Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason hasn’t had a ton of success in two seasons as Commodores coach, but he believes 2016 will be much different.
Mason told ESPN’s Chris Low that the Commodores will be a factor in the SEC East this season.
“Right now, I don’t believe we’re behind anybody when you look at the pack on our side of the conference,” Mason told Low.
Mason conceded that Tennessee is at the top of the division, but believes that his once-inexperienced team is now seasoned after being thrown into the fire of SEC play as freshmen and sophomores.
The expectation is that sophomore quarterback Kyle Shurmur can build off of the experience he gained at the end of the year and take a bit of the pressure off of redshirt junior tailback Ralph Webb. A middle-of-the-road defense could take a step forward after finishing sixth in the SEC in scoring defense a year ago (21 points allowed per game). A bowl game could be a feasible expectation if Vanderbilt can improve upon its -8 turnover margin from last season.
The Commodores will have to take care of business during the first third of its schedule, which features home games against South Carolina and Middle Tennessee State with road games against Georgia Tech and Western Kentucky. A 3-1 start puts less pressure on Vandy during SEC play. But the Commodores would have to win at least three games in conference play for the first time in Mason’s tenure to become bowl eligible.
A bowl game seems realistic. An SEC East crown does not. But either way, the anchor apparently is pointing up for Vanderbilt. For Mason’s sake, it better be.