Were there other reasons? It's anybody's guess. But one niggling feeling remains: if Johnson had thought that the chances were good to win a championship in 2010 with the talent on hand, he would probably still be at McGugin.
Instead, the 2010 Commodores will take the field led by the unpretentious Robbie Caldwell, a man who will wear the title of head football coach in a game Saturday night for the first time in his life.
Caldwell's dry sense of humor and a more relaxed atmosphere have made for a fun preseason camp. Thus far Caldwell has deftly handled the pressures of being a head coach. The media has come to love him, because he's nearly always good for a humorous quote. He seems to have the respect and adoration of his players.
But deep down Caldwell has to know he has some big problems to solve, and not much time to do so. Most notably, there's the problem of how to rejuvenate an offensive attack that last year couldn't score against the proverbial "tall grass."
The biggest worry is the offensive line, where only two of the five new starters have seen game action. Guard Kyle Fischer, with 13 career starts, is the most experienced hand on the line. Joey Bailey has five; two will be seeing their first game action Saturday. Much of the offense's poor play last season can be traced back to poor line play—is it a good thing or a bad thing that the line will be virtually starting from scratch?
It's almost a sure thing that the Commodores will get better play at quarterback this season—unfortunately that's not saying too much. But let's not forget that the last time we saw Larry Smith in a game (the Georgia Tech game last year) he was playing pretty well. He fended off all challengers in the preseason and looks poised to make strides—and if he doesn't, strong-armed senior Jared Funk is anxious for a shot.
Three true freshmen appear ready to provide much-needed depth to the receiving corps. Brandon Barden is underrated as a weapon at tight end.
Provided it can get some strong play from its young defensive ends, the defense has a chance to be very solid once more. Bruce Fowler didn't get enough credit last year for putting together one of the best defenses of the Johnson era. But last year's defense, though very good at times, wasn't good enough to overcome an offense that was abysmal at converting on third downs—and the result was a 2-10 record.
Warren Norman, last year's SEC Freshman of the Year, provided fans with some glimmers of things to come last season. He's back, and the Commodores suddenly possess a stable of capable running backs. With Norman back there to return kickoffs, special teams play could be very exciting.
What does the crystal ball hold for the 2010 Commodores? I'd love to predict a 6-6 season, and if that were to happen, Caldwell should be given a tickertape parade down West End. In theory, if Vanderbilt were to get its quarterback and offensive line woes solved early in the season, a 6-6 record would not be TOO far-fetched.
The hope is that the offense will show steady improvement as the season progresses and start lighting up the scoreboard. But based on what we saw last season, and with all the inexperience on the offensive line, it seems doubtful that the offense will be able to get into any kind of a groove until about mid-season... unfortunately, that's about the time the schedule turns into a meat grinder.
Inconsistent offense, rookie head coach, youth throughout the roster, demanding schedule... hmmm, it's looking to me like a 3-9 season, folks.
Here are three more predictions for the 2010 season:
- Florida will beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa Oct. 3, ending the Tide's long winning streak. But the two teams will meet again in Atlanta in December, and Nick Saban's team will win the rematch and its second straight SEC crown. The BCS computers will pick unbeaten Boise State for the championship game ahead of one-loss 'Bama—causing a mushroom cloud to erupt over the entire Capstone State, and ushering in the era of a college football playoff.
What's your prediction for the 2010 Commodores? Enter the Preseason Prediction Contest on the VandyMania football fan forum. The deadline is Thursday, Sept. 2.