Know your foe: Week 9, Vanderbilt

Four of Vandy’s eight returning starters are offensive linemen.

2013 Record: 9-4 (4-4)

Series History: 3-2-1 (MIZZ)

Last Meeting: Mizzou won 51-28 (2013)

Players to Watch: Vanderbilt’s offensive line

2014 Projection: 6-6 (2-6)

Franklins are disappearing from the Southeastern Conference.

No, not Benjamin Franklins — the conference is doing just fine there after reporting record earnings of $298.2 million this past academic year. Rather, the SEC is losing James Franklins — first the former Mizzou quarterback, who graduated in May, and then the former Vanderbilt head coach, now at Penn State.

The latter James Franklin announced his decision to leave the Commodores and coach Penn State a week after Vandy beat the Houston Cougars in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

The blow was devastating for a Vanderbilt program that has historically been largely irrelevant in the world of SEC football. In his three seasons at the school, Franklin posted a record of 24-15 and led the team to two straight nine-win seasons for the first time in school history.

Franklin also set several bowl game records while at Vandy, becoming the first coach to make back-to-back bowl games and set the all-time record for bowl game appearances by a coach with three.

Vanderbilt only had four bowl appearances in its 121 seasons before Franklin.

Franklin was a slam-dunk hire for the Commodores, but Vanderbilt may have struck the lottery again in hiring his replacement, Derek Mason. For the past three seasons, Mason was defensive coordinator at Stanford under head coach David Shaw. Under his leadership, the Cardinals ranked in the top 10 nationally in sacks and points allowed last season.

And with the Stanford connection, Mason has proven he not only knows how to coach and win, but that he can do it in a high-pressure academic environment like Vanderbilt.

“Vanderbilt has its own brand,” Mason said at SEC Media Days in July. “The brand of academic and athletics play into recruiting a type of young man, the Vanderbilt Man. I know a lot of people laugh because it sounds cliche, but we won a lot of games (at Stanford) with guys that were two or three-star players.”

While Mason might fill the void of Franklin, there are other holes on this Vanderbilt squad.

Vandy returns only eight total starters from last year’s squad, including three to a defense that was average at best, giving up 24.6 points per game. But on the bright side for the Commodores, four of those returning starters are along the offensive line and the unit’s fifth member, senior Andrew Bridges, has plenty of prior experience, meaning this should be the strength of the offense.

And it will have to be, as Vanderbilt ranked 70th overall in passing and 94th in rushing a season ago. Junior running back Jerron Seymour will have to improve from last year for the Commodores to stay offensively competent. Sophomore Patton Robinette takes over quarterbacking duties after playing in 10 games last season.

Do not expect this group to compete for anything more in a year of change and transition.

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