Coach: Derek Mason, sixth season (24-38 overall, all at Vanderbilt).
Last season: 6-7 overall, 3-5 in the SEC (6th in the East). Lost to Baylor 45-38 in the Texas Bowl.
Last year’s game: The Commodores jumped all over the Gators early and opened a stunning 21-3 lead with 6:42 left in the first half. But Florida, fueled by a potent and balanced offense, rallied for a 37-27 victory in Nashville. Jordan Scarlett and Lamical Perine both rushed for more than 100 yards and the Gators rolled up 576 yards of total offense. The onslaught included a 48-yard TD run by Scarlett and a 38-yard TD pass from Feleipe Franks to Van Jefferson in the second half.
Starters returning: 12 (7 offense, 5 defense).
Strengths: It’s not often that the Commodores get to say this, but they have some of the most dynamic offensive players in the SEC and should have one of the league’s most dangerous offenses. The most dynamic of all is speedy tailback Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who rushed for, 1,244 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2018, averaging 7.9 yards a carry. The two other explosive playmakers are in the passing game — wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb and tight end Jared Pinkney. Last season the two combined to catch 137 passes for 1,690 yards and 16 touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, the Commodores should be sound up front, where 14 of the top 17 players return on the line and at linebacker.
Possible problem areas: The Commodores are loaded at the offensive skill positions, but the big question becomes who is going to be getting the ball to them now that QB Kyle Shurmur is gone. The likely successor is Ball State graduate transfer Riley Neal, who has only 23 career starts. On defense, the secondary could be a major problem. The Cornerbacks have combined for only one start.
The schedule: It could be a really rough start for the Commodores, with two of their first three games coming against Georgia and LSU. The only positive about that is both those games are at home. Vandy also gets Missouri at home, but must go on the road against South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee.
Quotable: “I want you to know this is a different-looking Vanderbilt football team with maturity, depth, athleticism, leadership. It’s all in place for us. I’m looking forward to the start of preseason camp because this is the deepest squad I’ve had in my six years at Vanderbilt. I expect to see competition across the board as we start fall camp.” — Derek Mason