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Preseason Football Mail Bag: Answers to your Questions

You ask, we answer.

A United States Postal Service (USPS) worker exits a Grumman... Photo by Paul Weaver/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Question from Cornelius Himself:

What should I do with this feeling of excitement about the start of football season?

A) kill it with fire

B) allow it to germinate into hope, knowing that this hope will be crushed and turned into depression and despair shortly

C) stay excited throughout the season, only to have CCL poached by a bigger program and take his recruits with him (and likely his best players in the transfer portal too)

D) some other reaction to my excitement and hope that I have yet to experience as a Vandy fan

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: The answer is B. You have, like most of us, a generic excitement about the start of football season that will never go away unless you are successfully able to quit the sport, which you won’t be. That excitement will quickly go away once the season starts and reality sets in, though hopefully that will not happen until Wake Forest comes to town in the third game of the season. But, your answer should not be A, because that is an unhealthy attitude to have and belongs at a Vanderbilt sports website not named Anchor of Gold. You also should have neither C nor D, because this season is not going to go well.

Doreontheplains: B, with a caveat. You left out the stage where some close game against a good team rebuilds some of that hope midseason only for it to be re-destroyed. Finding reasons to be hopeful is kinda my thing. There’s no reason to be negative about something you do for your entertainment. At least give yourself the tailgate to enjoy with some positive thoughts.

Cole: I wake up every single Saturday, regardless of opponent, and I think we are going to win. When we lose, I get sad, acknowledge that maybe we actually are a bad football team, and then shake that feeling off because I am just a little blissfully delusional. That probably looks the most like D, although I know the correct answer is undoubtedly B. I prefer to save my despair for close official-decided losses to SEC teams in basketball season, though. I feel like that’s a more efficient use of that emotion.

Andrew VU ‘04: Are you excited just because the beginning of every season is exciting, because you think Mike Wright will take a big leap in year two, or... is it just some form of delusion I do not happen to share? I mean, I get a little happy when feetball returns, but only because I like feetball. I haven’t exactly hit the “hope” button for Vanderbilt feetball in 2022. Hell, as long as I’m not constantly pressing the “despair” button like I was during the end of Mason’s tenure, I’ll be fine. I guess I’m going into this season with really low expectations, as this is legitimately year 2 of a complete tear down and rebuild. If we can get to hitting the “hope” button for 2023, that’s a hell of a successful year for me (considering where we were the last 2 years).

So... I guess that’s B, given the premise of the question had hope as an a priori condition. No, scratch that, it’s D. You should probably have the same level of emotion this year that you do when watching tee ball. Just enjoy being outside, having a beer, and shooting the shit with your friends. Hope the kids don’t embarrass you so much that it distracts from the fun.

Wait, you guys don’t tailgate tee ball games? How do you scout for future Diamond Dores???

Question from RubberHell:

The past three seasons have been historically miserable. Will we see anything that gives us hope this year? Or are we, once again, waiting for some indeterminate time in the future for hope? Extra credit if you can identity a source of hope from the *offensive* side of the ball.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: If you’re going to have hope at the end of this season, it’s going to be from the fact that most of the contributions on a 2- or 3-win team are coming from underclassmen, and especially freshmen. You’re not going to see many wins, but you might look at Yilanan Outtara and say “holy shit, that dude is going to be a problem for several years.” Or you might see one of the freshman quarterbacks take over late in the season and show some upside for the future — or, I guess, just see Mike Wright establish himself as a competent SEC quarterback. The point is that whatever happens this season, almost every contributor is going to be scheduled to be back in 2023, and many of them beyond that. And then you just have to hope and pray that they don’t get poached in the transfer portal.

Doreontheplains: Younger players stepping into bigger roles would be the most obvious source of hope for 2023 and/or 2024. Other things could give us hope for Vanderbilt football under Clark Lea and company. Seeing a program do the basics correctly and avoid the stupid mistakes, such as not blitzing a 3rd string graduate assistant QB on an attempted, and converted, game-winning drive, would go a long way to building some hope for the future.

Cole: I personally saw flashes of hope fuel late last season. Some of it was in garbage time, but it still felt like things clicked differently late in some games last year. I think we can harness those flashes of brilliance and string together a few more wins than people expect. Coach Lea has really been shining on the recruiting trail, though, so I think the best is yet to come. On the offensive side, I think Mike Wright will win us games. I think he was a big part of that “clicking” I mentioned earlier, and I think that contribution will only grow.

Andrew VU ‘04: See, this is why I love this fanbase. Just one question above, “Cornelius Himself” is requesting therapy-style advice over what to do with his likely irrational feeling of optimism for this season, and then “Rubber Hell” comes at it from exactly the opposite end. Here’s the thing... both of you are correct! Both the fear of “what is this Emily Dickinson Hope Velociraptor I’m feeling?” and “will my despair/Vandy anhedonia give way to actual, tenable hope this year?” are perfectly apt questions.

I’d actually tell this questioner to read my answer for the previous question, as it applies directly. I think the most we should rationally hope for this year is a reason to have legitimate rational hope in 2023. Is that a paradox? Not sure. All I know is we won’t know if the cat’s dead or not until we open the box (though, really, the smell should give it away).

Question from VandyFan1 & Denverdore:

Out of all the Vandy quarterbacks this year, rank from who you think will start to bench warmers.


With possible injuries not being taken into account, what are the odds that Ken Seals retakes the starting job from Mike Wright this season?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: So, I’m going to preface this by saying that we may not have the same starting quarterback at the beginning of the season and the end, but — the starter is Mike Wright for the obvious reason that Clark Lea has already said he’s the starter. Things get murky after that: I would say Ken Seals is the official backup, because he’s probably who Vanderbilt will go to if Mike Wright is dinged up and has to miss a series or two, but AJ Swann is the de facto backup — he’s probably who will get thrown out there if Mike Wright either loses the job or is out of action for a while. The key point I’m trying to make here is that Clark Lea should do whatever he can to preserve Swann’s redshirt, particularly since, let’s be honest, this season isn’t going anywhere, and Lea also shouldn’t destroy his confidence by throwing him to the wolves against Alabama or Georgia... so, we probably won’t see him until November. Drew Dickey is the fourth stringer and may pick up some garbage time snaps here and there, Walter Taylor is fifth and likely redshirting, though I actually like his film but he has a long way to go.

As to the second question, I think I answered it in the first paragraph, but I don’t think Seals is retaking the starting job for effectiveness — Vanderbilt will probably stick with Wright and, if he’s not getting it done, move on to Swann late in the season (though in theory I could see one of Dickey or Taylor overtaking him.) But if Wright is injured early in the season, Lea might throw him out there against Alabama and Georgia just to prevent the freshmen from dealing with... that.

Doreontheplains: Mike Wright will start against Hawaii. Ken Seals is the backup. AJ Swann is the QB of the future, whether that means the end of this season, start of next season, or after Wright and/or Seals depart. Drew Dickey and Walter Taylor are backups and change of pace options for the future most likely.

Seals will not start until November unless Wright is really horrible against at least 2 of Hawaii, Elon, Wake, and NIU OR gets hurt. Even then, it would take really poor play from Wright or an injury for Seals to see the field. I do not think he can or will win the job back based soley on his play in practice. It will be Wright losing the job much more than Seals winning it back. If that takes until November, the camp rumblings have me wondering if Swann’s time might come earlier, especially with the 4-game rule for redshirts staying intact. It would be a hell of a 4-game stretch vs South Carolina, at Kentucky, vs Florida, and vs THEM, but if the kid can take his lumps without breaking down, it would be a great learning experience.

Cole: I could probably list off every or nearly every member of the soccer, basketball (both men’s and women’s), bowling, golf (men’s and women’s), baseball, and maybe even the men’s cross country teams. On the football side? Mike Wright is starting, and it makes sense to me that Ken Seals would be the backup. Past that, I would defer to Andrew or Tom. As for part B, I think Coach Lea will want to keep Mike Wright as starter as long as possible because from what I’ve seen being on the field and around the team last year Mike Wright is just the better quarterback. I would not be surprised if Mike got hurt though, and near the end of the season I could see us testing out some of the younger guys. Mike Wright and Ken Seals won’t be here forever, and it’s good to know what we’re working with.

Andrew VU ‘04: A) Starter: Mike Wright. 2nd String: Ken “Loose” Seals. 3rd string (probable redshirt): AJ “Stop Looking at me” Swann. 4th string (probable redshirt): Drew Dickey. 5th string (probable redshirt): Walter Taylor. 6th string (scout team, likely): Hayden Moses.

*Wilson Long, the QB transfer from TCU, is listed as a WR now.

B) I’d say those odds are pretty good. Not because I don’t believe in Mike Wright, but because our line still isn’t good enough to make any QB look good. It’s at least part of the reason Wright won the jerb. Still, what are the odds that any Vanderbilt QB from the past would survive the Ramajama, Ole Piss, and Ugga weeks 5-7 slate we’ve got this year? Remember that the backup QB is always the belle of the ball... until they’re the starter. I’d say it’s at least 50-50 that Seals starts a game midway through the season. No, 75-25 that he starts at least one game, and close to 50-50 he wins the jerb by the end of the season. Again, it’s just the nature of the beast on a team like this one, especially when both QBs are about equally talented, with different specific skillsets.

Question from VU327:

Will Mike Wright have more rushing or passing tds this season?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Passing.

Doreontheplains: Passing. Unless he suffers a season ending injury game 1.

Cole: He has 2 career rushing TDs and 9 career passing TDs. Passing.

Andrew VU ‘04: Passing.

Question from Jeturn:

What game, in which we are underdogs, will we surprise the world and win ?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Low-key the answer is Florida, which is (a) at home and (b) in the second-to-last game of the season (for both teams), meaning that if the season is going poorly for the Jorts (and there’s a decent chance that it will), there are going to be some guys out there who don’t really want to be there. And never, ever underestimate the ability of Florida-based teams to play well below their talent in shitty weather. If we are really fortunate, this will be a night game with temperatures in the 40s.

Doreontheplains: As low as expectations are, I’m not really impressed enough with any of our opponents except Georgia and Alabama for wins to really qualify as “shock the world.” Maybe Wake if their star QB was not hurt. THEY are just outside the Top 25, so maybe that game qualifies then but probably not because the Vols are way better preseason than in season. Screw it. I’m going Kentucky. Road game against a potential Top 25 SEC team? Yeah, that could make some noise.

Cole: The SEC Championship, but only because we’ll be favored in the Cotton Bowl. Okay maybe not, but I do think we will surprise the world against Florida. I feel like Florida will probably lose one game (they play Georgia, Texas A&M, and South Carolina in the 3 weeks before our match-up) and the entire program will collapse in on itself. We can capitalize on that. I also think we will at least one other SEC game against either Mizzou (SEC game in-name only) and/or South Carolina. Of course, I would most like to win against Xhat Xeam OuX EasX. We’ll see how that goes, though.

Andrew VU ‘04: Umm... I don’t really know. Will any of Hawaii, Wake Forest, or Northern Illinois be favored against us? I would assume The Demon Deacons will be. We’re a TD favorite over The Rainbow Warriors, so certainly not that one. I mean, I don’t really think we’ll win an SEC game this year, but none of the aforementioned three games would “surprise the world.” Would beating Missourah (spits) or South Cackalacky do that? I don’t know. It might raise an eyebrow, but I don’t think the world would really notice. No, we would have to beat Ramajama (0% likely), Ugga (0% likely), The Jorts (10% likely), or The Buttchuggers (25% likely, mainly because of spite, hatred, etc.).

Fuck it. Nothing sucks like a big orange. Might as well beat the denizens of the Wigsphere.

Question from VandyStud:

In what position groups will we be better and which ones the same or worse?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Just spitballing here: the offensive line will get worse before it gets better, the receivers will be worse (Chris Pierce and Cam Johnson were two of the few guys off last season’s team who I thought were probably better than their replacements will be, at least in the near term), the running backs will be better (a healthy Re’Mahn Davis helps a lot), the quarterbacks will be better (hard to be worse, really.) On defense, I think the line will be better, the linebackers about the same, the defensive backs maybe slightly better.

Doreontheplains: Receiver is really the only spot we should be worse in terms of talent, though Amir Abdur-Rahman and Cam Johnson were minimal factors for most of the year anyway. Chris Pierce is a big loss. Every other position group should probably be better to varying degrees. Some of them, like LBer, may look a lot better because other groups like DL improve, too. Of course, the DL needs to stay healthy or they might look worse with more talent in the room that cannot take the field.

Cole: Wide receiver sticks out as a position that will definitely get worse. We just lost too much of our WR corps from last year for it not to be at least a little bit worse, although 1) a lot of the new guys may be bought in on Team Two in a way that the old guys weren’t and 2) I think a few of the older tight ends or even newbie 6’7’’ Cole Spence (Great name) could pick up a little bit of the slack. I think the defense will be better as a whole given the level of retention on that side of the ball. Our special teams should be at least marginally better, too, for the same reason. Quarterback play should be better again for the same reason, but I think we need to win the first few games for that to pan out over the course of the season. If things don’t come together early, the team could lose confidence in itself, but I think our schedule is conducive to winning early and figuring out what works and what doesn’t work by the time we get to Tuscaloosa and shock the world.

Andrew VU ‘04: I’m assuming you have a jacket that says “Vandy Stu” because you ran out of bedazzling rhinestones.

Question from DoreFaninDallas:

Is there any chance Vanderbilt football will ever do as well as it did in the James Franklin era?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I suppose that I should nail down what exactly you’re asking here, because remember, the James Franklin era lasted just three years. So, if you’re asking if Vanderbilt can ever have a three-year stretch in which it wins 24 games: sure, I could see that happening. If you’re asking if Vanderbilt can consistently win eight games a year, though, that’s a different question and I don’t think that can happen in the current college football paradigm.

Doreontheplains: Win totals or prestige of bowl games? The latter? Definitely because Franklin’s teams got hosed in 2012 and 2013. The former? Maybe not unless bad things happen in conference realignment/evolution.

However, if Kentucky can do what they have done, Vanderbilt can replicate at least that with the right coach and by continuing the steps the athletic department has started to take. I might argue that 4 bowls in 5 years with 1 less win a year would be more impressive since 2014 looked like a big step back no matter if Franklin stayed or not.

Cole: Yes, for a few reasons. 1) Schools that are locked out of conference realignment will eventually have their talent realign, too. Only so many blue chips can get playing time at blue blood programs, so I think we will catch some of that talent and become more competitive as we do so, even if we aren’t winning the national title every year. 2) Vanderbilt has one of the wealthiest student bodies in the world. I think there’s a chance that Vanderbilt has a good season and a few billionaires decide to capture that flash-in-the-pan via NIL. 3) The administration supports Athletics now, and is making huge investments across the board. I think that attitude is here to stay, and I think it is another factor that will, eventually, lead to a successful Vanderbilt football program. 4) Finally, The Big Clark said we will be the best team in the country. Who am I to call him a liar?

Andrew VU ‘04: I hate to say “No,” as “ever” is a frighteningly long amount of time, but looking around at what the SEC is turning into, and taking into account the addition of Tejas and Boomer Sooner... I mean, it would not shock me if the next expansion includes some NFL teams. No, short of a complete 180 from the administration to put like $eleventy billion into it, make it the university’s #1 priority, NIL the ever-loving hell out of the best players in the world, create a bunch of fake majors so as to keep them eligible...

You see how this is not happening, right? Brigadoon came but once. Now, can we be a semi-perpetual bowl team? You bet your ass we can (provided at least one of the ridiculous hypotheticals raised in the previous paragraph are met).

Question from 92Drummer:

At what point will we update the AOG glossary of terms to reflect the conclusion of the Derek Mason experience?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I’m supposed to update that?

Doreontheplains: The Hired Auburn Man can’t read anyway, so I don’t care.

Cole: As soon as we are done processing the emotions that came with the Derek Mason Era and its conclusion, which is to say possibly never.

Andrew VU ‘04: I don’t think we have a term for that. I’m still in Post Traumatic Het Disorder.

Question from WestEndMayhem & Admirable Snack Bar:

Thoughts/confidence in/ concerns regarding [Vanderbilt football] coaches not named Clark Lea?


We had a lot of coaching turnover after last season, but it felt like guys getting promotions getting a shot at the same job at a bigger program. Is that your take as well, do you see that being an annual experience for us, and why is it good news?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: The coaching turnover after the first year was much different than the turnover after Derek Mason’s first year. The latter happened mainly because a couple of coordinator hires that Mason frankly should not have made, while Clark Lea lost his defensive coordinator to Michigan. And even the Raih hire I can defend in a way that I can’t defend the Dorrell hire, because there was at least a logic to hiring Raih (first-time coordinator who’d been working for Kliff Kingsbury; you have to take some shots like that when you’re the head coach at Vanderbilt) that wasn’t there with Dorrell.

With that said, I’m curious about the Nick Howell hire, because he’s a pretty experienced defensive coordinator and also fielded some bad defenses in his last couple of years at Virginia. Was that a him problem or was the talent just not there? Who knows, but I guess we’ll find out soon enough. I’m less curious about Joey Lynch, who was already the de facto offensive coordinator for most of last season, but it’s probably a good idea to have the same guy developing the game plan and calling the plays on Saturday.

Doreontheplains: The losses were part of the game. Even Alabama has a revolving door for position coaches and coordinators. Coaches that are viewed as getting more out of their players or are able to get good recruits on campus will be offered promotions. The long-term success will depend on Clark and/Barton and/or whoever Clark trusts to identify the right replacements.

As for the current staff, Larry Black (new DL coach along side Jovan Haye) has impressed me in his interviews. I think Justin Lustig is a good piece on the staff as ST and TE coach. None of the others really stick out either way. I have concerns about Lynch and Howell, but they could prove me wrong pretty easily this season.

Cole: There’s good turnover (apple turnover, turning over a new leaf, Tennessee turning over the ball) and there’s bad turnover (burnt apple turnover, turning over an old leaf, Vandy turning over the ball) and I think our coaching staff leans towards the former right now. Talent poaching means we have good talent, and as long as there is a pillar of consistency, turnover can bring with it new ideas and inspirations to strengthen that pillar even long after the assistants have left. I’m not worried.

Andrew VU ‘04: Coaching turnover is par for the course. What you really don’t want is to have to fire assistants over and over again to cover your own head coaching ass. If your dudes are getting poached, it usually means you will be able to identify and train more dudes. It’s a sign of a great organization when other schools and professional orgs come after your assistants. I mean, look at all the turnover at a place like Ramajama.

As for my opinions on the assistants we currently have, I like Barton Simmons as ‘crootin’ coordinator, but reserve my right to an opinion on the others once I see the team play this year.

Question from Shoogymgshoogs:

Is there anything on-the-field wise that could get Lea fired during/after the season?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: 0-12 or 1-11 with none of the SEC games being competitive, and even then I’d probably need more information.

Doreontheplains: Losing to Elon by 20+.

Cole: No. At a program like Vanderbilt, the administration understands that you may not succeed at first. I think Team Three will be the first time Coach Lea’s seat has a chance to get warm, but a 0-win season this year would definitely start it off hotter than it would be otherwise.

Andrew VU ‘04: The “dead girl or live boy” question so soon?

Question from Force10JC:

Will this season be judged on how we do against our opponents, or how we do against ourselves?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: The thing about the schedule is that Vanderbilt could legitimately be improved and still go 2-10, because even an improved Vanderbilt team might not beat Northern Illinois, Wake Forest, or an SEC team.

So, here’s something I am looking at: last season, Vanderbilt was outscored by an average of 20 ppg, and 26 ppg in SEC games, with only one loss by a single score. In the SEC-only schedule of 2020, it was an average of 22.5 ppg; in 2019, 15.3 ppg and 23.1 ppg (and that was with an SEC win!) Bobby Johnson’s first three teams all won just two games each, but the average scoring margin shrunk from -12.3 ppg in 2002 to -10.2 in 2003 and then -6.7 in 2004. You won’t see those scoring margins in the offense-minded era of the 2020s, but I think it will tell us a lot if Clark Lea is able to get the average scoring margin down below we’ll say 14 points even if the record isn’t improved. Having a competitive team is going to be the first step.

Doreontheplains: From the outside, it will be in terms of wins and losses with thrown in platitudes about how tough the Vanderbilt job is. The comparison against 2021 and the previous 3 or 4 seasons is more important internally. I am counting the fan base as part of the internal structure. 2022 is not a make or break year, nor is it seen as a season that should be one of the peaks in Derek Mason’s “peak and valleys.”

Cole: Both. I think we need to win a minimum number of games, but I also think it’s just important we put a better product on the field and show that we care a little bit more. I want the football team to love playing as much as I love watching; 4 wins and some enthusiasm are what I am looking for out of this season.

Andrew VU ‘04: I’m assuming the “against ourselves” means “relative to expectations from year one.” If not, and it instead has to do with how we do in practice, I have no idea how to answer that.

In short, this season should be defined by seeing real, meaningful progress—especially in offensive and defensive schemes, and from Mike Wright, specifically. Beyond that, if we’re a crisp team—i.e. playing with precision, always in the right place, not taking too many penalties, taking little to no “what the hell was that???” penalties, and noticing few to no absurdly idiotic coaching decisions, then I’m good. We still don’t have the Jimmies and Joes, but we should be able to see the Xs and Os in year two of the New Bald Coach regime.

...and yes, that should include 3 wins minimum.