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What’s your best case and worst case for Vanderbilt football in 2021?

We asked our writers.

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

Vanderbilt football in 2020: bad!

Vanderbilt football in 2021: maybe not quite as bad! Or maybe just as bad! With the season ahead of us, we asked our writers what a successful 2021 looks like — and also, what an unsuccessful 2021 looks like. Their answers are below.

Tom Stephenson

Best case: Heading into the 2021 season, my biggest question is whether this is more like Bobby Johnson’s first year or James Franklin’s first year.

Both Johnson and Franklin inherited a Vanderbilt program coming off a 2-win season. That was where the similarities end. Bobby Johnson succeeded Woody Widenhofer, a decent coach who left a hollowed-out roster thanks to years of being more interested in Sportsman’s Grill than recruiting. Franklin, on the other hand, succeeded Robbie Caldwell, who actually left behind a decent roster whose underperformance in 2010 had mostly to do with Caldwell being in way over his head as a head coach. They were different situations, and the different outcomes reflected it.

That’s the dueling narrative I have with this team. There are some places where Vanderbilt clearly has something resembling SEC talent, and some places where on first glance it doesn’t — but maybe that was just guys being poorly coached last season. But if the talent level on this team is actually decent — well, South Carolina is bad, Tennessee is kind of a dumpster fire, Mississippi State looked bad last season, and even Stanford, Kentucky, and Missouri aren’t particularly scary. I’m certainly not saying Vanderbilt will win all of those games, but if the team is better than expected, 6-6 is absolutely on the table.

Worst case: Read everything I wrote, and now just imagine “no, it’s the talent that’s the problem.” Given everything I know about Clark Lea, I can’t foresee Vanderbilt losing games by being undisciplined and disorganized; in that sense, Lea is not unlike Bobby Johnson. But Bobby Johnson needed a few years to get the talent level to a place where Vanderbilt could be competitive, and if that’s the case, Vanderbilt beats ETSU and UConn and that’s about it.

Andrew VU ‘04

Best case: Like Tom, I tend to judge things based on past successful and, well, less than successful Vanderbilt feetball coaches. The best case, obviously, would be The Old Bald Poach James Franklin’s first year. Not only did he make a bowl game in year 1 (with pretty much the same roster the Turkey Inseminator ran into the ground), but he rallied the fanbase, and had us all feeling more optimistic about Vanderbilt Football than we ever had been before (or likely will be again). That’s what we all want out of Clark Lea’s first season, whether we go bowling or not. Let’s say we only go 4-8, but the team’s playing hard, and many of those losses are one score barn-burners. Beyond that, the schemes make sense, and the play-calling piques our interest. That would have me happily looking forward to the future, instead of where we were after year one of the Derek Mason “process”—either looking for excuses because we refused to believe what was clearly evident, or, like me, looking for the best tasting brand of bleach.

Worst case: On the flip side, if either ETSU or UCONN wets the ever-loving hell out of our hets, it will become pretty clear we’ve hired another Mason—though one who can speak clearly and eloquently. Please do not let this happen. I have but one liver.


Best case: Bowl eligibility seems like the ceiling. As Tom said, if it's talent, we are going to be in trouble. If it was coaching holding back talent, I think really only Florida and Georgia are out of reach. I guess you could talk me into 7-5 if Missouri and Ole Miss both crater.

Worst case: 2-10. If we have Derek Mason 2.0 (Comes with PR Skills upgrade!), every game is suddenly out of reach except ETSU and UConn. Hell, let's go full Mason and lose to UConn but beat an SEC team for some unknown reason. Lea seems like a solid hire at worst, but even seeming home run hires end up being "wildly swinging and falling over drunk" hires sometimes.


Best Case: Stealing two SEC wins somewhere and winning three of four non-conference games to get to 5-7. South Carolina will struggle equally and if the coaching is much improved then we can that game in Columbia. Likewise the Mr. Hyde version of Mississippi State showing up at home is one I can see winning. That may not seem like much, but I would consider that a great success for a unit that was 0-9 last year and has undergone a lot of turmoil over the past two seasons.

Worst Case: 2-10. We beat ETSU and Connecticut as our only wins, we lose out everywhere else, our team doesn’t seem to catch or buy in and we simply fall of a cliff against SEC opponents. Lea’s honeymoon ends rapidly and we wonder how many years we’ll have to watch the same movie.