Posted: 8:05 p.m. Friday, July 26, 2013
By Brandon Larrabee
The dismissals shouldn't hurt the football team too much. First of all, let's all agree that this is really the least important part of the sex-crimes investigation underway at Vanderbilt right now. But the four players who were kicked off the team in the wake of the investigation were not front-line starters. You would rather have all the players you can, particularly at a school like Vanderbilt, where is still trying to build up some SEC-caliber depth. That said, if you don't have a lot of depth, you don't want to be losing your starters. The program also seems to have handled the fallout relatively quickly and kept the story from becoming a major distraction. If only the same could be said for the victim.
Vanderbilt is actually favored to make a bowl this year. Yes, it's insanely early to be making bowl projections right now. But among those that have (SBNation.com, Phil Steele), the Commodores are popping up with the kind of unanimity that doesn't often happen when you put the words "Vanderbilt" and "bowl" in the same sentence. The fact of the matter is that the schedule is favorable for it and the Commodores are at least a pretty decent football team -- so barring some bad luck or the new starters at quarterback and running back being absolute flops, getting to .500 is not going to be terribly challenging. Nobody's putting them in the Sugar Bowl yet or anything, and probably shouldn't. But getting to the postseason for the third time in a row is not bad for the team from Nashville.
We'll know how good they are pretty quickly. Whether or not they can do much beyond that should be crystal clear after the first three or four weeks of the season. Consider the first three games of 2013: Ole Miss, Austin Peay, at South Carolina. That's a home game against a mid-tier SEC team, a home game against a cupcake that Vanderbilt should smash, and a road game against one of the Big Three in the East. If Vanderbilt routs Ole Miss, destroys Austin Peay and is at least competitive with or even beats South Carolina, something big could be happening. If the Commodores lose to Ole Miss, struggle with Austin Peay and get blown out by the Gamecocks, then the dreams of a bowl season are going to dissipate pretty quickly. And if what happens is somewhere in between -- which is what's most likely -- then reservations for a mid-level bowl are in order.
How good Austyn Carta-Samuels will be. It's important to remember that Carta-Samuels hasn't been a starting quarterback since 2010. That means it's difficult to extrapolate from his numbers at Wyoming, which were not overly impressive in either year but were perhaps a bit more consistent in his first season than in his second. That was, mind you, in the Mountain West -- which is maybe the best midmajor in the country, but is still a pretty far cry from the SEC. Carta-Samuels threw the ball 25 times last year, which is not exactly the ideal sample size. It will take a few weeks for us to figure out how good a football player this guy is, and some portion of Vanderbilt's success on offense will depend on the answer.
What the running game will be like. The two backs who be looked to pick up most of the load carried by Zac Stacy last year will likely be, in some combination, Brian Kimbrow and Wesley Tate. The two averaged 4.6 per carry between them last year, which is about a yard beyond Stacy, but Kimbrow's 6.3-yard average is actually a touch better. And Kimbrow's likely going to end up with the starting gig. Nobody wants to put the burden on either of those players for "replacing" Stacy, who is one of the best offensive players to come through Nashville in several years. But if they can come close, the Commodores should be able to move the ball relatively effectively.
How long James Franklin will stay in Nashville. I almost hesitate to bring this up, but it's the question that kind of hovers over this program right now. Another bowl season or two at Vanderbilt, and there are going to be plenty of high-profile football programs with plenty of money who are going to come knocking on Franklin's door. So far, he seems to have turned down whatever offers he might have received, but the ceiling at Vanderbilt has got to be a concern. Can he win an SEC Championship in Nashville? Can he win a national title? Looking at it objectively -- objectively -- it would take something approaching a miracle for either of those things to happen. A lot of good coaches have tried and failed on that same mission. So if Brian Kelly implodes at Notre Dame orretires from Texas or some other marquee program puts a $5 million a year contract on the table, can Franklin really refuse? I hope so, because I enjoy covering him on this blog. But I'm just not sure.