Coach Mason was impressive as usual at Media Days. He's so optimistic and he should be. He's building a very good football program on the West End. And he doesn't put any limits on his football team. He wants to win championships at Vanderbilt and he's not shy to say that. It hasn't happened ever at Vanderbilt, but, as Bob Dylan said, "the times they are a changin."
We've got a good football team, with great talent and a lot of leadership. D Mase harped on the fact that, in his 4th year, he finally has a junior-senior laden team. And he feels very good about this 2017 group. We're physical, tough, skilled and highly competitive. We have weapons at quarterback and the skilled positions. Our offensive line is physical, deep and very well coached by O line coach Cameron Norcross. Coach Andy Ludwig is a a superb offensive coordinator with great fundamental play calling along with some pretty cool gadget plays. We can run it, throw it intermediately, throw screens, and throw the deep ball. We have excellent tight ends, which Mason and Ludwig really like to utilize. On defense, Coach Mason has got a tough, talented group. We've got a good starting group up front, but need to keep developing depth there in August. Linebacker will be without the great Zach Cunningham, who now plays for the Houston Texans and we're hopeful Zach will have a stellar career. Can't wait to follow the man. But I like Oren Burks, brothers Emmanuel and Josh Smith, and guys like Jordan Griffin and Caleb Peart among others. Our secondary is one of the strengths of the team. Our kicking game will be solid with Sam Loy punting and Tommy Openshaw back to kick along with some possible good return guys. This is a really solid football team.
The SEC will be outstanding this season, and we respect every team in the conference. But we will NOT shy away from the challenge. Coach Mason has instilled toughness and confidence in this team, and in his fourth year, he has his team hitting its stride.
Here's a look at the schedule in 2017 and thoughts on our chances in each game.
Sept. 2- @ MTSU- Coach Rick Stockstill has taken his teams to 5 consecutive bowl games. They will be a tough opening game. We can certainly win it if we play well. 7 PM CT, CBS Sports Network.
Sept. 9- vs. Alabama A&M- Can't take any opponent likely. We have a good chance in this one, but it's not who you play, it's how you play.
Sept. 16- vs. Kansas State-Seventy seven year old Bill Snyder has done a tremendous job at K State, and they'll be solid and physical as always. Important game to come out on top with the opponent that's coming into Nashville the next weekend.
Sept. 23- vs. Alabama. We know about the greatness and all the superlatives thrown their way. Just bring'em on.
Sept. 30-@ Florida-Key game on the schedule. Florida doesn't have a starting quarterback yet, but has a lot of talent on their roster, so it'll be a major challenge in the Swamp.
Oct. 7- vs. Georgia-Another pivotal game on the schedule. Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Jacob Eason are all 3 back and they have 10 returning starters on defense returning. Tough matchup, but if we play well, we could come out on top.
Oct. 14-@ Ole Miss- They're reeling a little bit from the NCAA black cloud hovering over their heads, but they have a really good sophomore quarterback in Shea Patterson and good skilled players, a good line and some good defensive players, so it'll be a challenge on the Grove in Oxford.
Oct. 28- @ South Carolina- Another key game. We lost a heartbreaker to them last year. Will be a hard fought game. Hopefully we can prevail.
November 4- vs. Western Kentucky- A challenge as well. Explosive offense and a fine young coach in Mike Sanford who came down from his offensive coordinator position at Notre Dame and takes over from Jeff Brohm, who moved on to be the head coach at Purdue. This will be a key out of conference game like K State and MTSU. Could be a shootout.
November 11-vs. Kentucky- Key matchup. Mark Stoops has built a good program at Lexington. Will be a challenge, but we can come out on top if we play like we're capable of playing.
November 18-vs. Missouri-Winnable game, though the Tigers are better and Drew Lock is a fine quarterback. We might need to outscore'em and play enough defense to be successful.
November 25-@ Tennessee- After cleaning their clocks last year in Nashvegas, they'll be ready for us on Rocky Top. But it's a game we can win, and if would be a huge victory in-state just to beat those clowns and for recruiting in the state of Tennessee.
I don't like predicting how many games we're going to win because I don't want to put any limitations on this team. They can win every game they play in. We've got the talent, we've got the coaching, and we're hungry. So let's get to August and get this thing started.