By Russell Lorentz, for Vandy Insider
Vanderbilt 2017 Outlook: Ranking the Most Important Games, Overall Record
12.) Sept. 9: vs. Alabama A&M
The ‘Dores enter as the heavy favorites with seemingly mismatches all across the board on both offense and defense. Underclassmen on both sides of the ball, as well as Redshirt Freshman Quarterback Deuce Wallace should see extensive playing time in the second half making his debut. The ‘Dores will service the contest with the Bulldogs as a tune-up game and a confidence builder for the following week with Kansas State.
11.) Sept. 23: vs. Alabama
As a whole, Derek Mason’s group will use the tilt with Alabama as a measuring stick to see exactly how far they have come in Mason’s four seasons at the helm thus far. The defense will be able to stifle Alabama, and stop them, but the question may be if Vanderbilt’s offense can score more than field goals, and possibly a touchdown, sustaining drives to give the defense ample rest during the second half. The Crimson Tide should pull away in the middle of the third quarter, but the Commodore defense will make them earn every yard.
10.) Nov. 4: vs. Western Kentucky
Vanderbilt needed a heroic effort from Ralph Webb on a deciding two-point conversion in a 31-30 win in Bowling Green in 2016 – a win that ultimately solidified a bowl appearance. Western Kentucky returns Quarterback Mike White, the catalyst of the Hilltopper offense. White will miss Taywan Taylor, now starring with the hometown Tennessee Titans. However, Vanderbilt virtually returns every vital contributor on both sides of the ball, despite the departure of All-American Linebacker Zach Cunningham, and dependable Torren McGaster at corner. Vanderbilt should win this game, but they’ll have to be ready to play.
9.) Sept. 2: at MTSU
It’s ultra-important for Vanderbilt to begin 2017 the right way. Vanderbilt travels to Murfreesboro to face the Blue Raiders, in a revenge game for Middle, after the ‘Dores won the last two meetings. The Commodores pulled away in the middle of the third quarter and tightened up defensively in the red zone to keep Brent Stockstill and the Blue Raider offense at bay last season. The Commodore defense will be attentive to Wideout Ritchie James and Stockstill, but the Commodores talent discrepancy and overall depth should help the ‘Dores pull away late in the third quarter, much like last seasons’ decisive victory as Ralph Webb should have another monster game after compiling 211 yards last season.
8.) Oct. 7: vs. Georgia
Vanderbilt shocked Georgia on their homecoming in 2016, in route to a thrilling 17-16 victory behind Cunningham’s game-winning tackle stopping Isaiah McKenzie short of a first down to end the ballgame. Many are sold on Georgia finishing at the top of the SEC East, even after underachieving last season. If Jacob Eason struggles against the Vanderbilt defense, the ‘Dores could be in the game until the end. The Bulldogs will come out on top against the Commodores, but it will be much closer than some might think.
7.) Sept. 16: vs. Kansas State
Vanderbilt will rise to the challenge in a tough non-conference game, something that has not been present on the schedule in quite some time. The Commodores will head into the matchup with Alabama winning their first three games.
6.) Sept. 30: at Florida
The Commodores have been right at the heels of the Gators the past two seasons under Mason, losing 13-6 last season, and 9-7 on a game-winning field goal in Gainesville in 2015. How much the Florida offense has turned the corner heading into the season will be the key, as Malik Zaire is expected to take over as the starting Quarterback after transferring from Notre Dame as a graduate transfer. Expect the game to be low scoring, as two strong defenses battle, with the game likely to come down to the final couple possessions.
5.) Oct. 28: at South Carolina
In a game that got away from Vanderbilt in the home opener last season, South Carolina walked away winners, thanks to a game-winning field goal as time expired. Vanderbilt squandered the opportunity to put a stranglehold on the game midway through the third quarter, which led to defeat. Expect a close, hard fought game between arguably the SEC East’s two most improved teams heading into the season.
4.) Oct. 14: at Ole Miss
The Vanderbilt defense gave Shea Patterson issues in route to a 38-17 victory in Nashville. Ole Miss and its football program are in a downward spiral and it’ll only get worse from here, as the Rebels will be competitive throughout the season, but have nothing to play for.
3.) Nov. 18: vs. Missouri
Drew Lock and Missouri’s pass-happy offense present a tough challenge, but Vanderbilt avenges the 2016 close loss in Columbia.
2.) Nov. 25: at Tennessee
The Vols have lost 3 of the last 5 contests to in-state rival Vanderbilt, a phrase Vol fans are certainly not used to hearing. The final regular season contest could be of equal importance for both teams, as Butch Jones job could be in jeopardy, while Vanderbilt craves in-state bragging rights once again. Vanderbilt’s last win in Neyland Stadium came in 2013 – Tennessee fans surely remember. However, Tennessee squeaks by Vanderbilt in 2017.
Nov. 11: vs. Kentucky
Vanderbilt could very well finish the 2017 regular season with 9 wins, if they manage to beat South Carolina and Florida. However, the Kentucky game keeps them from another 6-6 season, thus the most important game on the schedule. For Vanderbilt to have the type of season they expect, it is imperative to beat the likes of Kentucky, Missouri, and South Carolina.
PREDICTED RECORD: Vanderbilt: 7-5 (3-5 SEC)