Vanderbilt season review

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

One of the hottest stories in college football during the month of September was Vanderbilt and its 5-0 start and ascent into the national rankings.

The Commodores beat South Carolina, Ole Miss and Auburn along the way with a blend of takeaways on defense, an opportunistic offense and big plays on special teams.

But after beating Auburn 14-13 with ESPN's GameDay in the house to go to 5-0 for the first time since World War II, the Commodores (6-6, 4-4 SEC) couldn't maintain that momentum the rest of the way.

They won only one more game, a 31-24 triumph over Kentucky, but it was enough to get them into a bowl game for the first time since the 1982 season. They will face Boston College on Dec. 31 in the Music City Bowl.

Vanderbilt rotated back and forth between Chris Nickson and Mackenzi Adams at quarterback for most of the season and was never able to generate a consistent passing game. In their last eight games, the Commodores scored more than 14 points only one time and finished 117th nationally out of 119 teams in total offense.

One of the other chief differences for the Commodores during their swoon was that they didn't win the turnover battle nearly as much as they did when they won five in a row to start the season.

Offensive MVP: For the second straight season, Nickson was plagued by a painful shoulder injury, which affected his throwing ability. But he still led the team with eight touchdown passes, while also leading the team with six touchdown runs. His 485 rushing yards were second on the team.

Defensive MVP: What didn't junior cornerback D.J. Moore do this season? He was second in the SEC with six interceptions, also caught two touchdown passes as a receiver and returned kickoffs and punts for the Commodores. And as a tackler, few cornerbacks were any better.

Turning point: The 17-14 loss to Mississippi State was a bad one, especially after winning five in a row. But the real killer was the 10-7 home loss to Duke on Oct. 25. It was Vanderbilt's third straight loss and came on the heels of a hard-fought loss at Georgia. The Commodores were never the same afterward.

What's next: Despite the disappointing finish, it was still a solid coaching job by Bobby Johnson and his staff to get this program to a bowl game for the first time in 26 years. Nobody will remember the losses in October and November if the Commodores can get to seven wins in the bowl game and record their first winning season since 1982.