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Staff Roundtable: Preseason Predictions

How does the Anchor of Gold staff think 2023 will go?

Syndication: The Tennessean George Walker IV / / USA TODAY NETWORK

The offseason is finally over, and it’s time for our staff writers to put their money where their mouth is and predict the 2023 season.

Vanderbilt saw significant improvement from 2021 to 2022, jumping from two wins to five and snapping a 26-game SEC losing streak. Will the Commodores continue to build on that? Will 2023 be a step back? Will Vanderbilt return to a bowl game? Let’s find out!

Tom Stephenson

For the first time since probably the James Franklin years, I feel some sense of optimism about the Vanderbilt football program. (I mean, sure, there were a couple of bowl seasons under Derek Mason. Did you ever really feel optimism about those teams, though? Even with the 2018 team it took until the Notre Dame game in Week 3 for me to really feel like that team could do things.)

With that said, the optimism is still a bit guarded. The roster is better, but it’s mostly because of Clark Lea recruits who are going to be depth pieces on this team with maybe a handful of guys who break through to play big roles. The roster hasn’t been completely overhauled, and there are still units that I have major questions about in terms of the top-end talent. I like the defensive linemen and cornerbacks that Clark Lea has brought in; they’re still more than likely going to be backups to Derek Mason recruits still kicking around and/or freshmen who are a bit in over their head at times.

That’s probably the limiting factor with this team. The positive is that the talent is here to win six games; who those six will be isn’t clear, though I think it’s reasonable to assume Hawaii, Alabama A&M, and UNLV will be three of the six. Beyond that, Wake Forest, Kentucky, Missouri, Florida, Ole Miss, Auburn, and South Carolina should all be beatable this season. Vanderbilt can win three of those. We’ll all have a nice celebration in Shreveport in December. Hail Pinman.

Andrew VU ‘04

There are certainly winnable games in this year’s schedule. As I said in the mail bag, I can see anywhere from 5-7 wins. It will come down to the following things:

1) Are the DBs—especially the CBs—better than I think they are? If they’re as ass terrible as they have been in the early part of the Lea-naissance, then it might not matter how much the rest of the team has improved.

2) Can the RB room make up for the loss of Re’Mahn “The Hypothesis” Davis to Kentucky? It very much appears he’s no longer a Dore because he couldn’t get into VU grad school. Do we have anyone, or at least a committee, who can pick up his slack? We had a similar question once Ke’Shawn Vaughn left for Tampa Bay, and The Hypothesis emerged soon after. Do we have someone currently in the room who can do the same? I don’t think so, but I’d prefer to be pleasantly surprised.

3) Will AJ Swann level up to the type of QB who can put a team on his back? He certainly appears to have the potential to do so. If he does, we win 7. If not... well... not.

So yeah, I don’t know. It’s a 5 or 7 win season, and I cannot for the life of me determine which. Fuck it, I’ll split the baby in two and say yes... 6 wins and a bowl game. As Michael Scott said, “I am ready to get hurt again.”

Ask me again after the Wake Forest game.

Patrick Sawyer

It is getting a bit scary how closely Andrew and I have been in our thoughts this pre-season. He is generally the most negative while I am the one hoping for the best and finding ways to rationalize how it happens. It means we are going to be very right, or something WEIRD is going to unfold.

If I have to pick one player or position group that can break this team, it is the CBs. I like Mahoney and Wright at safety. The DL and Star need to create pass rush. They might be able to do that relatively well, especially when Agu gets healthy. Poor CB play can be somewhat mitigated with pass rush and safety help. It just depends on whether the corners are below average, bad, or embarrassing.

On offense, outside of AJ Swann, I think the WR room will have the most impact. The OL seems decent with known commodities returning. The RBs will probably be serviceable, but anything beyond that would be a big boost, too. However, if the WRs can be as dynamic as some insiders have suggested, the offense might get really explosive really quickly. It sounds like they might easily go 7 deep with Sheppard, Skinner, McGowan, Humphreys, Carter, Hoskins, and Sherrill. The expectation is a lot of 4WR sets, so being able to run 7 deep could really wear down opposing DBs.

Put me down as having Justin Ball as an X-Factor, too. He was expected to be Cole Spence’s backup at TE, but Spence is out for the season. Ball was stuck behind Ben BresnaHANDS and Gavin Schoenwald for a few seasons. He did have a catch for 36 yards against Wake Forest last season though. I do not think Ball has eye-catching stats, but I think he will make some big plays in big games. Plays where the offense comes out with everyone looking to Sheppard and the WRs then Ball gets free for a big first down.

I think I just talked myself up to 7-5. I was on the fence between 6-6 and 7-5. I’m going with 7-5. Final answer. All 4 nonconference along with Florida, Missouri, and Auburn in the SEC.

Cole Sullivan

Book your tickets to the Birmingham Bowl now.

Yeah, that’s right, I think we’ll win 6 and then add the bowl win on top of that. ESPN only has us favored in 3 of our matchups this year, but I think some of the teams we’ll face are overrated. I just can’t believe an Auburn or Florida team until I’ve seen it, and maybe this is just wishful thinking, that our offense is going to be better than expected. While we have obvious weaknesses on both sides of the ball, especially in the secondary as I’m sure you’ve read by now somewhere in this week’s preseason coverage, I think the Leanaissance takes another step forward by way of an effective offense built on last year’s failures and successes. We won two tough SEC games last year, and showed flashes of brilliance in other games, and I have faith that we can piece a few things together this year and slug it out with the likes of Kentucky and Missouri and Florida again en route to a couple of SEC wins. ‘Dores by a billion. Anchor Down.