Offseason Q & A: Vanderbilt

Turns out there's no blog for the Southern Illinois Salukis. We considered masterminding another fake blog of an insane Saluki fan, but that would have taken too much effort, and it was gettin' kinda late...

So we bring you Vanderbilt. Our hapless Rebels play the slightly more hapless Commodores (MORE LIKE COMMODE DOORS, AMIRITE?) every season under the current format, and we like it that way. SBNation's Anchor of Gold blog was kind enough to answer a few questions we threw at them. They seem quite enthusiastic about their new coach, and early returns suggest that enthusiasm is warranted. Franklin has had a great offseason, and now everybody's just waiting around to see whether he can actually coach.

Our Q's and their A's follow after the jump.

RCR: Did Vandy suffer any big losses due to graduation or the NFL draft? If so, who were these players, and what kind of impact did they have on your team this past season?

AOG: None to the NFL draft. Losses due to graduation:

QB Jared Funk
RB Kennard Reeves
LB Nate Campbell
LB John Stokes
DT Adam Smotherman
G  Chris Aaron
C  Joey Bailey
WR Turner Wimberly
DE Teriall Brannon
DE Theron Kadri

A few of those guys were starters/played a significant number of snaps (Stokes, Campbell, Smotherman, Kadri, Bailey) and some played minor roles (Reeves -- got more time late in the season due to the injuries to Warren Norman and Zac Stacy, Wimberly). The team returns a really number of starters on both offense and defense, so I think they're in a position to absorb those losses very well. Hopefully we've added some depth as well...

RCR: How did Vandy's signging day turn out? I noticed you grabbed a few players that "the big boys" wanted. Which incoming freshmen do you expect to make an impact this Fall?

AOG: Considering the extremely brief amount of time the incoming staff had to secure the kids who had already committed and then go to work on kids that the previous staff probably hadn't been targeting, I think most Commodore fans were kind of surprised/thrilled to see how things ended up shaking out with the class.

As for impact freshmen, Vanderbilt seems to always have a freshman or two step up into big roles (Chris Marve, Warren Norman, and Earl Bennett spring to mind) right from the get go. A lot of times, it isn't exactly who the fans expect it to be. With Coach Franklin playing his cards so close to the vest with respect to the current shape of the depth chart while at the same time making it clear that everyone will have to earn their spot (including freshmen), I'm even less certain about who just might come in and make an impact.

RCR: What did you learn from Spring practices? Give, if you can, one offensive and one defensive player who showed significant promise during offseason workouts and practices.

AOG: It was pretty tough to glean much from spring practice, at least system wise. VU's marketing department really seemed to take it to the next level, producing some videos of a few of the high energy drills Coach Franklin put in that got the Vanderbilt fans talking (EDSBS even picked up the dodgeball video where coaches Hand and Rahne received particularly devastating blows to the face and groin regions, respectively).

Most people came away talking about RB Wesley Tate on the offensive end. Tate's finally getting past some lingering injury problems that forced him into a redshirt his first year and then into limited snaps last season. He'll be a nice change of pace from Warren Norman and Zac Stacy.

Defensively, DT Colt Nichter really emerged, thanks in large part due to injuries that limited TJ Greenstone and Rob Lohr throughout the spring. Nichter averaged two sacks in all four scrimmages (including the Black and Gold game) during the spring and made a case for even more playing time in 2011.

RCR: Talk about James Franklin and what he has brought to the game/fans.

AOG: Coach Franklin has brought a buzz. I think after the whole Gus Malzahn episode (he reportedly agreed to terms at least three times), most Commodore fans felt a little let down or that the school was "settling" for James Franklin. It didn't take very long for Commodore fans to begin to realize just why James Franklin was considered perhaps the most impressive interview of all the candidates, according to several members of the search committee. If his ability to sell a Virginia Beach kid on passing on Virginia Tech and picking the Commodores wasn't enough, his enthusiasm in radio/tv interviews/VU marketing videos plus his unprecedented success thus far in Vandy's 2012 recruiting class (I'm not even sure we had any recruits at this point last year) has Commodore fans talking. Hell, even Clay Travis, noted Tennessee Volunteers fan and local radio personality, of all people, has tweeted on multiple occasions that Coach Franklin is killing it. Not necessarily high praise, but much better than the typical alternative -- Vanderbilt football bashing.

I'm excited to answer this question in a year, if only to be able to talk more about what Coach Franklin has brought to the field. And considering where VUFB was last July, I must say that's quite a turnaround.

RCR: We play one another every year. What would you say the general Vanderbilt opinion of Ole Miss is? Don't be afraid to be honest.

AOG: I'm sure if I were an Ole Miss fan I'd hate that the series has been pretty even the last decade; but as a Vanderbilt fan, it's pretty damn hard to dislike Ole Miss when you're sitting in the grove every other year. The football gods sure were throwing us a bone for the last 50 years of misery when we drew y'all as "rivals."

RCR: And finally, what are your expectations for the season? Give me a range of wins and losses.

vs Elon
vs UConn
vs Ole Miss
@ South Carolina
@ Alabama
vs Georgia
vs Army
vs Arkansas
@ Florida
vs Kentucky
@ Tennessee
@ Wake Forest

Seven or eight wins is probably a good ceiling for the team. Obviously getting bowl eligible after two 2 win seasons would be a big step in the right direction. Elon, UConn and Army should be wins (especially at home), so the expectation should be to at least improve upon our win total from the last two years. If we can then win at Wake and maybe steal one or two SEC wins, I think most fans will be satisfied.

Simply based on what Coach Franklin has done on the recruiting trail thus far, I can only imagine what kind of impact having a bowl game already under his belt would have on his ability to sell to new recruits.

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