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Tuesday Talk: Expectations for the 2018 season

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We ask our writers for their thoughts on the upcoming football season.

NCAA Football: SEC Football Media Day Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Football season is almost here, and we’re debuting a new feature for the new season: Tuesday Talk, where Anchor of Gold writers answer a couple of questions. Remember: the two-drink minimum and the no pants rule still apply.

Since we don’t yet have any disasters (or wins!) to react to, this week’s questions are pretty vanilla. Still, you’re probably anxious to cut out all the offseason noise and know just what we expect from the 2018 season.

What are your expectations for the 2018 football season?

Tom Stephenson: Looking down the schedule, I see three probable wins (Middle Tennessee, Nevada, and Tennessee State) and two likely losses (road trips to Georgia and Notre Dame.)

That leaves, essentially, seven tossup games. Calling Florida and South Carolina “tossups” might be a stretch, but I’m not quite buying the hype on either team, and both of those games at home. Kentucky, Missouri, and Arkansas are all beatable, but those three are all on the road. Home games against Ole Miss and Tennessee to end the season might be the ace in the hole: Ole Miss will have depth issues due to NCAA sanctions and a rash of transfers out of the program, and while Tennessee fans are optimistic about Jeremy Pruitt, the reality is that Butch Jones dug them a pretty big hole that won’t be filled in this season. (Evidence of Jones’ mismanagement of the program: of the Vols’ 84 scholarship players, 55 are freshmen and sophomores; there’s very little experience on the roster, and they’re not exactly recruiting at the level of Alabama or Georgia where that doesn’t matter.)

I think Vanderbilt can squeeze three wins out of those seven games and get to 6-6. The pessimistic take is that many of those aren’t actually tossups because Vanderbilt’s defense is, in fact, bad. We’ll have to wait and see.

Shawn Allen: A seven win season and bowl bid. They’ll beat MTSU, Nevada, and TSU out of conference. They’ll win four conference games beating Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri, Ole Miss, or Tennessee. They’ll get blown out by UGA and ND. They’ll lose close ones to USCe and Florida. We’ll scratch our heads at something a player did and blame Mason.

They have talent and tools to be competitive and versatile. Depending on their pace of play, we could see shoot outs (ie. MTSU, Missouri) or a ground game slog (Florida).

I fully expect Mason to take the leap this year from being a green coach who can be prickly and defensive, to implementing a Stanford style offense and defense, and hopefully being comfortable in his own skin. It won’t be enough to compete with the UGA’s and ND’s (that requires three to five classes of elite talent), but it will be enough to show progress and competence.

Andrew VU ‘04: Time to piss in everyone’s Cheerios. I’m sorry, but I only see two games on the 2018 schedule that have me getting out the Sharpie to write “W”: Tennessee State on 9/29 and The Chuggers on 11/24.

On the flip side, I only see @ Notre Dame and @ Georgia as definite losses, and hosting South Cackalacky and The Jorts as likely losses.

That leaves Empty S-U, Nevada, @ Kentucky, @ Arkansas, @ Mizzourah, and home against Ole Piss as toss-ups, but I have to assume we’ll be the underdog in all three SEC road games just listed.

Of the toss-ups, I think we beat Empty S-U and Ole Piss. Maybe we beat Nevada.

It’s either 4-8 and a coaching search in November, or 5-7 and an APR bowl bid, for which we give Mason one more year.

DoreonthePlains: Most of you all probably expect me to be wildly optimistic, but I am firmly in line with Tom. Notre Dame should give us a good idea about the rest of the season though. The Drunken Leprechauns, unlike the Fightin’ Bill Snyders last season, actually face a strong opponent before us. A win over K-State turned out to be fools gold since they turned out to be overrated, and Alabama razed West End. The idea of winning in South Bend is pretty laughable, but a strong showing will have more merit if Notre Dame beats another team ranked in the preseason Top 15 in their Week 1 clash with Michigan. A 10-point loss or better would nudge my expectations to 7-5, and a beatdown could lower them back to 5-7.

Christian D’Andrea: The fact Vandy hasn’t yet snuck into a lowest-tier bowl game with a 5-7 record thanks to its high APR score seems like a mistake the universe has been waiting to correct. Mason’s going to be truly put to the test thanks to the graduations on defense, so this could be the rare year were Kyle Shurmur puts up 30+ points and still loses by double digits. I won’t mind so much as long as the games are entertaining. And we beat Tennessee.

VandyTigerPhD: I see no definite win or loss on the schedule other than definite win over TN State, and even that gives me heartburn remembering the last time I went to a VU-TN State game. The entire rest of the schedule is a mixture ranging from “likely” win/loss to complete tossups. In this sense, I agree that MTSU and Nevada are “likely” wins. I’m putting ND, UGA, and UF as likely losses. You may split hairs over me saying that ND and UGA aren’t definite losses, but let’s not forget ND has dropped some games in hilarious fashion in the past and UGA has lost to us when they shouldn’t have in recent history. They’re very strong loss, but there’s enough “maybe” in there for me to put the games as “likely”.

That puts us at 3-3 with the rest of the schedule as tossups: UK, USC, Arky, Mizzou, Ole Miss, and UT. Put me down for 5-7 to an optimistic 7-5. I’d love to make a commitment on UT this early in the season, but I’m going to take a superstitious approach for now and say nothing.

We learn who we truly are as a team at South Bend. Like the Bama game last year, we’re going to see how well our team’s spirit can hold and how well they can really perform against a top team. Of course, if MTSU pulls out the upset this weekend, get your absinthe out and get ready for a long season.

VandyImport: I think it’s just too tough to say. The personnel changes on defense coupled with a new DC mean that you can’t really predict where it’s going to go, and for the most part, any success the Dores have had in my lifetime has ridden as far as the defense (and, in fairness, Zac Stacy and Jordan Matthews) can carry them. As a born pessimist, I can’t commit to more than four wins, although I wouldn’t be surprised by 7-5 either - I think the SEC East is still Georgia and a bunch of substitute teachers and there are wins that can be had by an opportunistic team - but what kind of weapons are deployed around Kyle will determine whether we can leverage those opportunities.

Who will be Vanderbilt’s head football coach in 2019?

Tom Stephenson: I think Derek Mason will do just enough to keep his job, thus allowing us to settle in for the football version of Kevin Stallings.

Shawn Allen: Derek Mason. He’ll have a good year, and his name will be tossed around as a candidate at a lower level Power 5. No job opening will be attractive enough to leave the an SEC school with low expectations from the admin. No larger program will come calling, yet.

Andrew VU ‘04: Temple University Administrative Specialist, Head Football Coach Nadia Harvin. I have not changed my opinion, so here’s what I’ve said in the past:

Though Head Football Coaches who adopt dual roles, such as Derek Mason, can often prove to have bitten off more than they can chew, Administrative Specialist, Head Football Coach Nadia Harvin has weathered the storm of multiple Athletic Directors, and has been with Temple University for 30 years. One thing Vanderbilt football has lacked of late is consistency--both on the football field (in how it deals with quarterbacks, in hiring offensive coordinators, in sustaining improvements seen from week to week) and in communication (of message to the press, of uniforms, of not having epic marketing fails regarding social media and uniforms)--and this is something Coach Harvin has no problem with.

As an Administrative Specialist, Coach Harvin has, for the past 30 years at Temple, put together recruiting materials, organized mail outs, dealt with boosters and agents who want access to her players, dealt with the media in all facets, and did this all while assuming the plethora of responsibilities of a head football coach at a Division I college in a major metropolitan city that is known for being tough on their coaches. Further, she has done this with a smile.

While some would point to Coach Harvin’s #WetHet campaign as evidence of a failure to effectively deal with social media, do I need to remind you just how wet our hets became when Coach Harvin’s team came to town for Derek Mason’s first game in his tenure as Head Coach of Vanderbilt University? Clearly, Coach Harvin heard tell of Mason’s “Deep Water” marketing campaign, and replied in tongue-in-cheek kind. You want to drag us to deep water? Well we’ll wet your hets! Checkmate Harvin.

Further, the positive publicity Vanderbilt would gain from breaking the gender barrier in a conference as rabid about football as the SEC is unprecedented, and could only help when selling the Vanderbilt football program and a Vanderbilt education to the most important person in the recruiting process--the moms.

Need I also mention that Derek Mason does not serve as his own Administrative Assistant, and, as such, is effectively costing the university that additional salary? Thought not.

Chances She Accepts the Job: Slim to none. Though Temple has experienced an uptick in their football program of late, it wasn’t always this way. For many of her 30 years with the team, Temple Football was an afterthought, or a joke. If she stuck with them during the hard times, why would she leave during the good times? To pry her loose, we’d have to back up more than a few Brinks trucks in her driveway. Something to consider.

Note: Our long running joke about Nadia Harvin has FINALLY gotten Temple to update her staff bio. Though her title has been amended, and is now Executive Assistant to the Head Football Coach, I am not ready to let this joke die.

DoreonthePlains: If my prediction holds, it will be Derek Mason. Vanderbilt will definitely not fire a coach with 2 bowl appearances.

Christian D’Andrea: Derek Mason. Bobby Johnson was essentially head coach for life thanks to one six-win season and some squeaky-clean program optics. The administration’s unwillingness to commit to new facilities is proof it’s still 2006 at Vandy’s highest levels. Unless Mason goes 3-9, he’s staying.

VandyTigerPhD: Short of a one win season, Mason. Vanderbilt has proven through their handling of the stadium situation that they don’t care about the football program. At most, they care about that sweet SEC check, and they’ll do the bare minimum they must for that. So unless Mason has a season that is so catastrophically bad that they have to fire him to keep face, Coach Mason will stay. I’m not going to defend keeping a coach that gives us a sub-par year at this point in his tenure, but the reality is there’s very little that he could do for Vanderbilt to fire him.

VandyImport: I don’t think there’s anything on the field that could cost Mason his job, quite frankly. Maybe 1-2 wins this year and a similar performance next year, but given my oft-proclaimed belief that Zeppos is waiting for something else to make his decisions for him, I don’t think a performance-related coaching change is on the cards for 2019.