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Pre-Season Football Mail Bag #1

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You ask, we answer...

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

Question(s) from Westboundnup & VUSpaceMan:

Am I Mets-level dumb for having hope this season?

This is the time of year I assess VU football’s chances for the upcoming season. Boy, I see solidness at all positions, including kicker for goodness sake. Setting aside win totals, I believe I’d “buy” VU football this season.

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I’m a little uncomfortable with the level of optimism I’m experiencing. We’re deep on both sides of the line and we have a solid returning qb. We may get touched by the long ball, but not everyone can do that.

I’d buy also.

I know you said to put win totals aside, but I’d go 4, maybe 5. If you had to put a number on it, what would it be?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Ah, yes, the hope that comes along with having a shiny new head coach.

The truth is, I actually do see some reasons for optimism as I go through the position previews. We have a quarterback, for starters, and we actually have a pretty good group of wide receivers. The offensive line gets back some players who opted out last season, and I like Bradley Ashmore’s upside at tackle. In other words, I see the pieces for a competent offense. The defense is a different story; I like some of the guys up front, but I question the depth, and this is mostly the same defensive backfield that couldn’t seem to keep up with opposing receivers. And they also lost Dayo Odeyingbo and Andre Mintze, who are approximately the only two players gone from last year’s team who I will actually miss.

You would be Mets-level dumb for having hope this season if Derek Mason were still the coach, but that is not the case, and I think 4-5 wins is not completely crazy.

Doreontheplains: Optimism? What’s that? I might be the wrong person to answer a sanity check question about optimism. I think the offense has legitimate reasons to expect cromulence, though I am a bit cautious about Raih calling plays. When it comes to the secondary, you have to hope for some combination of terribad coaching the last few seasons and elite coaching under the new staff for their to be any optimism. I guess you could hope for the offense winning shootouts.

Andrew VU ‘04: You’re not Met’s level dumb (*note: The Mets just got swept by a pretty mediocre Phillies team after having traded the future for Javy Baez, who may also now be hurt, as well). Any time a new coach comes in after the one before was fired for gross incompetence, it is right to be optimistic. Now, if you’re “Feels like ‘98” level optimistic about the Vandy feetball ‘21 season, then perhaps you do work in the front office of the New York Metropolitans. I mean... it cannot be worse than last year, right? See the next question for my win total.


Question from Jeturn:

What is a reasonable expectation for the number of wins this season and why is it four?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I think so, too, because we should win three of the nonconference games (ETSU, Colorado State, UConn), though the Colorado State game gives me pause because it’s going to be a mile above sea level (and if you’ve ever engaged in any sort of physical activity at that altitude, you can probably see where things might go wrong.) And there are enough not-great teams on the SEC schedule — namely, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Kentucky, and THEM, and I might even throw in Missourah if I’m feeling particularly uncharitable — to think we could find a win or two in there.

Doreontheplains: Yeah, I would set the O/U at like 3.5. The ETSU and UConn games should be wins, or the homecoming story for Clark Lea will start looking like a tragedy. Between CSU, other floundering SEC teams, and even Stanford (4-2 last season but won those 4 by a combined 9 points), I think the odds probably find another win and a half. I’d say 4 is probably the baseline for maintaining the momentum Lea is building and is about what I expect.

Andrew VU ‘04: I mean... James Franklin set the bar with a 6 win first season, and then followed that with two 9 win seasons and a trip to the State Penn. That was not just unexpected after the Turkey Inseminator year, but got us all more hyped than we had ever been for an era of Vanderbilt Feetball. Derek Mason then threw that bar into deep water and got all of our hets wet with a 3-9 first season that sent some scrambling to blame Franklin leaving the cupboard bare, and others (well, me, really) condemning him to a ceiling of mediocrity at best. He went 0-8 last year, in case you forgot why we have a new coach. I think Clark Lea has one if not two solid QBs, and we might actually be okay on the lines. So here’s the deal: I think a reasonable Vanderbilt fan would want Lea to be somewhere between Mason and Franklin’s first seasons. I think a reasonable Vanderbilt fan would realize that Mason had more to work with in his first season than Clark Lea will (except for at QB), and the Old Bald Poach likely did, as well. Plus, the Old Bald Poach got a little lucky what with the SEC East being much more down in 2011 than it will be in 2021.

We should be expected to beat ETSU. The Colorado State game will be the one that actually tells us something about this team. Win that and go 2-1 (hint: we’re not beating Stansbury this year) heading into conference play. We really should beat UConn after we get the crap kicked out of us by Ugga, though. Then we have to catch one SEC team (or Missourah) sleeping to have some optimism about 2022.

In other words... yeah, it’s 4.

*Editor’s Note: Clark Lea’s nickname has to be “The New Bald Coach,” right? Right???


Question from Shoogymgshoogs:

Will we get new uniforms this year and why will we have home and road grays?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Because Jeff Green traveled.

Doreontheplains: Nope. We’ll just dig the early 2000s uniforms out of mothballs, add an extra sleeve stripe, and replace the Star V with a block V. I am not knocking the new gear. It is just exactly what we had unveiled on Monday.

Andrew VU ‘04: Because we have angered Vocockyteps.

*Update: After some of us answered this question (myself and Tom), VU’s twitter released the new uniforms:


Question from Vandy-Mike:

With Mizzou, THEM, Kentucky, and SC in our eastern pod, and Ole Mist each year for a couple of SEC wins. In a pod with Bama, Auburn and THEM, what hope is there? Should be all log off AOG until Groundhog Day next year? A slow moving pigskin accident…

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I do not know why you listed THEM alongside Bama and Auburn, as though they’re remotely in the same ballpark.

Doreontheplains: I would have to see the rest of the scheduling procedure. With UGA and UF every year, we are chalking up the same number of auto-losses every year as that pod presents. The rest of the scheduling would matter and likely rely on year to year fluctuations in other teams to really determine whether it presents a more difficult road.

But, as Andrew says, this is all premature.

Andrew VU ‘04: I’m confused. The “pod people” thingy has not happened yet, as Tejas and Boomer are only in the “agree to join the SEC“ stage right now. Let’s cross that bridge when we get there. Let’s just say I do not see a way in the world the other teams are okay with Bammer getting to play us every year. They’ll throw a literal shit fit. Stay here at AoG, regardless. When we’re good, it’s fun. When we’re bad, us Hetwetters are damn fine therapy.


Question from VUSpaceMan:

Do you think the QB battle is real or just lip service?

Also, if Mike Wright is destined to be a change of pace guy, does he stick around? I miss the old days when it was possible to have an exciting prospect or competent backup behind a clear starter.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: The quarterback battle is “real” in the same sense that a game between an average SEC school and a Sun Belt team is a real football game. Clark Lea appears to sincerely believe that everything must be earned, and that includes starting jobs (I can only assume.) But it is not real, in the sense that barring injury Ken Seals is going to be the starter.

I am hesitant to predict what will happen to Mike Wright, because while some people enjoy being Mackenzi Adams, living the Vanderbilt life and sticking around for four years to be the backup to a frequently-injured Chris Nickson and sometimes even delivering embarrassing losses to future United States Senator Thomas Hawley Tuberville, that’s not a great way to become an NFL quarterback. Better to transfer somewhere else where you can start. That said, I suspect the more likely outcome is that he sticks around Vanderbilt and moves to wide receiver, where his skillset would also work (and where his chances of becoming an NFL player might actually be better than they are at quarterback.)

Doreontheplains: At this point, I am taking Clark Lea at his word. He held a hard line on the jersey number thing and has generally told the truth. His post-practice interviews have seemed like straight shooting. But, yeah, this may be a real competition, but it is probably not one that lasts very long.

What Wright does moving forward is very interesting. The kid seems very invested in Vanderbilt and like a team-first player from his social media and how he carried himself on the sidelines. My guess is he stays as the change of pace/backup/gadget option this season. I think the WR room is deep enough this season any work he does there will be in the trick play locker. Not sure where it shuffles out for next season with eligibility. I think he really wants to play QB though and may well plan on waiting out Seals (who I think is gone after 2023 one way or the other) and trying to make a run at the NFL in at least that one season.

Andrew VU ‘04: I think it’s more than just lip service, but unless Clark Lea wants to change the offense to suit Mike Wright (and lose Ken “Loose Seals!” Seals in the process), it will be Seals as QB1 with Wright as the change of pace guy. I think we could keep both, and I think both are SEC starter quality. I could also see Wright start to take reps at WR, as well, to go full Hines Ward Swiss Army Knife if/when Loose Seals wins the jerb. That’s my preferred outcome of all of this.


Question(s) from WestEndMayhem and Vandy-mike:

What petty nicknames should be bestowed onto Texas and Oklahoma?

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Could we get a primer on all the proper names… by which we refer to our enemies whom we shall thrash with our intellect and real GPA’s?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I would say just refer to Texas as “UT-Austin” because I just assume it will really piss them off that nobody here refers to them as “UT.” As for Oklahoma, “Land Thieves” seems to work well for them. It will never cease to amaze me that they chose to name themselves after literally a bunch of cheaters.

Doreontheplains: Andrew is the nickname generator here. Unless we are talking about Will Wade.

Andrew VU ‘04: The “Tejas Long Fedoras” and the “OK Boomers.”

UT Knoxville: The Buttchuggers, Chuggers, THEM, The School to the East, and THOSE WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED.

USC: The South Cackalacky Game Penises.

Florida: The Gainesville Jorts.

Kentucky: The Blue Balls.

Ole Miss: Ole Piss and The Ackbars.

MSU: Clanga.

Georgia: Ugga.

LSU: The Gumbo Bengals.

Auburn: The War Tigers.

Bama: The Ramajama Gumps.

Arky: Arky.

aTm: aTm.

Missourah: (does not recognize)


Question from Rubber Hell:

Without seeing a snap, but knowing all of the staff hires, grade the Clark Lea hire. A+ to F scale. What was his best hire? The worst? Show your work.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Overall, I would give the hire a B+ because while I don’t think it gets a straight grade A (that’s reserved for literally stealing away a successful coach from another program), it’s hard to see how we could have done better.

Lea’s best hire was AJ Blazek as offensive line coach, because when you can hire away an offensive line coach from North Dakota State, you do it. His worst hire — and worst here, really, is relative — was David Raih. Not that I think that’s a bad hire, but I’m scratching my head over why he and not Joey Lynch (who was a successful offensive coordinator at Ball State, where he managed to field a competent offense with Riley Neal as his quarterback) is the offensive coordinator. Maybe there’s some big-brain reason for that, I don’t know. Either way, though, I haven’t seen a Karl Dorrell-level “what the hell are you doing” hire among Lea’s initial staff, which is a good sign.

Doreontheplains: I thought the hiring of Lea was maybe, based on insider info, a little too focused on just him. The rumor mill was that they zeroed in on him almost immediately, so I actually am going a little harsher than Tom and giving it a flat B for maybe not fully exploring the options available, even if Lea was still the final decision. His staff probably does deserve the B+ though when you look at how many lateral moves he encouraged.

I actually want to go out of the box on the “staff” and say Barton Simmons for the in-roads in recruiting. Blazek is the obvious choice for on-field coaches, so I will actually go with the backside of Tom’s worst hire. I think getting Joey Lynch as the QB coach and passing game coordinator is massive, especially with Raih calling plays for the first time. Lynch should be a great resource for the first-time coordinator and the QBs, who are already very talented. Surprisingly, Raih is actually 3 years older than Lynch ... and 2 years older than Clark Lea. This staff is really young.

Andrew VU ‘04: Incomplete.


Question from VuAdmiral:

Most improved portion [sic] group (vs. last year)?

Offense:

Defense:

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Probably the offensive line, and that’s mostly because of the returning opt-outs.

Doreontheplains: Offensive line is obvious. Defensively, I hope it’s the secondary, or this will be another VERY long season.

Andrew VU ‘04: Hopefully the offensive line. I’m not sure there is one on defense.


Question from bRock12:

How has/will Vanderbilt leverage the NIL in football? I have seen surprisingly little on this anywhere and curious if you all have seen any of our stars (Seals, Orji, etc.) inking any deals. Seems like a savy group could utilize this tool to help recruiting to Vandy and Nashville. Just curious about any info/thoughts on the subject.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I know I saw Cam Johnson on Twitter offering to play video games with fans on Twitch for money. Other than that, I got nothing.

Doreontheplains: I think Allan George is doing his own video game stuff that might bring in a little money, too. Pretty quiet, though. I am interested to see how it gets used. There are some options with Nashville being “Music City” and all the big events the city likes to host. But these guys need to make a name on the field to really capitalize on NIL. If that happens, then the deals will start rolling in for them. None of them were highly rated enough out of high school to already be stars.

Andrew VU ‘04: Other than Loose Seals signing some NIL deals and being paid to podcast, I honestly don’t know.


Question(s) from VandyImport & Silliputti:

Is windowpane plaid the new vest?

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What can Clark Lea do...

To put you in that used Subaru?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: We need to do a better job of screening the questions.

Doreontheplains: Style may be the one place we downgraded going from Mason to Lea. That suit was pretty good though.

How about I just put that used Subaru in the bed of my truck? No thanks.

Andrew VU ‘04: That suit jacket is the new Anchor of Gold dress code. You will buy all of your clothes, as Clark Lea does, from The Steve Harvey Collection at Men’s Wearhouse this feetball season. No pants, though.

*Editor’s Note: We do an excellent job of screening the questions.