Friday, August 29, 2008

Weekend Picks

The first week is always difficult to read. It's hard to tell who's made how much improvement during the off season. So that's my excuse when all these are wrong.
Mississippi (-7.5) vs. Memphis: The Rebels' season depends on Jevan Snead. Is he the guy that was once a top recruit or have the two years off hurt him? He should start out the season with a relatively easy win against a Memphis team that still hasn't recovered from DeAngelo Williams leaving two years ago.
Louisiana Tech (+8) vs. Mississippi State: I don't really know a whole lot about Tech other than Karl Malone went there, but I am not a MSU believer this year. QB Wesley Carroll was unimpressive enough in camp that JUCO Tyson Lee is likely to get some snaps. 2 QB systems almost never work and I don't think MSU can score enough to cover.
Florida (-34.5) vs. Hawaii: Hawaii didn't travel to the mainland well when it had stars like Colt Brennan and Timmy Chang, no reason to expect things to improve now that they are without a star QB for the first time in awhile.
Clemson (-4.5) vs. Alabama (at Atlanta): Clemson's yearly collapse isn't scheduled for another eight weeks so for now expect them to play the part of the national player they're hyped up to be.
UL Louisiana (+26) @ Auburn: I think Auburn will win this one quite easily, but 26 seems high to me for a team who also has some real questions at quarterback.
Louisville (-3.5) vs. Kentucky: Brian Brohm may be gone, but Hunter Cantwell is pretty good himself and should be good enough at home to beat a bad UK team by more than a FG.
Tennessee (-7.5) @ UCLA (Monday Night): I am a big UT believer this year and I think they'll use the national spotlight as a showcase. UCLA probably has more QB problems than any other team in the country with both their starter and backup out due to injury.
Other picks I feel kinda good about:
Missouri (-8.5)
vs. Illinois (at St. Louis): The Border War has traditionally been a bigger deal on the basketball court, but recent successes by both teams have made the football field the newest home for battle for bragging rights. I think Missouri is for real and Illinois will badly miss Rashard Mendenhall.
Northwestern (-11.5) vs. Syracuse: Orange head coach Greg Robinson will be extremely lucky to survive the year. I'm not predicting big things for the Wildcats this year, but SU is going to be awful yet again. As a side note, I love the under of 56 in this game.

Commodore Banter: Morning After Edition

I think Brett Hait of The Nashville City Paper summed up Vanderbilt's season-opening victory over Miami (Ohio) best: "For at least one week, Chris Nickson proved he was the right choice to be Vanderbilt’s quarterback."

Nickson rushed for a career-high 166 yards, the second-most ever by a Vanderbilt quarterback and the most by any Commodore since tailback Lew Thomas gained 173 yards in 2001.

“He’s back,” said Vanderbilt safety Reshard Langford of Nickson. “He’s going to carry this team and carry this offense.”

I think next Thursday's match-up with South Carolina will indicate whether Nickson is truly back, but there's no denying that the fifth-year looked good.

"That's why we had him in there," Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson told The Tennessean. "He can throw the ball and he can run the ball, all sort of different ways. Sometimes it was scrambling. Sometimes it was designed runs. He just makes people miss."

Although Vegas listed them as 3.5-point underdogs, the Commodores were supposed to win last night, but I doubt many expected them to do so in such convincing fashion. It was Vanderbilt's biggest road victory since defeating Army 41-10 on Nov. 2, 1991.

The general rule of thumb for punt returners is to never catch anything inside your own 10-yard line. That rule doesn't apply to D.J. Moore, who had a 91-yard punt return to go along with an interception, sack and forced fumble.

"Those kind of guys, you just don't overcoach them," Johnson said. "If he thinks he can catch the ball and go with it, we're probably going to let him do it."

In his notebook, Mo Patton writes that a number of Commodores made their debuts against the Redhawks.

In Hait's notebook, he makes a number of good points:

*On Moore's versatility, Johnson said, "I don’t know if he’s superhuman, but he’s in fantastic shape. I ask him if he’s tired and needs to come out. He just smiles and says no.”

*Vanderbilt didn't like being an underdog.
“We weren’t offended, but it caught a lot of guys’ attention, coming from the SEC,” Langford said.

*Senior running back Jeff Jennings will wear a "KD1" patch on his jersey this season in honor of former Commodore back Kwane Doster, who was shot and killed in Tampa, Fla., on Dec. 26, 2004.

Nickson received quite the compliment from the opposition.

"That quarterback was the best running quarterback I've ever played against," said Miami linebacker Joey Hudson. "He had it. He was the guy tonight. He was the difference."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Live Blog: Vanderbilt at Miami (Ohio)

Good evening ladies and gentlemen,

We're finally back for another season of college football and man, does it feel great. I'll be here providing commentary throughout the contest so be sure to hit that refresh button. Feel free to leave questions and comments below.

6:40: It's amazing what a healthy Chris Nickson can do. He just ran for a big gain on third down to keep the drive going.

6:41: And just like that, Jeff Jennings fumbles. Not how you want to start to the season.

6:44: It's now Miami (OH) 3, Vanderbilt 0 after the Redhawks took advantage of the Commodores' turnover.

6:47: Unsurprisingly, Miami (OH) is kicking away from D.J. Moore. Can't say I blame them.

Huge third-down catch by Justin Wheeler, who managed to withstand a big hit.

6:51: Two big plays in a row for Nickson. First, he rolled out and found tight end Brandon Barden for a nine-yard gain and then hooked up with Sean Walker for a big gain.

Touchdown Vanderbilt! Nickson found Walker in the back of the end zone on third-and-goal from the five-yard line. It's now 7-3 Vanderbilt. It's early, but you can't help but be impressed with Nickson, who has looked calm and confident and showed nice touch on a number of throws. Also, George Smith wasn't kidding when he said that Sean Walker poised for a big year.

6:58: After recording six interceptions a year ago, D.J. Moore came up with his first pick of 2008, giving the Commodores great field position.

7:02: Vanderbilt went three-and-out, but Bryant Hahnfeldt nailed a 42-yard field goal to put the Commodores ahead 10-3 midway through the first quarter.

7:08: Like always, third downs are going to be critical in tonight's contest. Miami (OH) just converted on third-and-four to keep its drive going.

7:11: How can you not love D.J. Moore, arguably the most versatile player in college football? After coming up with a sack on a third down, he just returned a punt 91 yards down to the one-yard line.

He now has one interception, one sack, one forced fumbled and a 91-yard punt in less than one quarter. Not too bad.

7:17: It's now 17-3 Vanderbilt after Chris Nickson leaped over the pile from one-yard out, although after looking at the replay, it looks like the Commodores might have gotten a break. Regardless, Vanderbilt has to be pleased with its first-quarter performance.

7:24: A few first-quarter stats

Nickson: 6-for-9, 73 yards, 1 TD
VU: 4-for-5 on a third down
Sean Walker: 2 catches, 53 yards, 1 TD
VU rushing: 11 yards on 10 carries

7:25: Vanderbilt's secondary is living up to the hype tonight. Cornerback Myron Lewis came up with an interception a the first play of the second quarter. Lewis may not get as much hype as Mr. Moore, but he might be just as talented.

Vanderbilt's drive stalled as the offensive line failed to give Nickson any time to throw on third-and-four. However, it was encouraging to see tailback Gaston Miller rush for 17 yards on four carries. He adds a new dimension to the Commodores' running game.

7:37: We've got ourselves a ball game. The elusive Eugene Harris just caught a 30-yard touchdown to cut Vanderbilt's lead in half. It's now 17-10 Vanderbilt with 6:58 remaining in the first half.

I'll say it again: When healthy, Chris Nickson has to chance to be a special player. He just took off for 59yards on a designed quarterback draw. Let's see if the Commodores can convert inside the red zone.

7:47: Nickson just put the Commodores ahead 24-10 after scoring from 14 yards out. Nickson made a beautiful read on the QB draw, taking it to the outside after setting up his blocks. The redshirt senior has now rushed for 79 yards on 10 carries and two scores and completed six of 10 passes for 73 yards and a touchdown.

7:58: Safety Ryan Hamilton just dropped a sure interception, but Vanderbilt forced Miami (OH) to punt nonetheless. With 2:21 remaining in the half, let's see if Vanderbilt can get on the board again.

Nickson just took off for a big gain on the third down as the Commodores seek to score before the half.

8:08: Hahnfeldt just kicked a 32-yard field goal to give Vanderbilt a 27-10 lead with 14 seconds remaining in the first half. Nickson has now rushed for 121 yards on 12 carries.

Great 30 minutes for the Commodores. Here are a few key half-time stats:

Total yards: VU (218), MU (181)
Passing yards: VU (73), MU (113)
Rushing yards: VU (145), MU (68)
Penalties: VU (1-for-15), MU (4-for-35)
Turnovers: VU (1), MU (2)
Third-down conversion: VU (6-for-9), MU (2-for-6)

Key Players
Chris Nickson: 6-for-12, 73 yards, 1 TD; 12 carries for 121 yards, 2 TDs
D.J. Moore: 1 INT, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 91-yard punt return

9:00: Not much to report on this half. Nathan Parseghianjust kicked a 30-yard field goal to cut Vanderbilt's lead to 14 with a little over six minutes remaining in the third quarter.

9:05: Here's my one complaint with Chris Nickson tonight: when he leaves the pocket, he has chosen to hold onto the football and take a loss instead of simply throwing it out of bounds.

9:07: Jamie Graham just got...JACKED UP! I love the fact that he just bounced right back up.

Props to Andrew Barge, a contributor here on The Sports VU, for representing Vanderbilt well on the sidelines in an interview with ESPNU. Well done, Bargo!

9:40: Jared Hawkins just scored from four yards out to give Vanderbilt a 34-13 lead with 5:40 remaining in the fourth quarter, effectively putting the game out of reach. Encouraging to see the Commodores close out a game in a style.

9:57: Josh Allen just came down with a sweet interception in the end zone to preserve Vanderbilt's 34-13 victory. And that wraps it up from here. Check back tomorrow morning for extended coverage from the guys here at The Sports VU. Have a great night, everyone. Be safe.

Commodore Banter: Gameday Edition

The wait is over. The Commodores will take on the Miami (Ohio) Redhawks tonight at 6:30 p.m. CT on ESPNU.

In his pre-game notebook, Brett Hait of The Nashville City Paper notes that Vanderbilt is the first Southeastern Conference team to play in Oxford, Ohio.

"Any SEC team has a big target on their back, wherever they go, because everyone says we’re the best conference in the nation,” said center Bradley Vierling. “We take that to heart, because we’re going to have a target on our back.”

Vanderbilt rushed for 290 yards in its 24-13 victory over the Redhawks last year in Nashville, but Hait says it'd be unwise to expect a similar performance tonight. Miami features three linebackers who were recently named to the watch list for the Butkus Award, presented annually to the nation’s top linebacker.

Hait also notes that the Commodores are 4-point underdogs, which seems just a little bit high to me...

In Mo Patton's notebook, he adds that Vanderbilt is 8-3 all-time against current Mid-American Conference opponents. And, on another note, the Commodores have sold 18,177 season tickets for their six-game home schedule, which is nearly 7,000 more than the 11,500 season tickets sold in 2006 — the last time South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee all played at Vanderbilt Stadium.

Finally, Patton breaks down the matchup and predicts that the Commodores will win 20-17. Here's a look at the rest of his analysis:
The defense may have to hold down the fort early while an inexperienced offense finds its way. Though a little young, Vanderbilt's defensive line and linebackers will need to keep Miami's ground game in check. Offensively, the Commodores will need to get Sean Walker and Justin Wheeler involved in the passing game.

Defensively, the RedHawks, with their stable of linebackers, may be able to slow down Vanderbilt. On the other side of the ball, though, Miami has to muster something behind quarterback Daniel Raudabaugh.

LT Reilly Lauer spent last season as a reserve defensive end before earning a starting role on the offensive line. A bit undersized at 6-6, 275, a matchup against Miami's defensive ends should help his transition into SEC play.

LB Clayton Mullins. One of three Miami linebackers on the Butkus Award watch list, Mullins led the team with 143 (69 solos) total tackles last fall.

Vanderbilt WR Sean Walker vs. Miami CB Jeff Thompson. Walker needs to be Vandy's go-to guy in the passing game, and he has the speed to do it. But Thompson is the RedHawks' most experienced cover guy, with five defensed passes last year.

There's a hesitance to place too much importance on a season opener. However, this is a game that could define the Commodores' season — at least, if it goes the wrong way. Facing an SEC opponent at home for the first time, Miami and its fans will be jacked up. Vanderbilt should weather that emotion, though, and pull out the win.

I'm off to class, but I'll have more up this afternoon. Less than eight hours to go...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Alvarez signing in jeopardy

Pedro Alvarez may not be a Pittsburgh Pirate after all.

Major League Baseball has placed the former Vanderbilt third baseman on the restricted list because Alvarez's agent, Scott Boras, informed the team that Alvarez would not sign the contract and wants it renegotiated.

The case has also been forwarded to the players union, and it's been reported that the union planned to pursue a grievance against the Pirates, claiming that Alvarez agreed to his contract after the Aug. 15 midnight deadline.

Pittsburgh said it was informed by Boras that Alvarez would not report to the Pirates until they renegotiated his contract and agreed to pay him more than the $6 million signing bonus to which he agreed.

Boras also said that the contract was agreed to after the deadline.

"This claim was not raised on the evening of the 15th when we informed Mr. Boras that Major League Baseball had confirmed that the contract was submitted in a timely fashion," the team said. "Mr. Boras asserted this claim several days later, after all of the draft signings had become publicized."

"Regrettably, we are not surprised that Mr. Boras would attempt to raise a meritless legal claim in an effort to compel us to renegotiate Pedro's contract to one more to his liking," the team said. "We are, however, disappointed that Pedro would allow his agent to pursue this claim on his behalf. "

The team also said it had been assured by the commissioner's office that its contract with Alvarez is valid, and that MLB "will vigorously defend any claim to the contrary."

It will be interesting to see how this saga plays out, although I'd rule out the possibility of Alvarez returning to school.

UPDATE: Thanks to NY Dore of for alerting me to this message to Pedro Alvarez by John Brattain of Baseball Digest Daily. Here's an excerpt from this critical piece on Alvarez's agent, Scott Boras:
Scott Boras has been trying to find loopholes in the draft for over 20 years–he has been playing a cat and mouse game, or better still, a game of poker with MLB for self-enrichment.

Boras is a multi-millionaire but you’re the one spotting him chips for this particular hand–he is gambling with your money … with your career.

Boras has had a lot of setbacks in recent years–Alex Rodriguez dumped him last year, he has a losing record in arbitration cases and the new draft rules cramp his style and teams are able to handle him more effectively. This isn’t about you; it’s about Boras and his stature in MLB and the agent business.

Go online, Google your name and check out what folks are saying about you–it ain’t pretty. You have a good start at becoming the game’s next pariah–or at the very least the next favourite target of the boo-birds. All for the sake of half a season of the major league minimum; a total you can double by reaching the major league a year earlier by getting your career started as expeditiously as possible.

You’re a pawn in Boras’ game. It isn’t about the commission on the $200,000–it’s about his ability to say he got his client the largest bonus in the draft, it’s about testing the boundaries of the rules surrounding the draft, it’s about finding and/or creating a loophole that he can use for future clients.

Not you.

You’re just the sucker he’s duped into playing along in his little game.


Commodore Banter (8/27)

We're almost there...

As mentioned here last night, Chris Nickson will start tomorrow night's season opener at Miami of Ohio.

"It was a process that's been going on," coach Bobby Johnson told Brett Hait of The Nashville City Paper. "There was no magic moment."

This will be the third straight year Nickson has come out of preseason practice as the No. 1 quarterback.

"This is an opportunity for my to regain a lot of things I let go of and lost in some ways," Nickson said. "It's an opportunity for me to redeem myself. I always wanted to be a leader and be someone special for this organization. I have an opportunity to begin that on Thursday night.

"I'm very excited, but after what I've been through, being the starter isn't everything. It's coming out here and getting the job done. Hopefully I'll be able to accomplish what I want to accomplish and help us win the game."

It's encouraging to see that Nickson realizes that he can lose his job as quickly as he won it.

"Just because a guy's a quarterback doesn't mean he's allowed to stay in the game if he's not producing," Johnson told Mo Patton of The Tennessean. "If he's not doing what he's supposed to do, we'll put somebody else in there that can do it right."

Ultimately, Johnson is hoping that Nickson can revert to his 2006 form because at his best, Nickson gives the Commodores the best chance to win. Will that happen? That's the million-dollar question that won't even be answered fully tomorrow night.

Even if Nickson impresses against Miami, it's not going to mean much. Sure, it's a start, but the real test will come next Thursday against South Carolina. That's when we'll be able to tell how much progress he has made.

What does this decision mean for Mackenzi Adams? Probably not much. Adams is a fierce competitor that is going to give you his best whenever he's called upon. I'm sure part of him had to know that Nickson would be given the nod if their preseason performances were similar.

Ideally, Nickson plays well from week one to week 12 and Adams remains a more than capable back-up quarterback. However, if Nickson does falter, both the players and coaches will have no problem putting their trust in Adams.

In other football news, Brett Hait has a great story about redshirt freshman Chris Marve, the next great Vanderbilt linebacker.

“He’s got an intensity about him that you really like,” Johnson said. “Every play, he seems to be going all out and full speed. He’s got a nasty attitude when he gets to the ball. He’s going to finish plays, and that’s what we like about him.”

Even without Earl Bennett (NFL), George Smith and Alex Washington (both injured), Vanderbilt is confident in its receiving corps, writes Patton.

"It's been a long time coming," said Justin Wheeler. "I've been working hard for three years. I'm going to step up. We've got some young guys that can play. We've got talent, we can catch the ball, we can block and we're going to make it happen."

We'll all find out tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Nickson's the man

Maurice Patton of the Tennessean has reported that Chris Nickson will be the starter for the Miami game. Not a big surprise there, but I expect that Mac will be waiting for his shot if Nickson struggles in the first half.

Gridiron Guarantee?

Check out this article my dad forwarded to me from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Stanford University is giving what they call a "Gridiron Guarantee" to get more fans to come to their games. Basically, if you aren't satisfied with the "entertainment value" of the games by November 15 when USC visits, you get your money back.

I bring this up because I am curious to see what people think about Vandy doing the same thing. Seems to me that Stanford will lose a lot of money and put a ton of pressure on their team to win games, but their game-day atmosphere will be much improved.

With that said, Vandy's game-day atmosphere at home leaves a lot to be desired because of all the opposing team's fans. However, Stanford's schedule does not feature the marquee teams that Vandy's does, and thus, it seems like Vandy doing this would be even more costly. While I would love to have a packed stadium of Vandy fans for big SEC games, I don't think I would be willing to do this. One game a year, like the South Carolina game this year since it is on ESPN, may be worth it.

What do you think? Would you be in favor of Vandy giving out a guarantee to put fans in the seats and build a fan base around Nashville? Or is the economic loss too great?

Commodore Banter (8/26)

The best part about the preseason? The hope, the optimism, the belief that this will be the year. The worst part? The waiting.

As Reshard Langford said yesterday, "We're just ready to go play." And we're just ready to watch.

In two days and a little over six hours, the Commodores will take the field in Oxford, Ohio. Until then, here are a few links to help pass the time...

We touched on this yesterday in the football notebook, but The Tennessean's Mo Patton also has a story on the quarterback situation.

Columnist Joe Biddle says the season-opener is a must-win for the Commodores. Hard to disagree with that statement.

VU Commodores has a great interview with defensive end Theron Kadri. You've got to love his confidence.
Personal goals/expectations for the season?

Mainly I just want to try to get All-SEC, and then All-American if at all possible. But, we'll see. I want to at least try to make sure I get a sack a game. That's saying a lot, but I at least want to try for it.

It never hurts to dream big, does it?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Catching up with George Smith and Reshard Langford

Following coach Bobby Johnson's press conference, I had a chance to catch up with captains George Smith and Reshard Langford as they count down the hours until the Commodores' season opener Thursday night at Miami of Ohio.


Address how the receiving corps looks in your absence.
GS: We’re strong in the receiving corps. Sean Walker has become one of the biggest vocal leaders I’ve ever seen. He’s got a world of confidence.

It's been reported that Sean Walker has had a great camp, even staying after practice to run routes.
GS: Something like that, staying after practice, is a ritual for receivers. Sean has been working hard. Ever since I went down, I think he knew in his head that he had to step up and be a vocal leader and lead by example.

What should we expect from Jamie Graham?
GS: We don’t like at him like a young guy. He’s played basketball and played in front of big crowds and that gives us a lot of confidence knowing that he can perform under pressure.

Do you think playing basketball helps with football?
GS: I think anybody who’s played on TV or played with games on the line, that definitely has to be taken into effect.

What will it be like to watch from the sidelines on Thursday?
GS: I’m going to be the biggest cheerleader on Thursday and that’s not a tough job for me.

You have to be careful not to hurt the foot again.
GS: I’ve got the one hop on lock. I’m looking forward to cheering on my teammates and making sure that they can do the best that they can do on Thursday.

How has it been preparing for two quarterbacks?
GS: I think it’s a great luxury. Both of them are well-prepared and I think I, along with the rest of the team, have confidence in both of them. Both of them have been in big games and made big plays and that’s exciting to know that you have two quarterbacks capable of winning games.

Who are some guys that you think are in store for a big year?
GS: Jamie Graham, Casey Hayward, a lot of guys on the offensive line...And, how can I forget my No. 1 step-up guy, Chris Marve. I'm looking for a great season out of him. He’s not going to be a freshman, especially after the first game.

Talk about the growth of the program in your time here.
GS: I think this is the fastest team I’ve ever seen, fastest defense I’ve ever seen, and that’s exciting because I get to go against them. That makes me better.

You face both D.J. Moore and Myron Lewis on a daily basis. While D.J. gets a lot of the hype, how do they compare?
GS: Myron is just as good, 6’2", 6’3", 190 (pounds), long arms, can steer you any direction he wants you to.


How excited are you for the season to start?
RL: We’re just ready to go out and play. We’ve been talking about it all season, changing this program, changing things around here. We’re just ready to go play.

How much sleep do you expect to get this week?
RL: I didn’t sleep much last night. But I’m going to sleep, and do what I have to do to prepare myself to get ready for this game.

What will it take for the defense to be as good or better than it was last year?
RL: I feel like playing defense is all about will and how much do you not want the other team to score or complete a pass on you or run the ball on you, and I think we’ve got that. We can be just as good or better than we were last year.

What's the biggest question mark you have with your defense?
RL: I don’t have any question marks at all. I think we’ll go in confident, ready to play, we’ll play hard from start to finish.

What impresses you most about Chris Marve?
RL: His attitude about the game. He loves the game. I enjoy when he’s out on the field, I enjoy all my guys out there. Just his intensity, his love for the game, his spirit about it, is just amazing.

How much different is it being a senior?
RL: It’s a little different. I have a lot more knowledge. I know what’s going on. I can see things differently than some other players might see things. It makes the game a lot easier and it slows it down for me.

Vanderbilt football notebook

Just got back from Vanderbilt's first weekly press conference and here's a look at what we learned from coach Bobby Johnson.

And the quarterback is...

As expected, Johnson did not say whether Chris Nickson and Mackenzi Adams would get the nod in Thursday's season opener at Miami of Ohio.

"We’ve got another important day of practice today and we’ll probably make a decision right after that," Johnson said.

Tonight's practice could be critical in determining the starter.

"We’re going to put them up against Miami of Ohio’s defense out there as best we can show it, and we’re going to make reads today and we’re going to make decisions today and we’re going to throw the ball today," Johnson said.

While Johnson did not plan to wait this long to name a starter, he said he is not surprised given the two quarterbacks' similarities.

"I kind of thought it would come this way because I think, again, they’re very capable," he said. "Both guys have done it in the past, both guys have played extremely well for us in the past, and I expected it to be a tough battle."

"I think both guys know they’re capable of running our offense, and they’ve done it before, and they’re both very confident," Johnson added.

Johnson said he plans to stick with a starter during the regular season, since it's important that one quarterback receives the majority of reps in practice. At the same time, he added that they're going to be prepared for all four quarterbacks to play.

"I think that’s the luxury that we have with two quarterbacks, and actually all four," Johnson said. "We don’t have to have a separate game plan for any of them. We can get them in the game and they can execute our game plan without having to make any major changes."

Vandy won't underestimate opponent

Johnson knows his squad isn't going to take Miami lightly, even with South Carolina on the horizon.

"Anybody on our schedule can beat us and we can beat anybody on our schedule," he said. "We have to plan to play well, and that’s what we’ve been preaching to our guys, all the little things – taking care of the ball, no penalties, be great on special teams – we’ve got to be good at right off the bat."

"I don’t care who they are, what conference they’re in, they’re tough," Johnson said. "I think it’s been proven a bunch here in the last few years that anybody can beat anybody. Appalachian (State)-Michigan, Louisiana whoever (Monroe) beating Alabama, it’s hard to win games. You’ve got to be ready to go every week."

Thursday night trade off

The fact that Vanderbilt plays back-to-back Thursday night games on ESPNU and ESPN, respectively, to start the season does not come without a price.

"Two Thursday night games really makes you think it out a little bit," Johnson said. "We’re running around saying, ‘Well today is Monday but it’s actually Wednesday’ and the next thing you know you think it’s Christmas. It is different, especially now that school has started."

Different does not necessarily mean bad, Johnson said.

"It’s not that bad if you do a little planning," he said. "We’ll have to practice next weekend. Saturday, you think you’re playing, but no, you’re not playing, you’re practicing. But, we appreciate the opportunity to go out and play two Thursday games and be on ESPNU this week and ESPN the next week. That is exposure for our program and we’re willing to pay the price of doing that."

Three more observations

1. Regarding the offensive line, Johnson said, "I think we’re more athletic there and hopefully that’s going to mean that as soon as we get those guys some experience, we’ll be just as good or better on the offensive line.

2. Johnson is expecting big things from running back Gaston Miller, who redshirted last season after playing sparingly as a true freshman in 2006. "Over that time, he’s gotten stronger, he’s improved his pass protection, he’s just as fast," Johnson said.

3. A number of true freshmen will contribute on Thursday: wide receiver Jon Cole, safety Sean Richardson, cornerback Casey Hayward and defensive tackles Ryan Seymour and Rob Lohr.

Week 1 Depth Chart

Here's a look at Vanderbilt's depth chart heading into the final week of preseason practice:


QB: Chris Nickson or Mackenzi Adams
RB: Jeff Jennings or Jared Hawkins
Z WR: Sean Walker
Chris Reinert
X WR: Jamie Graham or Udom Umoh
S WR: Justin Wheeler
John Cole
TE: Austin Monahan
Jake Bradford or Brandon Barden
LT: Reilly Lauer
Kyle Fischer
LG: Ryan Custer
Drew Gardner
C: Bradley Vierling
Joey Bailey
RG: Joey Bailey
Nick Forte
RT: Thomas Welch
Eric Hensley


DE: Steven Stone
Teriall Brannon
DT: Greg Billinger
Ryan Seymour or Rob Lohr
DT: Adam Smotherman
T.J. Greestone
DE: Broderick Stewart
Theron Kadri
SLB: John Stokes
Brent Trice
MLB: Chris Marve
Chris Johnson
WLB: Patrick Benoist
Nathan Campbell
CB: D.J. Moore
Josh Allen
SS: Reshard Langford
Sean Richardson
FS: Ryan Hamilton
Joel Caldwell
CB: Myron Lewis
Casey Hayward
NB: Darlron Spead
Jared Fagan

PK: Bryant Hahnfeldt
SN: John Stokes
H: Mackenzi Adams
KO: Bryant Hahnfeldt

KR: D.J. Moore and Sean Walker
PR: D.J. Moore and Sean Walker
P: Brett Upson

Commodore Banter (8/25)

It's the first day of class here at Vanderbilt and the football season starts in three days. It doesn't get much better than that.

I'll be on hand for the Commodores' first weekly press conference today at noon and will have plenty of interviews up for you guys later on this afternoon so make sure to check back throughout the day.

In the meantime, here's a few links on this glorious, albeit rainy, Monday morning...

Bobby Johnson isn't going to name a starter at quarterback before the season opener Thursday at Miami of Ohio, but Mo Patton of The Tennessean wonders if that's a good thing.

The article raises a number of compelling points:

1) Competition in practice could take away from the preparation process for whoever is eventually named the starter.

"Getting (the starter) ready, he needs about 85 or 90 percent of the reps," said former VU quarterback Kurt Page. "You really need to get those reps in practice — get your pre-snap reads, your checks, your audibles. The best players get better by doing it over and over. By splitting the reps, neither one of them are ready. they're both half-ready."

2) The starter might not be as confident, constantly looking over his shoulder, wondering whether he'll be pulled after making a mistake.

At the same time, Johnson wants to be sure that his decision is the correct one.

"I just want to make sure we pick the right one," Johnson said. "They're working awfully hard right now. They all want to win it. That's what you want in practice. You want them working hard, trying to make the plays they're supposed to make in practice — not saying, 'I'll make that one in the game.' "

Also, Brett Hait of The Nashville City Paper poses the question we all want to ask: Can Johnson push the Commodores over the proverbial “hump?”

One stat that really jumped out at me: "From the final two games of 1995 to 2005, the Commodores won only six of 73 SEC games." Think about that for a second, and then try to diminish the job Johnson has done with this program.

“I know how this close this team is," said former VU safety Corey Chavous. "I just want them to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Everything is in place for them to do it now. They will get over the hump, and that’s how we have to think.”

Also, from Sunday's paper, Patton has Vanderbilt's game-by-game outlook.

Finally, props to the women's soccer team for edging Belmont 1-0 in double OT.

I'm off to McGugin for the press conference, but be sure to check back this afternoon for all the press conference highlights.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Men's Basketball Ranked 55th in Pre-Season Poll

While the football season is (thankfully) just around the corner, it is never too late to start thinking about our basketball team. That being said, here is a link to a article that puts the Commodores in the 55 spot in a national preseason poll.

I think that their analysis is dead on- the team will high on talent but short on experience and will need to push to stay off of the NCAA tournament bubble. As the article states, I think it is safe look for most of the newcomers to step up in a big way, especially redshirt freshman Festus Ezeli. I cannot wait to see the look on the face of the opposing team when the big man and A.J. Ogilvy step onto the court at the same time.

My prediction? Assuming that all of the freshman play as expected and the veterans step up, the team will play in a third straight NCAA tournament, this time as an 8 seed. A 55 ranking is fair, but a little low in my opinion.

What do you think? Will the team prove the Rivals editors wrong and sneak their way into the top 25? Or will they tank with the absence of Shan Foster and company?

The Rivals Article