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Ranking Vanderbilt’s 2020 football schedule

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Can Vanderbilt find a win or two on this schedule?

NCAA Football: East Tennessee State at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt has never, in its history, gone winless over the course of a football season. But after the SEC announced that it would play a 10-game, conference-only schedule, Vanderbilt fans have suddenly had to confront the reality that without a Mercer, a Colorado State, or a Louisiana Tech on the schedule, this team faces the very real possibility of going through the 2020 season without a win.

This Vanderbilt team will have a new quarterback, and suddenly will have a retooled offensive line — an unexpected development after four offensive linemen opted out of playing football this season due to COVID-19. The defense, which returns almost everybody of note from 2019, might actually end up being a strength, though it’s now been four years since Derek Mason’s defense could legitimately be called a strength.

But where would Vanderbilt possibly find a win on this schedule? Let’s rank the games from least likely to most likely.

10. LSU, October 3

9. at Texas A&M, September 26

So, remember that part about the new quarterback and the revamped offensive line? That group will see its first live reps in College Station in 12 days, and that’s followed with... the defending national champs. Odds are that Vanderbilt will be playing better football later in the season, once all the newcomers and new starters have gotten some experience under their belts, than early in the season. At least they won’t be playing in front of 100,000 people at Kyle Field to open the season.

8. at Georgia, December 5

While I did just say that Vanderbilt will probably be playing better football at the end of the season than at the beginning, Georgia — in spite of projected starting quarterback and Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman reportedly opting out of the season — probably has too much talent for Vanderbilt to overcome.

7. Florida, November 21

For whatever it’s worth, this is at home. But while I still have questions about whether Dan Mullen will recruit well enough to build Florida into a national championship contender, “good enough to beat Vanderbilt” is something I don’t really question.

6. Tennessee, November 28

Did you know that Derek Mason is 3-3 against Tennessee? Just thought I would point that out while that record is still .500.

5. South Carolina, October 10

On the one hand, I’m not particularly sold on South Carolina. The Gamecocks are coming off a 4-8 season and I’m not convinced Ryan Hilinski is the guy. On the other hand, this is still early in the season (it’s the third scheduled game) and, uh, Vanderbilt has lost 11 in a row to the Gamecocks. In other words, I will believe this when I see it.

4. at Kentucky, November 14

As much as I like what Mark Stoops has built at Kentucky, it’s still Kentucky, the team that we practically default to as the most likely SEC win. That’s probably not the case this season, though: Kentucky returns Terry Wilson after he missed basically all of 2019 with an injury, and unlike the next three teams, they return their head coach.

3. at Missouri, October 17

So one of the big questions that I have when making this list is how much home-field advantage will matter in a season when stadiums are mostly or entirely empty, and that brings us to Missouri. The Tigers will have a new coach (Eliah Drinkwitz, who comes from Appalachian State where he was head coach for exactly one season) and a new quarterback (probably TCU transfer Shawn Robinson, who sat out last season.) Robinson wasn’t great at TCU and Drinkwitz is still inexperienced. If home-field isn’t a factor, I could see the argument for moving Missouri higher than this. What’s more... well, this was the one SEC game Vanderbilt won last season.

2. at Mississippi State, November 7

What’s happened here? The Bulldogs went 6-7 last year with a Music City Bowl loss to Louisville. And then, they fired their coach. Now, Mike Leach is probably an improvement over Joe Moorhead, to be clear, and they do return Garrett Shrader, who got some experience at quarterback last season.

On the other hand, let’s hop in the wayback machine and observe what happened the two times a Mike Leach offense faced a Derek Mason defense. That’s right: Stanford held Wazzu to 17 points in both 2012 and 2013, when Mason was Stanford’s defensive coordinator. And Leach of all people is probably hurt considerably by not getting spring practice to implement a new offense. The concern, of course, is that this is in Starkville. But will there even be cowbells?

  1. Ole Miss, October 31

Home game? Check. Off a bye week? Check. New head coach? Check. Quarterback a question mark? Big check.

Granted, the first one might not matter, and the new head coach (Lane Kiffin) is almost certainly an improvement over the old one (Matt Luke.) And while John Rhys Plumlee, assuming he’s the starter, isn’t much of a thrower, he’s a hell of a runner. Which is to say, Vanderbilt’s odds of winning this game still aren’t good. They’re probably less than 50-50, even. But if I have to make a call on where the most likely win is coming from, it’s this one.

Agree? Disagree? Post your thoughts in the comments.