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Pre-Season Football Mail Bag: Answers to your Questions

You ask, we answer.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 19 Florida at Vanderbilt
Those damned Nickelodeon kids will slime you anywhere.
Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Question(s) from Jeturn & Mark Lonergan:

What is a reasonable expectation of the total number of wins in the season and why is the correct answer six?

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1. What’s our W/L record for 2023? For 2024?

2. Who in the SEC are we most likely to beat in 2023?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I mean, yeah, six is totally reasonable. That means you’ve beaten the three teams you should definitely, no questions asked, beat (Hawaii, Alabama A&M, UNLV) and then go 3-4 against the portion of the schedule that’s not Georgia or THEM. Can we beat three of Wake Forest, Kentucky, Missourah (spits), Florida, Ole Miss, Auburn, and South Carolina? Yes. Will we? Exactly how long have you been watching Vanderbilt football?

As for 2024, I’m not even going to go there. Not in the era of the Transfer Portal. Because I’m not about to assume any of our good players who will have eligibility remaining after this season will be back, because Jadais Richard got an offer he couldn’t refuse from the LifeWallet guy (who may or may not be another Nevin Shapiro-sized problem for Miami, but that’s neither here nor there) and hit the portal. Oh, yeah, and Texas and Alabama are both on the 2024 schedule, so that’ll be fun.

Cole Sullivan: Reasonable expectation? I think seven wins is totally reasonable. There are three “should-wins” and enough “could-wins” that six regular seasons wins is very doable, and if we make it to a bowl game, I feel like we’ll end up winning. HOWEVER, I am not a reasonable man. Not when it comes to Vanderbilt Athletics. I expect us to start 7-0, and pick up an eighth win when the War Tigers come to town for Homecoming in November. Throw in a Music City Bowl win, and we’ll have at least nine by the end of the year. Anchor Down!

PatrickSawyer: 6 or 7 seems to be the acceptable results with less being a disappointment and more being gravy. I could make the same schedule points as everyone else, but the fact we are all basically on the same wavelength says a lot.

As for next season, we face Alabama, Texas, Tennessee, and South Carolina at home while hitting the road for Auburn, Kentucky, Missouri, and LSU. Virginia Tech and SMU are roughly Wake-level opponents outside the SEC. The schedule is a lot tougher on paper right now, and who knows what the roster looks like. Even ignoring the portal, we could have a lot of younger players stepping in this season with their play and development being too unpredictable as of now.

Andrew VU ‘04: The answer is five to seven, so yeah, six makes sense. I think we’ll know a lot about this team based on the result of the Wake Forest game. The Demon Deacons’ QB is now shaking hands with Touchdown Jebus in South Bend, so this should be a toss-up—hell, we might even be slight favorites come game day. Win that, and we’ve got 4 OOC wins. Then, we just need to take two against the not-quite-murderer’s row of Kentucky, Missourah (spits), and The Jorts in our first three conference games. If we do that, we pull a 2008 and get ranked that week, only to run into tougher competition and cling onto our bowl bid like grim death. Only win one of those three, and we’ve got to take one of two from The Auburn War Tigers or South Cackalacky Game Penises in the penultimate weeks of our season. The other games are very low on the win probability scale. So yeah, six is reasonable.


Question from Lidore16:

Assuming that the 2024 schedule is a good deal harder than this year’s (I think it is but you may disagree) how important is getting to 6 wins for the overall health and trajectory of the program?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Yeah, next year’s schedule is ridiculous: Alabama, LSU, and Texas are all on it, and for some reason that last one is a conference game. Plus the non-conference schedule rid itself of a bodybag game against Hawaii and replaced it with a not-automatic win against SMU, and for some reason we’re going to play at Georgia State. So yeah, going 6-6 or better right before the SEC suddenly becomes even more of a death star than it’s been is going to be important for the program’s perception, because... well, you know what, we already had an automatic loss on the schedule every year in Georgia and just picking a different team to be an automatic loss, whatever. (I also think people are waaaaaaaay too early in thinking Tennessee is back. Like, they went 11-2 one time. Let’s see them do that again.)

Cole Sullivan: It is very clear that the school is investing in the success of the football team. I think 5 wins is crucial in showing that the culture is changing and the investment is paying off; I know that teams can be up-and-down and that some seasons are more difficult than others, but at the end of the year what matters most is wins and losses. That is why we need to win at least as many as we did last year, because otherwise, what’s to stop someone from wondering if it was all just a fluke? Regardless of 2024’s difficulty, it is paramount that we succeed this season.

PatrickSawyer: I think it's hard to talk about progress without adding at least one win in 2023. The bowl experience and publicity could go a long way for any current players who impress because the Transfer Portal will be waiting for good players on bad teams. The 2024 schedule, which I touched on above, is harder, but I think the bowl is important either way. Coach Lea needs to stack progress on progress. Going from 2-9 to 5-7 then stuttering there would not derail the train, but it might slow it, especially if turns into peaking at 5-7 then only matching or underperforming that 3 years in a row after 2024.

Andrew VU ‘04: Like, because of The OK Boomers and Tejas joining the party? No. Just no. OU is kind of turning into a dumpster fire since their entire offense left for the West Coast. Tejas is basically Ole Piss—all offense, no defense. That said, The New Bald Coach getting this team bowl eligible will do wonders for our collective health, as we tend to drink less in celebration than in despair. It will be good for the program, as well.


Question from VandyOptimist:

Does this team have the potential to be one of our best offenses of all time?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Blowing right past how low a bar “best Vanderbilt offense of all-time” is... well, yes.

Or at least, in terms of raw numbers, removing all context of 2023. Because last year’s offense average 24.6 ppg, which was good for 89th in all of FBS. That’s not good! Then again, the 1982 offense averaged 24.4 ppg and that was good for 39th in FBS. I do think to an underappreciated degree, the pieces are all there. There’s a reason why the coaching staff wanted A.J. Swann to be the guy and let Mike Wright go to Mississippi State. There are some good receivers, and I think the offensive line is criminally underrated. So yeah, now we just have to see if the coaching staff knows what they’re doing. Remember, for all the crap that we give Joey Lynch, he’s an offensive coordinator who made Riley Neal look good.

Cole Sullivan: If we are going deep into the history books, and once you adjust for era, no. There are Vanderbilt teams that would have won national championships a hundred years ago had a national championship game existed. But if we’re just talkin’ most exciting, then absolutely. We have a lot of firepower, these guys have been in the system for a few years, and our schedule is front-loaded with great games for working out kinks and nailing the offense down. I always have sky-high expectations, and this year will be no different.

PatrickSawyer: This is Rabbit Kirby erasure. No, Vanderbilt will not score more than a point per minute. The 1915 team score 514 points in 510 minutes of game time. I guess the quarter/half lengths were different then.

The 2023 offense could be the most explosive we have seen in the modern era. Concerns about the RB room are real and sensible though. I like the OL well enough, but I do not expect them to road grade holes that any RB can waltz through, nor do I think they can hold up if teams know we are only effective through the air.

I'll say most explosive (not sure how far back "chunk play" data is available) but maybe not highest scoring, even if we limit it to post WWII.

Andrew VU ‘04: AJ Swann is the best Vanderbilt QB in terms of pure talent since Cutler, and Will Sheppard is the most talented wideout since Jordan Matthews. Jaden McGowen is a Swiss Army Knife type who can make defenses look silly. I’m still not sure what to make of the RB room, though, and we’ve had better offensive lines. So... I’ll go with no, but hope for yes.


Question from RaisedDawgChosenDore:

If this season fails to be a another step forward for the program is there anyone on the coaching staff who you would view as on the hot seat?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: (looks up current coaching staff)

(sees that defensive backs coach Dan Jackson somehow still has a job)

Yeah, I think so.

Cole Sullivan: Probably not? Depends how bad the mistep is. Some coaches definitely deserve to go, but it’s hard to say for sure without seeing what the problems are throughout the season.

PatrickSawyer: I can't really place any position group as underperforming except the secondary, especially the CBs. That may change this season, and CCL may have a different opinion on talent vs level of play. To me, Dan [nickname redacted] Jackson is the only one whose seat is mildly warm.

Andrew VU ‘04: Again, this is why I love our fanbase. You get to be yo-yoed from “best of all time” to “who gets fired first” within minutes. It looks like we expect to be a bit stronger on offense than defense, so if the offense comes out sluggish, and the game-plan redolent of Ted Cain, it’s always fun to sacrifice an offensive coordinator to the football gods.


Question from Admirable Snack Bar:

1) What is our ceiling if we don’t get the improvement we’re hoping for from the CB room? Do we have the firepower to get to a bowl game via shootouts?

2) UGA and UT look like the only unwinnable games for us this year. Is our best (moderately realistic) case really 10-2 or am i getting ahead of myself?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Yeah, I said above that I think Georgia and THEM are the only games that are truly unwinnable (and again, I’m even hedging a bit on THEM because no, I’m not totally convinced they’re back, last year was the perfect marriage of a Josh Heupel offense and a Jeremy Pruitt defense, and the latter may already be out of the building), but it’s a fallacy to suggest that 10-2 is realistic because we’re not going to win all of those games. Can I talk myself into 8-4? Sure. Is 6-6 closer to where I’d put the bar? Yeah. Would I be disappointed in 5-7? Not really. I mean, somehow the Vegas over/under for this team is 3.5, so the neutral parties are seeing a 3-9 or 4-8 team. So let’s cool it a bit.

PatrickSawyer: Are we expecting improvement from the CBs after losing Lucien? I'm expecting mostly more of the same. The only improvement may be from the front 7 applying more pressure to make their jobs simpler on the back end.

No. Just no. Even I'm not saying 10-2 is "moderately realistic." 10-2 is the pipe dream of a blissful child. Being able to win any game except 2 is a far cry from it being realistic as a best case scenario. 8-4 is probably the best case if everything breaks correctly. The number of good bounces and breaks to win every marginally winnable game would be the universe giving back to us for every travel, dance, and phantom call/no call in Vanderbilt history.

Andrew VU ‘04: 10-2 is not happening. It’s not. Stop it. 6 might. Yeah, if our CBs are getting roasted like they were in Year Zero, that’s not really something a strong offense can overcome. If they’re like league average, instead, our offense has the firepower to win 6. 7 if our offensive line and RB room are better than I think they are.

Cole Sullivan: 10-2 is happening. It is. Keep going. Yes, I’m being serious. We are going to have a banner year on West End. Maybe I’m just overreacting to the fact that I think we are once again underrated by the sports establishment (SEC Media Day poll notwithstanding), but I think it’s fine to say that, if everything goes perfectly, we could get to 10-2. At that point, we would probably lose the Sugar Bowl or whatever game we ended up in, but it would still be oh so fun along the way. I wouldn’t hold your breath, but I think enough of our games are winnable, even if we aren’t likely to win them, that we could feasibly end up with double-digit wins.


Question(s) from Your Uncle Mike:

Which looks better: This years white “V” logo on the helmets with the black outline or the black “V” with the white outline from last season?

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Who do you believe: Michael Oher or the Tuohys? What would Hugh Freeze be doing now if he had never met those two?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: What looks better was the Star-V, and I will take no further questions.

As for the second question, being a native Memphian who’s roughly the same age as Michael Oher... let’s just say that the Tuohys were not people with a reputation that was consistent with taking in Michael Oher for entirely altruistic reasons, so yeah, I’m believing him. (But actually, the Memphis subreddit thread on this subject should give you a pretty good idea of what kind of people the Tuohys are. Look, when service industry people are trashing you on Reddit, it’s probably a sign that you just weren’t taking in a Black teenager for any reason other than that you saw him as a meal ticket. Because much like how I trust a dog when it doesn’t like a person, I absolutely trust the waitstaff when they don’t like a person.)

Also, Hugh Freeze would have eventually ended up on somebody’s coaching staff at the college level no matter what, because that was just the way it was headed. There were enough important prospects that Briarcrest recruited under circumstances that weren’t really any less shady than how Michael Oher ended up there that somebody would have eventually gotten around to offering him a job. I mean, we don’t talk nearly enough about how Division I athletes end up at private schools for unsavory reasons. Okay, some of you talk enough about Brentwood Academy (and, these days, Lipscomb Academy.) That isn’t just a Nashville thing. Hugh Freeze was coaching at the Memphis version of that. He also might have actually been Me Too’ed for watching teenage girls change out of inappropriate shirts, and I’m just writing that to remind everybody that he’s been a creep for a long time and the reason we didn’t want him back in college football wasn’t because he paid players at Ole Miss (he did) or he liked hookers (he does.)

Cole Sullivan: If I have to choose, I like the white V more. I’ll leave the second question up to those who know more about it than I do.

PatrickSawyer: Need to see them live first, but I'm still leaning black V for now. I wish they would at least use one of the new Star V options like the blackout helmets from last season.

I'll go Oher. The Memphis folks have a lot of stories about the Tuohys. Not sure Freeze's arc changes a bit. Freeze was already at Ole Miss when the book came out and at Arkansas State when the movie released.

Andrew VU ‘04: Will consult the ghost of Joan Rivers. She believes Oher. Surprisingly, her ghost has no opinion on the fashion choices of others. She also thinks Freeze would be a Youth Minister at one of those TV Megachurches. And all the creepy connotations that come with such a position.


Question from Volundore:

Who do you expect to meet in the SECCG on December 2nd?

Which team that is not currently being talked about may challenge one of those division champions? Which team that is currently seen as a threat is going to fall flat?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I expect Vanderbilt to meet Mississippi State in the SEC Championship Game, because fuck it, if we’re gonna get weird we might as well go full weird and meet Mike Wright in the SECCG (gets handed a note from Pinman) wait, he’s probably their backup? Why did he transfer again? I mean, it certainly wasn’t because he really wanted to chill with this fan base.

The point is that somebody must avenge the 2021 College World Series, because there’s no way that guy should have been happy, or I am giving up my faith in God.

Cole Sullivan: Alabama and Georgia. LSU could challenge in the West, and South Carolina came on strong at the end of last year so maybe they could challenge in the East. There is almost no way, outside of a complete off-the-field disaster affecting the team, that Georgia does not return to Atlanta, though. I think Alabama could be, or eventually will, slip. Maybe a down-period has already begun, maybe it will soon, or maybe Saban can continue to will the program to greatness. Eventually, it is going to happen, and if now is the time, then I could LSU building on last year’s success or maaayyybeee Ole Miss finally piecing together an entire season. Who knows, though.

PatrickSawyer: Auburn because if I get Vandy in Atlanta then I'm taking my other fandom, too.

I don't see any real chance it's not UGA from the East. Like 97% UGA, 2.5% THEM, and 0.5% SC. From the West, I'll somewhat seriously say Auburn. There's a history of first or second year coaches there lighting it up, including in 2013 where they went from a horrid 3-9 team to the national championship. LSU might be an interesting non-Bama pick, too.

Andrew VU ‘04: I originally read the first question as “Who do you expect [Vanderbilt] to meet in the SECG,” and man, if that’s the case, that “Derp-Face Made Man” who was just named the starting QB at Ugga, Carson Beck, would have to not only pull a Hindenburg-level nightmare of a season, but also somehow hurt every defensive starter in the process to keep Ugga out of the SECCG.

So yeah, I’mma take Ugga to win the East. As for the West, LSU came on strong at the end of last season, and I think they finally figured out how to use their QB. If their D is as strong as I suspect it will be, they should give the Gumps a run for their money.

Honestly, the East is shaping up to be a two team race, and I won’t name the other team, as it’s far too early in the morning to induce vomiting. So yeah, if people are talking about anyone else in the East as a threat, that’s probably not going to happen. Even that team is likely not a real threat to Ugga’s dominance.

If literally everything breaks right, I could see Kentucky, or hell, even Vanderbilt surprising this year, relative to expectations, and both are because of the talent at QB. If Spencer Rattler finally lives up to his high school recruiting rankings hype, then even the Penises could be tough to beat. Still, I don’t expect any of the three to win more than The Buttchuggers, and certainly not Ugga. On the flip side, if anyone’s thinking of Florida as a contender this year, they should take those rose-colored Jorts off and set them ablaze. That team might get their coach fired.

In the West, I guess I gave my answer a few paragraphs higher. I suspect LSU might have their “win the West “ year this year, before yielding it back to Bama next year (provided Saban gets his QB situation figured out). That would make LSU the surprise champion, and Ramajama the surprise down year, I guess. I don’t think any team in the West challenges those two all that much, but if I had to buy a lottery ticket, it would be Ole Piss and their super-charged offense. aTm is the Jorts of the West, as their irrational cult of a fan base will start demanding Jimbo’s head and then claim he’s pro-DEI or some shit in their “firing for cause” attempt, which will result in him suing the school for their entire endowment.


Question from VU1970:

Is this the year Clark Lea gets his “signature win”? And what do you think would constitute a signature win?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I would say a “signature win” is a win over a Top 25 team, and Lea already did that last year, on the road.

To top that, I guess he’d have to beat a top 10 team? The only team that I think will be in the top 10 when we play them is Georgia and, no.

Cole Sullivan: Lea already got his first signature win on the road against a ranked SEC team. I remember exactly where I was when it happened, and the phone calls with my friends all congratulating ourselves and the program afterwards. To suggest the win over Kentucky wasn’t a signature win would seem a little disrespectful to me. That said, I do not have a problem with him going out and collecting more signature wins. Really any SEC win at this point is at least a statement game. I personally am tired of so many close calls against South Carolina these past few years, plus I am kinda high on them this year, so I would say that’s the game circled on my calendar where I’ll be looking for something special from the Leanaissance.

PatrickSawyer: I don't think we'll get anything more signature than "on the road to a Top 25 SEC team with a potential 1st round QB," which happened last year. Anything more "signature" than that would require a win in Knoxville over a highly ranked THEM or knocking of UGA.

Andrew VU ‘04: Last year was the year. Do you not remember the Jorts game? I mean, if you mean “will he beat Ugga or The Chuggers this year,” then no. If that Jorts game wasn’t a signature win, then I guess it will have to be a win that brings us to 6 wins on the season. If that’s the case, then maybe.


Post-Buzzer Question from LADores2011:

Ah man, I know the mailbag is “closed”, but I just awakened from my yearly slumber. I have one more I’d love to sneak in there.

I’m curious if the AoG staff has any interest/what level of interest in Pat Fitzgerald.

And before you throw your keyboard, hear me out. Not as head coach, but as an advisor/ consultant type to the program and AD. He was a good recruiter and understands the types of problems Vandy faces. I think we need this type of out-of-the-box thinking to create a sustainably competitive program in the SEC.

(I personally don’t buy that he was involved with hazing, but that’s an interesting side discussion to the main question - our administration would have questions, obviously, but play along here)

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I can’t believe Andrew wants me to answer this, but no. The answer is no.

Cole Sullivan: Is that one of the Northwestern guys? I don’t know much about that story, but it could be worth at least doing a little bit of homework on the guy. Probably not interested, though.

PatrickSawyer: NOT JUST NO BUT HELL NO!

Lea's biggest thing is culture and togetherness. Bringing in Fitzgerald in any capacity nukes that. Beyond that, why? Lea seems to have a pretty good grasp on the job. Whatever gain would be dwarfed (like "Everest vs Appalachians" dwarfed) by the negatives. If you have the chance to bring in someone realistically connected to sexualized hazing, you definitely do not do that 100% of the time.

Andrew VU ‘04: No.