Baseball Update: Vanderbilt Preview

BASEBALL

In some disappointing news, LSU lost some high school signees to Major League Baseball. I outlined these guys on this blog in June. Both Zach Von Rosenburg and Brody Colvin were expected to enroll at LSU and play college baseball; however, both guys signed with the pros. As expected, first round pick Slade Heathchott also signed a pro contract. Brett Bruening, another pitching prospect, won’t be at LSU either. So while these guys would have contributed to LSU’s team next year, it’s nothing that can’t be overcome.

FOOTBALL – VANDERBILT PREVIEW

Vanderbilt surprised everyone in 2008 by going 4-4 in the SEC (better conference record than LSU) and earning their first trip to a bowl game in over 25 years. They were fortunate to eek out some close wins and take advantage of some teams who overlooked them. They won’t be so lucky this year, and nobody will take them for granted.

OFFENSE

Vanderbilt shuffled three different quarterbacks in and out of the starting lineup last year and managed to piece together a serviceable offense. Their primary guy from last year, Chris Nickson, is gone which leaves Vanderbilt with a competition for the top spot. Mackenzi Adams (right) has the bulk of the returning experience, though his results weren’t anything to write home about. He completed just 49% of his passes with five touchdowns and eight interceptions. However he was the hero in Vandy’s win against Auburn, leading them to the come from behind win in the second half. The other candidate is Larry Smith, who started Vanderbilt’s bowl game and led them to a win against Boston College.

Vanderbilt doesn’t have anything special at running back. They return their leading rusher from last year, Jared Hawkins, who rushed for 593 yards and four touchdowns. Vandy’s next two leading rushers last year were their two quarterbacks.

The Commodores don’t return much as far as talented receivers. But they do have a transfer from UCONN, Terrance Jeffers, who should contribute right away. He caught 44 balls for UCONN in 2007. Vandy’s leading returning receiver is tight-end Brandon Barden.

On the offensiver line, Vanderbilt returns all 5 starters which could really help them keep some drives alive and keep their defense off the field. None of their starters are All-SEC candidates, but they’re experienced, used to playing together, and now have bowl game experience.

DEFENSE

Vanderbilt, when competitive, has usually been so due to a strong defense. Last year, Vanderbilt finished 8th in the SEC in Total Defense but they managed to hold all but one SEC team (Florida) under 25 points. That keeps them in games and gives them a chance. However they do lose their best player from last year, cornerback DJ Moore.

Vanderbilt returns a lot of experience on the defensive line, including defensive ends Broderick Stewart and Steven Stone, who tied for the team lead in sacks with five.

They also bring back all three starting linebackers, including Patrick Benoist who led the team in tackles last year with 109. He is the best candidate on the team to land on an All-SEC team.

Their secondary features returning starter Myron Lewis at cornerback, who is solid. Lewis had five interceptions last year and six pass break-ups. He’ll have to play very tough this year without DJ Moore on the other side.

All in all, Vanderbilt still probably ranks 12th in the SEC in terms of talent. And like mentioned above, they’re not going to be able to sneak up on any teams this year. I’d be very surprised if they can notch four SEC wins in 2009 or go to another bowl game. I think they’ll be competitive against the lower-tier SEC teams such as Mississippi State, Kentucky, and South Carolina. But I think the quality SEC teams will handle them without too much trouble.

All SEC Candidates:
LB Patrick Benoist
CB Myron Lewis

Schedule:
vs. Western Carolina (W)
@ LSU (L)
vs. Mississippi State (W)
@ Rice (W)
vs. Ole Miss (L)
@ Army (W)
vs. Georgia (L)
@ South Carolina (L)
vs. Georgia Tech (L)
@ Florida (L)
vs. Kentucky (L)
@ Tennessee (L)

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