We break down the 14 teams that make up the SEC. The Vanderbilt Commodores 2022 Football Preview is part of Gridiron Heroics’ first-ever SEC football preview. Check it out, team by team.
SEC CONF. PREVIEW: Overall SEC Conf. Preview
SEC EAST PREVIEWS: Florida | Georgia | Kentucky | Mizzou | South Carolina | Tennessee | Vanderbilt
SEC WEST PREVIEWS: Alabama | Arkansas | Auburn | LSU | Mississippi State | Ole Miss | Texas A&M
THE TEAM: Vanderbilt Commodores
THE MENTOR: Clark Lea (2nd year, 2-10 record)
THE 2021 RECORD (SEC RECORD): 2-10 (0-8 in SEC)
THE AFTERLIFE: Vanderbilt didn’t qualify for a bowl game, and hasn’t been to one since the end of the 2018 season when the Commodores lost in the Texas Bowl.
THE FIVE STUDS (STATS): Sr./LB Anfernee Orji (13 TFLs, 92 tackles); Jr./WR Will Sheppard (577 yards, 43 receptions, 4 TDs); Jr./LB Ethan Barr (85 tackles, 3 INTs); Sr./TE Ben Bresnahan (45 career receptions, 509 yards, 4 TDs); Sr./PK Joseph Bulovas (14 FGs, long of 53).
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The good news is the first four games of the year provide opportunities to gain some momentum before the Commodores have to trek to Alabama on Sept. 24 and get a dose of reality (as most SEC teams do). The FCS’ Elon, road trips to Hawaii and Northern Illinois (albeit decent G5 programs), and a home game with a pretty good Wake Forest team — but it’s still in Tennessee — do provide opportunities for victories. The problem after that, though, is the SEC road trips are to middle-of-the-pack SEC teams mostly, and the home games in Nashville are against teams Vandy likely will struggle against. But — could the program look at this as an opportunity to win more than two games this year and continue to build? Yes.
Who are we kidding? Vandy’s a tough place to win SEC football games. Those two nine-win seasons under James Franklin in 2012-13 were impressive, but that was an anomaly. Since then, the program has been to two mid-grade bowl games in eight previous seasons — and lost both. The program has had five total wins in the past three seasons, with one SEC victory (in 2019). Coach Clark Lea will try to turn this around, obviously, but it’s never easy in the SEC.
The Commodores were picked to finish last in the SEC East this preseason. It’s not the first time. Can they find a spark that spares them that label in 2022? They’ll need to dig deep. Every year, this is the reality for Vandy — a high-end academic institution that is a remnant of the old days in terms of sticking with the regional teams in the south. Many national programs like Vanderbilt have chosen other routes, to downshift into a lower level of college football — but you have to give Vandy credit: It has stood firm and stayed in the SEC. But man oh man — this program takes some punches each season.
BIGGEST NON-CONF GAME OF THE YEAR (AND WHY): Sept. 10 — Wake Forest at home is intriguing. Last year’s Demon Deacons team was pretty darned strong. And they’re considered above average this year too when it comes to the ACC preseason rankings. But the game is in Nashville and being judged third in your division in the ACC isn’t horrifyingly intimidating for any SEC team at home. If Vandy wants to prove something is different this season, this is an opportunity three weeks into 2022.
BIGGEST CONF. GAME OF THE YEAR (AND WHY): Let’s go with South Carolina at home on Nov. 5. The Gamecocks likely will be favored, but this isn’t Georgia. Nov. 5 could be Vandy’s top opportunity to get a home SEC win in 2022.
DARKHORSE THREAT ON THE SKED (AND WHY): Sept. 17 – at Northern Illinois. Last year, NIU knocked off Georgia Tech in the season opener and proceeded to win nine games. Now, even bottom-half P5 conference teams are expected to knock off G5s, but this game could be a nail-biter. The Huskies are no slouch program in 2022.
THE HAPPY HISTORY NUGGET: In 1955, Vanderbilt defeated Alabama and Florida during the regular season, and knocked off Auburn in the Gator Bowl. It was the final bowl game win for the Commodores before 2008.
WHICH TEAMS WILL THEY BEAT?: I’ll go with a potential 2-0 start at Hawaii and at home with FCS Elon. The Rainbow Warriors weren’t exactly world beaters last year, going 6-7. So Vandy will match last year’s two-win mark right off the bat, and then it gets much tougher. Let’s go with Vandy winning three games — Hawaii, Elon, and a close win at Northern Illinois.
WHICH TEAMS WILL THEY LOSE TO?: When we break things down realistically, it’s hard to see Vanderbilt winning an SEC game, and that Wake Forest game at home is a massive opportunity to show improvement — but this Demon Deacons program is very strong right now.
FINAL RECORD, POSTSEASON PREDICTION?: We’ll go with 3-9 this year, with no postseason. But, this program will show improvement over how the past three years have gone.
RELATED VANDERBILT STORIES:
Honolulu Star-Advertiser/Associated Press — Vanderbilt vs. Hawaii in Week Zero
Adam Bridgers, SB Nation — Vanderbilt vs. Wake Forest early preview
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