If Derek Mason can win five games in 2016, there's a good chance he'll take Vanderbilt to its first bowl game since 2013.
The NCAA released its latest round of Academic Progress Rate (APR) data, which reports graduation rates at athletic programs across the nation. With a score of 990, Vanderbilt ranks fifth among FBS programs. The Commodores trail only Duke, Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Minnesota in football's highest tier:
That's great news for two reasons. Not only does it reinforce Vanderbilt's standing as an academic giant, but it could also send this team to the postseason in 2016.
With a glut of bowl games on the schedule, there may not be enough teams with the requisite six wins or more to qualify for a 13th game and the extra month of practices that comes with it. That's what happened last year, where Minnesota, Nebraska, and San Jose State each earned exemptions that extended their 5-7 seasons. Coincidentally, all three wound up winning their bowl games.
ESPN currently has Vanderbilt projected to win 4.6 games, which is an easy round-up to five. With a moderate non-conference schedule and games against rebuilding programs like Kentucky, Missouri, and South Carolina in the mix, the Commodores could easily surpass that total. However, just getting to five could put the team on the precipice of a bowl bid -- especially with teams like Duke, Northwestern, and Wisconsin all likely to qualify for the postseason without an exemption.
So this high APR ranking gives Vanderbilt something to celebrate in the early stages of the 2016 offseason. There might not be a ton of pride in getting to a bowl at 5-7, but the extra practice and the selling point of a postseason appearance are two boons Derek Mason can't afford to miss out on in his third year as head coach.