Vanderbilt: Are They for Real?

Written by:
Tony George
Published on:

Steven Merrill of asks the million dollar question: Is Vanderbilt for real? With a record of 4-0, they play Auburn on Saturday as a +4 home dog at The public doesn't quite believe yet as more than 70 percent of the betting action was going Auburn's way on Thursday.


The Southeastern Conference is the strongest college football conference and by the third week of the season they became the first conference to ever have five teams ranked in the Top 10. The league is extremely deep from top to bottom and this was evident last weekend when Florida lost outright as a 22-point home favorite versus Mississippi.

While the media has been focusing on powerhouses such as Florida, LSU, Alabama, Georgia, and Auburn, there has been another SEC school that has quietly worked its way into the Top 25.

Vanderbilt debut in the Top 25 last week with a #21 ranking and it was the first national ranking for the Commodores in the past 24 years. To say Vanderbilt has overachieved this season would be a massive understatement as the Commodores returned just nine total starters, including just three offensive starters, and most oddsmakers had Vanderbilt slated for just 3 total wins this year.

The Commodores have already surpassed this projection with a surprising 4-0 SU/ATS start, including three outright underdog wins, but the question [WINDOWS-1252?]remains... is Vanderbilt for real?

The Commodores opened the season with a 34-13 win at Miami-Ohio as a 3½-point underdog. They dominated the ground game with a 269-96 rushing advantage. There was nothing misleading about that win, but Miami has turned out to be weaker than expected with a 1-3 SU record, including 0-3 SU versus division I-A opponents.

Vanderbilt's next win was at home on national TV when they upset South Carolina, 24-17, as a 9½-point underdog. Vandy once again held an edge on the ground with a 135-92 rushing advantage, but the overall total yardage was dead even, 225-225. This was still an impressive performance by Vanderbilt, although they were helped by a +2 turnover advantage.

Vanderbilt then defeated Rice 38-21 as a 9½-point home favorite and held a dominating 273-108 rushing advantage. It was a potential letdown spot for the Commodores after their big national TV win over South Carolina and they once again benefited from a +2 turnover advantage.

Vanderbilt then went on the road on September 20th and pulled another upset with a 23-17 win as a 6½-point underdog at Mississippi. This was a misleading result as Mississippi held a 383-202 total yard edge, but was done in by a 6-2 turnover deficit.

The bottom line is that Vanderbilt is 4-0 SU and is definitely better than the 3-9 SU prediction most experts had back in August. Realistically, Vanderbilt is still probably just a .500 team at best and could easily be just 2-2 or 3-1 SU this season had they not benefited from a positive turnover margin in every game played (+9 for the season).

The Commodores have a solid rushing attack that is averaging 202 yards per game on the ground and 4.6 yards per carry (versus opponents that allow just 143 yards and 4.0 ypr). Vanderbilt also has a solid defense that permits just 17.0 points per game and 5.3 yards per play (versus opponents that average 28.0 ppg and 5.4 yppl). This has allowed them to keep games close and pull a few upsets.

However, Vanderbilt has an extremely weak passing attack that averages just 57.9% completions and a terrible 5.7 yards per pass this year (versus opponents that allow 63.1% and 6.8 ypp this season). Vanderbilt has not played from behind all year, so they have been able to rely on their solid rushing attack, but now that the heart of their SEC schedule is approaching, the Commodores will be forced to throw the ball more, especially when playing from behind. This lack of a passing attack will be the downfall for Vanderbilt versus quality opponents, especially on the road, and Vandy might prove to be a bit overrated during the second half of the season.


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