Derek Mason must channel inner James Franklin to salvage job at Vanderbilt


Derek Mason and the Vanderbilt Commodores look to right the ship in 2015.

Star Power…The City…The Degree…The SEC…this is the official slogan that Vanderbilt Athletics rolled out back in May. Quite frankly, it’s a clever and powerful recruiting tool. After all, Vanderbilt is in one of the nation’s premier cities in the South in Nashville. A degree from this school is even more prestigious than the Music City itself.

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Believe it or not, Vandy is a charter member of the Southeastern Conference. However, zero is the combined number of wins the Commodores had in the SEC during the 2014 football season. Although it is an honor and privilege to be in a conference with such a storied history, head football coach, Derek Mason prefers his team make history on the field in the upcoming season. In just his second season at Vanderbilt, Mason has his work cut out for him if he’s going to turn this program around and get back to a bowl game.

Prior to last year’s disappointing 3-9 record, Vanderbilt was coming off its best season in program history under then-coach, James Franklin. He was credited with bringing the swagger back to Vanderbilt by taking the Dores to bowl games in all three of his seasons in Nashville. This included back-to-back nine-win seasons in the 2012 and 2013 campaigns. It was during those years, that current NFL players Jordan Mathews, Zac Stacy, and Casey Heyward made a name for themselves. However, the lure of Penn State was just too much to pass up and Franklin was off to Happy Valley.

But Mason needs to look to the past to have a successful present and future at Vanderbilt and try to recapture the magic Franklin had with the program.

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Upon Mason’s debut season, expectations couldn’t have been higher for Commodore fans. Instead, both the offense and defense struggled with a very young and inexperienced team. Nobody is judged by their first year in a program, but Mason has a lot to prove this year with 20 starters back from last season. His first order of business will be to take back the defense. He should be calling the shots, having been a successful defensive coordinator during his time at Stanford. The offense looks to spice things up as well, with the addition of Andy Ludwig from Wisconsin to serve as offensive coordinator.

One of Ludwig’s biggest weapons will undoubtedly be running back Ralph Webb who set a school record as a freshman last year by running for 907 yards. The quarterback position may be a problem, though, Vanderbilt saw four different players vie for the opportunity last fall. Nobody really turned heads as they combined for 19 interceptions and just 13 touchdowns.

Someone will have to step up and make a name for himself this year. On a positive note, you can’t teach experience–both Johnny McCrary and Wade Freebeck will compete for the starting position, having had a taste in 2014. Another bright spot for the offense will be senior tight end Steven Scheu who was named second team All-SEC, having grabbed 39 receptions last season.

Sophomore Nigel Bowden looks to lead the defense, coming off a tremendous freshman year that saw him named to the Coaches’ All-SEC Freshman team with 78 tackles. Mason will have a lot to work with in an experienced defensive secondary, which includes Torren McGaster who started all 12 games last year at cornerback leading the Dores in solo tackles. He ended the season with two interceptions against in-state rival Tennessee.

It’s hard to predict what’s in store for the 2015 Vanderbilt Commodores. What we do know is they will be tested early and often. For the third year in a row they get the season kicked off on a Thursday night. This year’s opponent, Western Kentucky, looks to play spoiler behind Conference USA Player of the Year in quarterback Brandon Doughty.

Week Two gets even tougher with the SEC East early favorite, Georgia Bulldogs coming to town. Mason preaches relentless, tough, and intelligent. The Dores will need all of these qualities, if they hope to succeed in 2015.  It’s sink or swim time, Commodores, Anchor Down.

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