EA Sports wants Vanderbilt to air it out this fall. They also don't think that the Commodores will win a game in the SEC. At least, that's what their 2014 player rankings would suggest.
The rosters for NCAA Football '14 have been partially leaked, and that means that Vandy fans can check out who EA thinks are the top 10 players on the Commodore roster. Not surprisingly, All-SEC wide receiver Jordan Matthews leads the way by a large margin. Matthews, who caught 94 passes in 2012 and is being considered as a first-round NFL Draft pick next spring, earned a 93 rating from the game, seven points higher than any of his teammates.
His stablemate Chris Boyd wasn't too far behind him. Boyd, a redshirt junior who emerged as a red zone threat late in 2012, earned an 85 rating, putting him in third place amongst the Vandy ranks. Ascending quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels was not ranked in the quick preview.
Here's how the top 10 shook out:
These ratings are open for criticism. First off - where is Andre Hal? Hal has earned first-team All-SEC honors this preseason and was a second-team member in 2012, but EA doesn't even rate him in Vandy's top 10. While Ladler is a very good safety and a leader in the secondary, Hal is the player to watch in this team's defensive backfield.
According to EA, getting Jared Morse back will be a huge boost for this team - he's Vanderbilt's second-best defensive player. While there's no doubt that Morse will be a big boost up front, I'd argue that he's behind guys like Hal, Garnham, and May in the defensive pecking order. Additionally, Wesley Johnson seems a bit overlooked here - the rock steady lineman has been the key for an improving offensive line unit for three straight years and will continue to provide undervalued leadership and efficiency for the 'Dores.
Brian Kimbrow's exclusion from the list is a surprise as well, especially with Tate and Seymour on the board. Seymour had a strong freshman season, but missed all of 2012 thanks to a redshirt year. Kimbrow was arguably better as a freshman than Seymour had been and was the more publicized recruit, but that wasn't enough to earn him favor with the programmers out west. Other players that should have earned top 10 consideration are Carey Spear, Karl Butler, and Caleb Azubike. However, it's tough to figure out who would be removed to make room for these talented players.
The grades get a lot less optimistic when Vanderbilt is viewed as a whole. As a team, Vanderbilt pulled down an 83 rating. That would put them exactly last in the SEC - one point behind a Kentucky team that they beat 40-0 last season. Their defense, which will boast one of the best secondaries in the SEC and veteran leaders at every level, was somehow rated last in the conference with an 82. Their offense was only marked two points better.
Other teams that rated out at an 83 were Wake Forest (who lost to Vandy 55-21 last season), Central Florida, Illinois (0 conference wins in 2012), and BYU. Apparently the #BrandNewVandy message hasn't spread to EA headquarters. The NCAA '14 ratings would give the edge to teams like East Carolina, Houston, Texas Tech, and South Florida in a neutral-field matchup with the Commodores.
So take the EA Sports ratings with a grain of salt. While the 'Dores seem to be undervalued, this also suggests that the rest of the college football world hasn't been that impressed with Vanderbilt's recent turnaround. That complaint has some merit - Vanderbilt only beat two bowl-eligible teams last season - but any validity that provides takes a severe hit when Kentucky gets a better grade than the team that has beaten them 78-8 over the past two seasons.