Admittedly, there is a shadow of impending doom that hangs over this team following a 2-10 season and a new head coach. However, a silver lining still shines through. The Commodores were handed a pretty favorable schedule in the tough-as-nails SEC this season. Vanderbilt misses #1 Alabama, #22 Auburn, and unranked Mississippi State in the conference scheduling draw, leaving #4 Florida as the sole top fifteen squad the team will face in 2010. Comparatively, 2009's schedule included preseason titans in #1 Florida, #8 Mississippi, #11 LSU, and #13 Georgia.
Though the season will bring showdowns with Florida, #17 Arkansas, #21 LSU, and #23 Georgia, the decline of formidable squads at Tennessee, Wake Forest, and Kentucky, make Vanderbilt's 2010 schedule much more palatable. Package that with the potentially-good/potentially-bad fortunes of teams like Northwestern, South Carolina, and Connecticut, and a 6-6 season could be more likely than many pundits, including the prescient wizards on payroll here at AoG, have predicted.
There is much work to be done, and the out-of-conference schedule will be rough for Robbie Caldwell, but looking at the current state of the Southeastern Conference, it's tough to argue that the league schedule could have been much better for the jovial coach's first year. Though swapping out LSU or Arkansas for Mississippi State would have been nice, there's only one game that Vandy fans - despite optimism - can look at and expect a bad loss. That would be Florida, and with John Brantley taking over at quarterback against a staunch VU secondary, even that could be a surprise upset for the Commodores.
Few are optimistic for the college football season in Nashville, but there is a beacon of hope in this year's schedule. If Coach Caldwell can exploit the weaknesses of the mid-tier programs that the 'Dores will face at home (Northwestern, Tennessee, Wake Forest) and pull off a big-time upset away from the friendly confines (a Bobby Johnson specialty), he'd be in the running for SEC coach of the year - and instantly make Vanderbilt a trendy dark horse pick for 2011. That's a pretty big order to fill, but crazier things have happened at Vanderbilt Stadium. Additionally, Caldwell has the benefit of one of the deepest, most athletic teams to trek across the Star Walk. The stage has been set, and the opportunity is there - can the Commodores capitalize and shock the SEC with the winning season this year? It doesn't seem likely, but it is not impossible; not by any means.