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The path to six wins in 2018 is difficult, but it’s there

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Vanderbilt caught a break from the SEC schedule makers.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Mississippi Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Derek Mason is coaching for his job in 2018; that much is clear.

I won’t come out and say that Mason needs to deliver six wins in 2018 to get a sixth year in Nashville, because (a) I’m not David Williams, and (b) I generally hate the idea of attaching a specific win total to this exercise. (Yes, wins and losses are important, but retaining or dismissing a coach is much more about the future than the past, and I can envision a scenario where a 5-7 or even 4-8 team shows enough promise to think that Mason should get another year. Yes, I’m accepting mediocrity; deal with it.

But in any case, we’d like the team to win six games and go to a bowl game again. How does Vanderbilt get there? Let’s break down the schedule and figure out the most likely path to six wins.

Middle Tennessee (September 1)

Don’t even think about it. A 37-28 loss to Middle in the 2001 season opener was the beginning of the end for Woody Widenhofer, and a 17-15 loss to Middle in 2005 sent Jay Cutler’s last team from 4-0 to staying home for the holidays. Just don’t do this.

Nevada (September 8)

Must-win. Nevada went 3-9 in 2017, and there is simply no realistic path to a bowl game that doesn’t involve beating the Wolf Pack. Should Vanderbilt not be 2-0 after September 8, we may as well begin pre-writing coaching search posts to run later in the year.

at Notre Dame (September 15)

Eh. This game probably never should have been scheduled, because this is just an uphill fight for the Commodores. Notre Dame is probably going to be a top 10-ish team in 2018, and this game is in South Bend. Vanderbilt is probably going to lose this one.

South Carolina (September 22)

Maaaaaaaybe? Maybe I’m being a tad bit optimistic; South Carolina went 9-4 in 2017, but I’m still convinced that was a smoke-and-mirrors job. Then again, we somehow haven’t beaten South Carolina since 2008. Almost every year, South Carolina looks like an enticing opportunity, but the Commodores never seem to deliver. This would be a nice win to have in your back pocket, but there will be better opportunities for wins later on.

Tennessee State (September 29)

Losing the halftime show is acceptable. Losing the football game, however, is not. A loss here would be grounds for an insta-firing.

at Georgia (October 6)

Keep dreaming. Georgia made the playoff in 2017 and might actually be even better in 2018, and the game is in Athens. Let’s just move along.

Florida (October 13)

Hmmmmmm. Florida was kind of a dumpster fire at the end of 2017, though granted that wasn’t really because of an absence of talent, and now Dan Mullen is the coach. That said, the Gators have major question marks at quarterback going into 2018. This also comes after Florida plays at Tennessee, at Mississippi State, and LSU in consecutive weeks, and just ahead of the bye week and the WLOCP. Maybe we catch them napping? I don’t know. If we’re decent, we could spring a trap here, I guess.

at Kentucky (October 20)

I really don’t know. Kentucky is hard to get a read on: they were 7-6 in 2017, but didn’t seem like they were particularly good. Then again, they drilled us in Nashville, and this one’s in Lexington. Then again, they suffered some heavy offseason losses. Then again, they still have Benny Snell. We’ll just throw up the shrug emoji. But, as we’ll see in a bit, Vanderbilt might not need this one.

at Arkansas (October 27)

Thank you, SEC schedule-makers. Yeah, this game is in Fayetteville — but Arkansas is probably the worst team in the West, and Vanderbilt drew them on the conference schedule. Playing Arkansas instead of Alabama last year likely would have been the difference between 6-6 and 5-7.

at Missouri (November 10)

I like seeing Derek Dooley in November. The last time Vanderbilt saw Derek Dooley on the opposite sideline in a November game, Vanderbilt won 41-18 and Dooley was fired from his job the next day. Derek Dooley is now Missouri’s offensive coordinator, which might be balanced out by having Drew Lock at quarterback, but still. Missouri, like Kentucky, was 7-6 last year but that included a 1-5 start. Also like Kentucky, they beat us pretty badly.

Ole Miss (November 17)

Probably as good a time as any to face them. Ole Miss, you’ll recall, is facing a postseason ban, and is now suffering the effects of scholarship losses and saw its depth chart take a hit thanks to a bunch of high-profile transfers. In other words, Vanderbilt might be facing a team that either doesn’t give a crap or is playing walk-ons in important places. Out of the eight SEC games, this might be the most likely spot for a win. If not this one, then it’s...

Tennessee (November 24)

Still a dumpster fire. Yes, the school to the East is FIRED UP about Jeremy Pruitt. 2018 is still probably going to be a dumpster fire for them. Vanderbilt may very well be favored in this one.

So, if I had to rank the 12 games in order of most likely to least likely? The middle of this is fluid, but I’ll probably go with:

  1. Tennessee State
  2. Nevada
  3. Middle Tennessee
  4. Tennessee (haha)
  5. Ole Miss
  6. at Arkansas
  7. at Kentucky
  8. South Carolina
  9. at Missouri
  10. Florida
  11. at Notre Dame
  12. at Georgia

What I like about the schedule: if Vanderbilt is even decent in 2018, there are only two games on the schedule I’m completely writing off. Of course, a bad Vanderbilt team probably goes 3-9 (or, hell, worse) against this schedule, but when is that ever not the case?

I also like that the Georgia game is on the road -- if there’s a near-certain loss on the schedule, I’d much prefer that game be away instead of taking up one of the four home slots on the schedule.

What I don’t like about the schedule: Well, it’s an even year, which means Kentucky and Missouri are on the road, while Florida and South Carolina are at home.

South Carolina might actually not be smoke-and-mirrors, and Florida might get things together rather quickly under Dan Mullen. (I do not think the same will happen with Tennessee and Jeremy Pruitt, if you’re curious.) Those games may still be difficult spots to get wins, even at home. And I never like having what are (usually) the two most beatable East opponents on the road.

The bad news is that, barring significant improvement, Vanderbilt might well only be favored in three or four games in 2018. The Commodores might well be better than Tennessee, and are probably better than Arkansas -- but that game’s in Fayetteville, which means it’s no better than a tossup.

I don’t have to squint very hard to see where this team can find six wins on the schedule -- but that also requires some significant improvement over where the team was last season. So let’s throw it to you: how do you think the 2018 season goes for Vanderbilt?

Poll

How many games will Vanderbilt win in 2018?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    3 or fewer
    (9 votes)
  • 12%
    4
    (27 votes)
  • 39%
    5
    (89 votes)
  • 43%
    6 or more
    (98 votes)
223 votes total Vote Now