Vanderbilt's football program will have its work cut out for it this fall.
The Commodores hope to turn things around this season after finishing the 2006 campaign at 4-8 with a 1-7 mark in the Southeastern Conference to land them in last place in the eastern division.
The lone conference win came
against traditional eastern power
Though the schedule always presents a challenge in the SEC, it could be lining up for Vanderbilt to see success this season, as the Commodores play eight games in Nashville in 2007, though three of the team's toughest opponents, Florida, Auburn and Tennessee, will all be on the road.
One big positive for Vanderbilt is the amount of experience returning, as the squad will welcome back eight defensive starters and nine regulars on offense this season.
On the attacking side of the ball, Vandy's offense will likely center around junior wide receiver Earl Bennett, an All-American who already owns 10 school records and is on a track to become one of the most prolific wide outs to come through the SEC.
As a sophomore, Bennett led the conference with 82 receptions for 1,146 yards and six touchdowns to earn all-SEC honors for the second year in a row. He is just 47 catches away from setting the conference career-receptions record.
Returning alongside Bennett in the Commodore receiving corps is junior George Smith, the team's third-leading wide out last season with 21 catches for 313 yards and three scores. Junior Sean Walker looks to be the fill in at the third starting receiver spot after managing 204 yards and two touchdowns as a back up last year.
Junior Brad Allen, who saw time in 11 games as a sophomore, will fill the remaining offensive void at tight end.
The rushing game will be headed by senior tailback Cassen Jackson-Harrison, who was second on the team with 614 rushing yards and five touchdowns in 2006. He also had 104 receiving yards for one score during his junior campaign.
Returning to the helm at quarterback will be junior Chris Nickson. In the absence of star quarterback Jay Cutler last fall, Nickson stepped up and filled the shoes at signal caller well, throwing for 2,085 yards and 15 touchdowns.
He also proved to be a force on the ground, as Nickson was Vanderbilt's leading rusher last season with 694 yards and nine running touchdowns.
On the offensive front, all five starting linemen will return for duty this fall, led by senior tackles Brian Stamper and Chris Williams, both of whom earned a place the second-team all-SEC squad last season.
Defensively, the Commodores allowed 352.7 yards and 23.7 points per game last season, landing them in 10th place in the SEC in both categories.
Though Vanderbilt's defense will only need to replace three players this fall, two of those will be in the front four, where the Commodores lose one tackle and one end from the 2006 team.
Returning as the starters at the other two spots will be senior end Curtis Gatewood and senior tackle Theo Horrocks. Both players had 47 tackles last year, while Gatewood led the team with seven sacks.
Vanderbilt's linebacker unit will also be without a key player this fall in linebacker Kevin Joyce, who was the team's second-leading tackler a year ago.
Filling Joyce's shoes on the outside will be sophomore Brandon Bryant, who accumulated 18 tackles as a back up last year.
Playing alongside Joyce will be senior returning starters Marcus Buggs and Jonathan Goff. Goff led the Commodores in tackles with 93, while Buggs' 10.5 tackles for loss was also a team-best. Each also managed one interception on the year.
One area of the Vandy defense that will be returning in tact this season is the secondary, which will see the return of both cornerbacks and both safeties from a year ago.
Junior strong safety Reshard Langford returns as the team's most productive pass defender, recording three interceptions on the year.
Next to him at free safety is sophomore Ryan Hamilton, who managed one pick last season.
Sophomore nickel back Darlron Spead will also be back as an integral part of the defensive backfield. Last season, Spead was one of the most productive defensive players on the squad with three interceptions and five passes broken up on the season.
Kicker Byrant Hahnfeldt will be the leader of the special teams for the Commodores this season, after going 8-17 on field goals and 27-29 on extra points last year.
Sophomore Brett Upson handled punting responsibilities as a freshman, averaging 37.4 yards per kick, but the job may end up becoming Hahnfeldt's this fall.
Earl Bennett is listed at the top of the depth chart to handle both punt and kickoff returns in 2007, returning eight punts a year ago.
- Matt Dearman
All-Time Series: 20-7-1
First Meeting: 1902, Vanderbilt 27, LSU 5
Last Meeting: 2005, LSU 34, Vanderbilt 6
Location: Nashville, Tenn.
Stadium: Vanderbilt (39,773)
Head Coach: Bobby Johnson, 15-43 at VU; 75-79 overall, 12 years
2006 IN REVIEW
2006 Record: 4-8, 1-7 SEC (6th East)
Final '05 Ranking: Not ranked
Returning Starters: 18; 9 offense, 7 defense, kicker, punter
Last Bowl Appearance: 1982 Hall of Fame Bowl
Last Conference Championship: 1923 Southern Conference
2006 STAT BREAKDOWN (SEC/NCAA)
Total Offense: 351.0 yap (7/52)
Rushing Offense: 149.6 ypg (4/45)
Passing Offense: 201.4 ypg (7/55)
Scoring Offense: 22.0 ppg (10/73)
Total Defense: 352.7 ypg (10/74)
Rushing Defense: 156.0 ypg (10/91)
Pass Defense: 196.7 ypg (10/51)
Scoring Defense: 23.7 ppg (10/65)
Rushing: Chris Nickson – 146-694, 9 TD, 4.8 ypc, 57.8 ypg
Passing: Chris Nickson – 292-160, 2085, 15 TD, 13 Int., 173.68 ypg
Receiving: Earl Bennett – 82-1146, 6 TD, 95.5 ypg
Tackles: Jonathan Goff – 93
Interceptions: Reshard Langford – 3
Sacks: Curtis Gatewood – 7
Tackles for Loss: Marcus Buggs – 10.5
Date Opponent '06 Result
S-15 OLE MISS L, 10-17
Offense at a glance:
Offensively Vanderbilt returns starting junior quarterback Chris Nickson, who is a double threat. Nickson passed for 2,085 yards and rushed for 694 during his sophomore campaign. Mackenzi Adams, Richard Kovalcheck and Jared Funk will back him up.
At tailback the Commodores return
starter Cassen Jackson-Garrison. Jackson-Garrison started all 12 games in 2006,
rushing for 614 yards and five touchdowns. He could be challenged by
Vanderbilt lost wide receiver
Marlon White but returns All-Everything Earl Bennett who is on pace to break
multiple career SEC receiving records. Bennett caught 82 passes during his
sophomore season. George Smith, who is a possession receiver, also returns and
caught 21 passes during 2006. Look for speedy Sean Walker to take over White's
The Commodore offensive line returns all five starters. Senior tackle Brian Stamper was awarded a fifth year of eligibility because of a medical hardship. Stamper and fellow senior tackle Chris Williams could be high draft choices during the 2008 NFL draft. Veteran starters Hamilton Holliday (center), Merritt Kirchoffer (guard) and Josh Eames (guard) also return. Sophomores Thomas Welch (tackle), Ryan Custer (guard), Bradley Vierling (center), Drew Gardner (guard) and Eric Hensley (tackle) will serve as line backups.
Defense at a glance:
Defensively Vanderbilt returns three of four defensive linemen, two of three linebackers and all its secondary.
At strong safety junior Reshard Langford returns to his spot. Langford intercepted three passes during the 2006 season. Sophomore Brent Trice will back him up. Joel Caldwell, who started at cornerback in 2006, was moved to the safety position during the spring.
Sophomore free safety Ryan Hamilton returns to his spot after starting multiple games during 2006. Roger Herndon, who had a diving interception duringthe spring game, could also play at this position.
Sophomore Myron Lewis performed well at cornerback during the spring. The other corner spot will go to returning starter D.J. Moore. Josh Allen and Darlron Spead will both play a lot. Spead had three interceptions during 2006 and Allen was a starter in 2005.
Sophomores Brandon Bryant and Patrick Benoist are the leading candidates to take over Kevin Joyce's outside linebacker spot. All-SEC Jonathan Goff returns at the middle linebacker spot and Marcus Buggs returns on the outside.
Curtis Gatewood, who had seven sacks during 2006, returns at one defensive end position. Quavian Lewis, who was moved to defensive end from linebacker during the spring, looked dominating during the spring game and will likely backup Gatewood.
Steven Stone should start at the other end position, but rugged sophomore Broderick Stewart will get the nod during passing situations. Veteran Theo Horrocks, who had 49 tackles during 2006, returns at one tackle position. Gabe Hall or Greg Billinger will likely play the other tackle spot.
- Don Yates, VandyMania.com