We wrap up our schedule analysis series today with Vanderbilt:
Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)
Sept. 8: at Northwestern (6-7)
Sept. 15: Presbyterian (4-7)
Oct. 27: Massachusetts (5-6)
Nov. 24: at Wake Forest (6-7)
SEC home games
Aug. 30: South Carolina
Oct. 13: Florida
Oct. 20: Auburn
Nov. 17: Tennessee
SEC road games
Sept. 22: at Georgia
Oct. 6: at Missouri
Nov. 3: at Kentucky
Nov. 10: at Ole Miss
Gut-check time: Right off the bat, Vanderbilt gets a chance to prove that last season was the start of something special under James Franklin and not just a one-time deal. South Carolina comes to Vanderbilt to open the season on a Thursday night on ESPN. The rest of the league will be watching, and the Commodores need to make a statement at home if they're serious about taking this thing to another level under Franklin. Vanderbilt didn't score a touchdown last season against South Carolina, but has had some success against the Gamecocks in recent years. This would be a huge upset, but it's the kind of upset the Commodores need to spring if they're going to be a player in the East.
Trap game: Vanderbilt has had its way with Ole Miss of late. The Commodores have won three straight over the Rebels and five of the last seven. This season, Vanderbilt plays at Ole Miss on Nov. 10 the week after going on the road to face Kentucky. Sooner or later, Ole Miss is going to figure out a solution to its woes against Vanderbilt, and this may be the year. It could get especially dicey for the Commodores if they roll into Oxford and the Rebels have yet to break their SEC losing streak.
Snoozer: You gotta love Presbyterian's mascot -- the Blue Hose. But it's a game the Commodores should have well in hand by halftime.
Telltale stretch: Beginning with a Sept. 22 trip to Georgia, Vanderbilt faces four SEC games in five weeks that will shape the Commodores' season. They get a bye after the visit to Georgia, but then go on the road Oct. 6 to face Missouri and come back home to play Florida and Auburn in back-to-back weeks. The "old" Vanderbilt wouldn't have been given much of a chance to win one of those games. But if the Commodores can find a way to split, they could be headed for their second straight bowl appearance.
Final analysis: Franklin's not enamored with having to play two nonconference games against teams from BCS conferences. Look for that to change in the future. The Commodores are one of only two SEC teams doing so along with Missouri in 2012. It's critical that Vanderbilt wins at least three of its nonconference games. The Commodores won all four last season, which was a big reason they were able to get to a bowl game. The nonconference slate will be more challenging this season with the trip to Northwestern the second week of the season. There's also a trip to Wake Forest for the second straight year to close the regular season. Staying healthy will be important, because the month of November will provide some real opportunities for the Commodores if they get off to a slow start. The only problem is that three of the four games that month are on the road. The lone home game in that stretch is Tennessee on Nov. 17, and something says that has been circled in blood on Vanderbilt's calendar.