins against Austin Peay and UMass, that means they still have to win four of their other six games in order to be bowl eligible. I think they'll be able to do it, but I think seven regular season wins is a realistic ceiling for this team. That's still excellent considering where this program has been in the past. James Franklin is to be commended.