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Vanderbilt Commodores Preview

Posted by Ryne E. Hancock on August 7, 2007

Much like my quest to find my friend Kasi in Nashville (which ended in heartbreak two days after the Cardinals won their first World Series in 24 years last year), the locals of Nashville again felt the same pain, after I headed west on Interstate 40 towards Memphis on October 29th, as Vanderbilt was left out of the bowl picture for the 24th straight year, finishing 4-8 overall and 1-7 in league play.

And like myself with my quest to find Kasi, the Vandy Nation is wondering when will their day come for a bowl game, which as we all know, hasn’t happened since 1982 when the ‘Dores played in the Peach Bowl.

This season could very well be a repeat performance of the 2005 season, which was when Vanderbilt beat Tennessee for the first time in over 20 years at Neyland Stadium, giving the Vols their worst season since 1988; also, they’re home for the holidays as the ‘Dores play eight home games, the most for a Vandy squad since 1900.

On offense, redshirt unior Chris Nickson returns to Nashville as the starter at QB after completing 160 passes out of 292 attempts for the ‘Dores with 2,085 yards and 15 touchdown passes. Against Kentucky, Nickson threw for 446 passing yards, third-highest in Vanderbilt history, as well as garnering Player of the Week honors from the SEC. More of the same should be expected of him this year as his favorite target Earl Bennett returns to Nashville for his junior year as well after a year in which he led the conference in receptions per game and was second among league wide receivers in total receiving yards with 1,146 yards. Should Bennett snag 48 catches this year, he will become the SEC’s career leader in receptions, something that more than likely will happen at some point this season.

In addition to Nickson and Bennett, tailback Cassen Jackson-Garrison adds a modest running game to Vandy’s offense as he rushed for 614 yards and 5 touchdowns and is supported by the return of redshirt junior Jeff Jennings, who missed all of last season with a knee injury abutwas a major role player in 2005 as he ran for 448 yards and 7 touchdowns for the ‘Dores. With Jennings’ return, it should add some veteran leadership to the running game in the Music City.

Vanderbilt’s defensive unit was centered mostly around senior end Curtis Gatewood, who moved from linebacker to end before the start of last year due in part to his speed. With a year at end under his belt and leading the team in sacks with seven, more of the same should be expected from the former prep basketball star from Memphis.

In addition to Gatewood, the Commodores also return middle linebacker Jonathan Goff, who according to many of the publications I’ve read lately, could be picked in the top two or three rounds of the 2008 NFL Draft should he perform to the standard that’s been expected of him. His presence among the linebacker corps adds veteran leadership to a relatively young defensive unit that will only return 7 starters to a defensive unit that had its best showing since 1999 last year.

Final verdict: In Bobby Johnson’s six years at Vanderbilt, no team has been this capable of going bowling, which as we all know hasn’t happened since the 1982 season when they lost Air Force in the Hall of Fame Bowl, like this team. With the passing duo of Chris Nickson and Earl Bennett, who could be well on his way to being the SEC’s career leader in receptions, the future of Vanderbilt football is, in some way, better than what it has been over the course of the last 25 years. Although the future does indeed look bright in the Music City, it doesn’t necessarily equal success for the ‘Dores this year.

Projected record:4-8 (2-6 SEC)

2007 Vanderbilt Commodores Schedule

Sept. 1st Richmond

Sept. 8th Alabama

Sept 15th Ole Miss

Sept. 29th Eastern Michigan

Oct. 6th @ Auburn

Oct. 13th Georgia

Oct. 20th @ South Carolina

Oct. 27th Miami (Ohio)

Nov. 3rd @ Florida

Nov. 10th Kentucky

Nov. 17th @ Tennessee

Nov. 24th Wake Forest

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