The Opponent: Alabama A&M Bulldogs
When: September 2, 2023 at 6:00 PM CT on ESPN+/SEC Network+
Where: FirstBank Stadium
Last year: 4-7 (4-4 SWAC.) The definition of a middling SWAC team, with four wins by a total of 21 points. However, they opened the season with a pair of bodybag games against FBS opponents UAB, who beat them 59-0, and Troy, which won 38-17. That Troy game was weirdly competitive (Troy led 7-3 at halftime), though the yards per play were not close (7.5 for Troy, 4.3 for Alabama A&M.) Given that UAB erased them from existence, though, I’m willing to chalk that up to Troy mailing it in.
The last time we saw these guys: September 9, 2017. Derek Mason’s team got to 2-0 by casually crockpotting the Bulldogs to the tune of 42-0. Kyle Shurmur even ran for a touchdown! This was the only game in September 2017 between Vanderbilt and a team from the state of Alabama that wears a shade of red. Nope, you imagined that we played a game on CBS later that month.
Series record: Vanderbilt leads, 1-0.
Connell Maynor, a longtime veteran of HBCU football, has been Alabama A&M’s head coach since 2018 and has a 29-20 record; prior to that, he was at Hampton and Winston-Salem State. No, he wasn’t the SWAC coach who said Deion Sanders wasn’t SWAC. That was Alabama State head coach Eddie Robinson Jr., who is of no relation to that Eddie Robinson.
Look, I’m trying not to spend too much time on an FCS team, but Alabama A&M does have a legitimate player in the backfield in RB Donovan Eaglin, a former three-star prospect who transferred from Michigan State. Eaglin rushed for 873 yards on 171 carries and six touchdowns last season, his first at Alabama A&M. The Bulldogs rotated two quarterbacks last season, one of whom (Xavier Lankford) is still on the roster and was also their second-leading rusher last season. Their leading receiver last season, Isiah Cox, had 425 yards receiving and is gone. Again, I’m not spending too much time on any of this. I don’t know anything about Alabama A&M’s offensive line, so let’s just say that if Vanderbilt is having trouble with an FCS offensive line then the defense has... problems.
It’s a defense that allowed 256 points in nine games against FCS competition, and that gave up 59 to a UAB that ranked 53rd in FBS in points per game. So, no, I’m not expecting a great defense here. App State transfer Zareon Hayes did create a lot of havoc with 16.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles on the season. Again, I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this.
- September 2 at Vanderbilt
- September 9 vs. Lane
- September 16 at Southern
- September 21 vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff
- September 30 vs. Tuskegee
- October 7 vs. Jackson State (at Mobile, AL)
- October 14 at Grambling State
- October 28 vs. Alabama State (at Birmingham, AL)
- November 4 vs. Florida A&M
- November 11 at Bethune-Cookman
- November 18 vs. Mississippi Valley State
(Note: if you’re keeping score at home, Vanderbilt is the only non-HBCU opponent on Alabama A&M’s schedule.)
Let’s just say that Clark Lea’s two games against FCS opponents haven’t gone great, with the loss to ETSU in his first game as Vanderbilt’s head coach and the weird second-half comeback they allowed against Elon last season. So I’m not taking anything for granted, but there’s basically nothing about Alabama A&M that makes me think they’re on the level of the two FCS teams that Clark Lea’s played. This should be an easy win, and combined with the Hawaii game the week before Vanderbilt should start the season 2-0.