Vanderbilt football enters the 2020 season with an uphill battle in front of them. This is not a new scenario for the SEC East basement dwellers, but this year it is not only the team’s depth issues, but also the head coach’s job security, that will be most challenging. Derek Mason’s seat has turned from warm to hot after a 3-9 season in 2019. Mason is in his seventh season as the Commodores’ head coach and has yet to finish a season above .500.
Mason’s biggest challenge yet is on the horizon. To help combat the spread of COVID-19, the SEC has adopted a conference-only schedule for this fall. And that spells trouble for the ‘Dores.
Vandy has already had a number of key starters opt out of the upcoming season with growing concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. The anchor of the Commodore defense, Dimitri Moore, has announced he won’t be taking the field this year. He is joined by Jonathan Stewart, Cole Clemens, and Bryce Bailey, all of whom are veterans on an already shaky Vanderbilt offensive line.
Mason on loss of leading tackler Dimitri Moore: "When you look at our defensive structure, the good thing about it is we're better on the front end and deep on the back end."
"When you lose guys of that talent, it's definitely different…"
Says hybrid safeties may move down
— Simon Gibbs (@SimonGibbs26) August 17, 2020
Vanderbilt’s departures make things even tougher for Mason. Riley Neal, Deuce Wallace, and Mo Hassan were the three quarterbacks to take nearly every significant snap last season. The Commodores also saw its Big 3 – Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Kalija Lipscomb and Jared Pinkney – leave for the NFL.
Expectations on West End are as low as they have ever been for the 2020 season. Vandy has been playing football since 1902 and not once have the ‘Dores finished with a winless record.
SEC regular-season win totals, via @SportsLine Oddsmakers:
— SportsLine (@SportsLine) August 18, 2020
Vanderbilt will likely take the field as underdogs in every game this season. Las Vegas certainly isn’t holding the Commodores in high regard after listing the team as 37-point underdogs in Week One on the road at Texas A&M.
But with all the dark clouds hovering over this seemingly impotent program, there are three games in which the perfect storm could present itself with all of the stars in the galaxy aligning, which could possibly result in that one win Vanderbilt fans so desperately crave.
Week 3 – South Carolina @ Vanderbilt
After inevitably falling to Texas A&M and LSU in the first two weeks, this game will be the first real opportunity for the Commodores to crack the win column. South Carolina is coming off a disappointing 4-8 (3-5) season after suffering cluster injuries.
Vanderbilt hasn’t defeated South Carolina since the 2009 season, but the ‘Dores could catch the Gamecocks in a vulnerable spot on their schedule. Will Muschamp’s squad will be coming off a tough test in The Swamp against Florida in the week prior. That game that is likely to take a lot out of his team, both mentally and physically. Additionally, the road trip to Nashville preludes a three-game stretch featuring Auburn, LSU, and Texas A&M.
Could Vanderbilt catch the ‘Cocks looking ahead? It’s certainly possible.
Week 4 – Vanderbilt @ Missouri
Missouri is a football team with nearly as many question marks as Vanderbilt this fall. The Tigers hired Eliah Drinkwitz after firing Barry Odom in the offseason. Drinkwitz comes from Appalachian State, where he led the Mountaineers to a 12-1 season in 2019.
Mizzou has an ongoing battle at the starting quarterback position but Shawn Robinson is expected to be handed the keys to the Tigers’ offense. The Kelly Bryant experiment failed miserably last fall with Missouri finishing 6-6 (3-5). There was no bowl game for the Tigers as they were forced to serve their bowl ban following an NCAA investigation into improper benefits.
It is likely that Missouri will have a Death Valley hangover as the team travels to Baton Rouge in the week before hosting the Commodores.
Week 6 – Ole Miss @ Vanderbilt
The Lane Train rolls into Nashville on Halloween in Kiffin’s first year on the job in Oxford, MS. The last time these two teams met in Nashville, Vandy escaped with a 36-29 OT win after former Rebel and now Tennessee Titan A.J. Brown’s game-tying touchdown was ruled incomplete after a controversial replay review.
Ole Miss exacted their revenge last season, clobbering the Commodores 31-6 in one of the most inept offensive performances in recent history for Vanderbilt. This contest comes at the perfect time for Derek Mason’s team this season. Vandy will be coming off of their bye week while the Rebels trudge into town after a 5-game stretch that includes Florida, Alabama, and Auburn. Ole Miss will have its bye week ahead of them following the matchup against Vanderbilt.
If Ole Miss fairs poorly in those opening five games, expect a lethargic Rebels squad to limp into Nashville looking forward to a week of rest and recuperation.