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Five Big Questions for Vanderbilt’s 2019 Season

Hello. You want the TL;DR of our season preview content?

NCAA Football: SEC Media Day Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Hello. You might be wondering what we have been doing all summer if not answering your questions about Vanderbilt’s 2019 football season, which we will be doing in mailbag form this week (and which you can also see in our “2019 Season Preview” tab.)

However, should you wish to read this all in the form of a single post... well, then, this is for you.

Who is your most important player on offense this season?

It’s Ke’Shawn Vaughn, and I will take no arguments.

Last season — his first with the Commodores after transferring from Illinois — Vaughn rushed for 1244 yards and 12 touchdowns; on top of that, he had 170 receiving yards with two touchdowns. He had 157 carries and 13 receptions. Doing a little math, Vaughn averaged 8.3 yards every time he touched the ball, and he scored a touchdown roughly one out of every 12 times he touched the ball.

Note, however, that Vanderbilt played 13 games last year. On average, Vaughn got 13 touches per game — a number that seems criminally low for a player of his talent. Of course, injuries explain some of that: he went to the locker room in the second quarter of the Florida game and missed the Kentucky game the next week, both Vanderbilt losses. And certainly, giving him 9 and 11 carries in blowout wins over MTSU and Nevada to open the season is defensible. But in other games, his usage was almost inexplicable.

So the question entering 2019 is whether Vanderbilt will figure out a way to increase Vaughn’s touches from 10-15 a game to more like 20-25. Even if he doesn’t keep up his absurd yards per carry, it’s not likely that Vanderbilt has anyone else who can duplicate his production.

Who is your most important player on defense this season?

There are multiple ways of answering this question, and if you want to know who Vanderbilt’s best player on defense is, it’s probably going to be DE Dayo Odeyingbo. But most important?

Last year, CB Joejuan Williams effectively took away one side of the field; he had four interceptions and 13 passes defensed last season, and that was with opposing offenses often electing to simply not challenge him. Joejuan Williams now plays for the New England Patriots. Vanderbilt had some issues in the front seven last season (many of which, uh, still need to be addressed), but the secondary managed to clean up enough misses that the defense managed not to get completely torched. With Williams gone (along with, well, a bunch of other players in the secondary), does Vanderbilt have that security blanket this year? One candidate to look for is former Wisconsin/Independence CC (yes, that Independence CC) CB Dontye Carriere-Williams.

What should be the biggest change between last year and this year?

Actually, it’s a big change between the last three and a half years and this year. Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt’s all-time leader in basically all passing categories, has graduated and will now be backing up Patrick Mahomes.

The changes won’t simply have to do with the identity of the starting quarterback, though. As good as he was, Shurmur basically had no mobility whatsoever; the new starter, whether it’s Ball State transfer Riley Neal or 2017 backup Deuce Wallace, will offer more of a running threat than Shurmur did if only because it’s hard to imagine a Division I player being less of a running threat. That won’t necessarily mean more designed quarterback runs — after all, the goal here is to get the ball in the hands of playmakers like Vaughn, Kalija Lipscomb, and Jared Pinkney — but it does mean that defenses will have something to prepare for when facing Vanderbilt that they haven’t had in a while.

What is the most important game on the schedule, and why?

A September 7 trip to Purdue.

Historically, the formula for Vanderbilt has been something like this: Win all your nonconference games, beat Kentucky, and then find another win somewhere on the SEC schedule. Of course, the recent rule change requiring a Power 5 opponent on the nonconference schedule has thrown a wrench into that. In 2016 and 2018, Vanderbilt lost to, respectively, Georgia Tech and Notre Dame out of conference; the good news is that the Commodores managed to win three SEC games each year to secure a bowl bid.

Vanderbilt doesn’t have to win in West Lafayette to get to six wins — but it will make things a lot easier in an improving SEC East. What’s more, the trip to Purdue is in the middle of a rough three-game stretch to open the season, with visits from Georgia and LSU in the first four weeks of the season (along with the first of two bye weeks.)

What is your prediction for W/L record and postseason destination?

Okay, dear reader, here is where I will tell you that Vanderbilt will win all four nonconference games and beat Ole Miss, Kentucky, and Missouri in SEC play for a nice record of 7-5.

Non-Vanderbilt fans reading this post: What is this guy smoking that he thinks Vanderbilt will beat Purdue and Missouri?

Vanderbilt fans reading this post: WTF Tom, you’re not picking us to beat Tennessee?!

Ah, yes, an answer to make everybody angry.

As far as postseason destinations, the SEC has ended its tie-in with the Independence Bowl, therefore leaving the Birmingham Bowl as the place where Vanderbilt will be sent while a 6-6 team, possibly South Carolina or Tennessee, inexplicably goes to one of the SEC’s “Pool of Six” bowls. Don’t try to fight this, you know this is exactly what will happen.