#80 Vanderbilt Football 2016 Preview

Vanderbilt Commodores
Overall Rank: #80
#14 SEC
Vanderbilt showed a lot of improvement last year during year two of the Coach Derek Mason era. That has led to some hope heading into 2016. Home wins over Missouri and Kentucky are nice, but the Commodores did not get blown out regularly either and that is a good sign With quite a bit of talent returning, the hopes are high for a bowl bid, but the schedule probably will keep this group closer to four wins than to six.
2015 Record: 4-8, 2-6
2015 Bowl: None
Coach: Derek Mason (7-17 at Vanderbilt, 7-17 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Andy Ludwig
Defensive Coordinator: Derek Mason
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Ralph Webb, RB, 1,152 yards
Passing: Kyle Shurmur, QB, 503 yards
Receiving: Trent Sherfield, WR, 659 yards
Tackles: Zach Cunningham, LB, 103
Sacks: Zach Cunningham, LB, 4.5
Interceptions: Owen Burks, S, 3
Other Key Returnees: WR Caleb Scott, CB Torren McGaster, P/K Tommy Openshaw
Key Losses: QB Johnny McCrary, LB Darreon Herring, LB Stephen Weatherly
Vanderbilt’s defense did make a huge jump last year though and that is why this team could push for six wins. The front three features nose tackle Jay Woods. He is not the biggest nose tackle around, but Woods is certainly productive. Much of the pass rushing comes from the four linebackers, most notably Zach Cunningham. Cunningham not only led the team with 4.5 sacks, but was also tops on Vanderbilt with 16.5 tackles-for-loss and 103 tackles. After coming off of a surprise all-SEC season, big things are expected from Cunningham and he has the tools to live up to the expectations. The Commodores do lose linebackers Darreon Herring and Stephen Weatherly, but the unit should be in good shape with Cunningham leading the way and players like Landon Stokes, Nehemiah Mitchell and Nigel Bowden ready to step up. The secondary is deep and talented. Cornerback Torren McGaster leads a large group of cornerbacks and Oren Burks, a free safety who is fitting into the safety/linebacker hybrid position, intercepted a team high three passes in 2015.
Kyle Shurmur took over the quarterback duties late last season and played relatively well; at least well enough to head into 2016 as the likely starter. In five games, Shurmur threw for 503 yards and five touchdowns, completing 42.7 percent of his passes. Those are not great numbers of course, but he was just a freshman and thrown into the fire. He has the arm and the size to be a pretty good quarterback in the SEC. Receivers Trent Sherfield and Caleb Scott are back too and that should help the passing game continue to grow. A decent offensive line, highlighted by the return of Andrew Jelks who missed last season with an injury, should help Shurmur get enough time to operate. More importantly, the line will pave the way for the ground game and Vanderbilt will stick to the ground as much as they can since Ralph Webb is back for his junior year. Webb rushed for 1,152 yards and five touchdowns and has been a very consistent back and sometimes he seems like the only player who can make the offense look respectable. If the passing attack can develop some sort of consistency, it will open up even more space for Webb.
The Bottom Line:
Vanderbilt’s most winnable SEC game could come on the opening day of the season. On Thursday night, September 1st, the Commodores host South Carolina. Kentucky and Missouri are winnable games too, especially considering that is who Vanderbilt beat last year, but this time both of those games are on the road. This team could still win those games on the road, but it will be tough. Yet, those are the types of games Vanderbilt must win if they have any realistic hopes of reaching a bowl game.
Projected Bowl: None
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 154.7 (87th in nation, 10th in conference)
Passing Offense: 171.8 (111, 13)
Total Offense: 326.5 (116, 13)
Scoring Offense: 15.2 (123, 13)
Rushing Defense: 143.2 (33, 7)
Pass Defense: 207.3 (41, 7)
Total Defense: 350.5 (28, 6)
Scoring Defense: 21.0 (22, 6)
Turnover Margin: -0.67 (109, 14)
Sacks: 2.17 (56, 9)
Sacks Allowed: 2.33 (79, 9)
Madness 2016 Recruit Rankings:
#228 JoeJuan Williams