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ESPN Predicts a 4.6-win season for Vanderbilt Football

Hey, it's an improvement.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN published its 2016 Football Power Index, and the Worldwide Leader is predicting some improvements for Vanderbilt football.

Just not many.

The FPI projects a 4.6-7.4 record for the Commodores and gives year three of the Derek Mason experiment a zero percent chance to win the SEC. That FPI ranking places Vandy 13th in the conference, ahead only of Kentucky. The 'Dores looked much better against the backdrop of Power 5 teams, however.

Team Conference FPI Rank
Vanderbilt SEC 54
Kentucky SEC 55
Duke ACC 56
Kansas State Big 12 57
Wake Forest ACC 58
Colorado Pac-12 59
Syracuse ACC 61
Indiana Big Ten 62
Virginia ACC 64
Minnesota Big Ten 65
Purdue Big Ten 66
Iowa State Big 12 71
Oregon State Pac-12 72
Illinois Big Ten 73
Maryland Big Ten 74
Rutgers Big Ten 75
Kansas Big 12 107

It looks like 2016 would be a good year for the Commodores to be in the Big Ten. Also, Kansas :(

Only five non-Power 5 (or Notre Dame) teams rank ahead of Vanderbilt in the FPI: Boise State, BYU, South Florida, Houston, and Western Michigan.

2016 will mark Derek Mason's third year as head coach at Dudley Field. His reign started with an awful 3-9 campaign before improving to 4-8 last season as the coach rebuilt a Vanderbilt roster plagued with attrition and low on depth. He'll have a roster stocked with his own recruits this fall, and while Mason showed off his defensive chops in year two (Vandy ranked 22nd in the nation in scoring defense) he'll need to prove he can build an offense as a head coach.

That starts with picking a quarterback. The Commodores rotated between QBs last season as Johnny McCrary, Kyle Shurmur, and Wade Freebeck all took snaps behind center. McCrary has since transferred to Mercer, so that leaves either Shurmur or Freebeck to guide this team to the end zone. Vanderbilt scored only 15.2 points per game last fall -- a mark that tied it for 123rd out of 127 FBS teams.

A stable defense and any kind of offensive improvement could lead to the five wins ESPN predicts. A 5-7 season wouldn't be much reason to celebrate, but it would be another step forward for a young coach. More conference victories are the key to extending the Mason era past year three, but they won't come if Vanderbilt gets stuck at 15 points again this fall.