As Vanderbilt begins preseason camp, here are three storylines to pay careful attention to between now and the season opener against South Carolina on Sept. 1:
This might be the offense’s time to step up
OK, so maybe it’s not a stretch to say the offense should get better. After all, it ranked next to last in the SEC and 123rd in FBS in points scored last year. C.J. Duncan’s absence at receiver hurt, the quarterback situation was a mess, and the offensive line never found a rhythm with newcomers and players trying new positions. Now there’s a rosier outlook, especially at the skill positions. Star running back Ralph Webb may not have to face as many safeties in the box given Duncan’s return and the continued emergence of Trent Sherfield at receiver. Kyle Shurmur struggled in his five starts at quarterback as a true freshman, but more help around him and more familiarity with the offense should pay dividends.
But watch the offensive line
The good news is that Derek Mason seems to have a pretty good handle on who he wants to see start on the O-line. The bad news is there’s still a lot of turnover to take into account, even after last year’s struggles. Center Spencer Pulley and two other starters are gone. Now Barrett Gouger, who started one game at guard last year, takes over at center, and Bruno Reagan and Delando Crooks, who have one career start between them, are expected to take over at the guard spots.
Playing for bowl eligibility
The win-loss record didn’t reflect the growth of the program during Mason’s second year in charge. The defense, in particular, thrived under his decision to take over as coordinator, jumping from No. 68 in total defense to No. 28. A few breaks here and there and the narrative of Mason being on the hot seat might not exist. But now it’s time to change that. With a more stable offense and a very manageable schedule, Vanderbilt has a clear path out of the cellar of the SEC and into a bowl game. And it starts right away with South Carolina. Win in primetime on Thursday night and it could change the tone of the entire season.