I was lucky enough to be able to chat with Anchor of Gold about this week's game. Here's what one of their writers, Christian D'Andrea, had to say about Vandy. My questions are in bold. I'll post a link to my answers to his questions when they go up.
1. It seems like Vanderbilt fans are psyched for this game. Is that true? What about the coaching staff? Do they view this game as a major opportunity to make a splash, or is it just a game like any other?
Psyched is a relative term for Vanderbilt football. Are fans getting as crazy as they are out in Columbia? Probably not. Even so, this stands to be the biggest home opener in Commodore history on Thursday. Having high expectations is a very new feeling for Vandy fans, and we're not entirely sure how to deal with that. Like your crazy ex-girlfriend, we've been hurt before, so we don't want to jump into anything just yet.
Still, there should be an audible buzz crashing through Nashville on gameday, and I'd expect a solid turnout to open the season. Vandy fans and players have had over eight months to process a Liberty Bowl season, and the excitement should be cresting thanks to the returns of Jordan Rodgers, Zac Stacy, and one of the most fun Commodore offenses in school history. I expect Natchez Trace to be humming with the sounds of autumnal tailgating when noon rolls around on Thursday.
2. Vandy loses star defenders Chris Marve and Casey Hayward. How will Vandy perform without them? Who are some defensive players Carolina fans should watch for?
Losing Marve hurts the most, not just for his defensive ability, but for his leadership. Vanderbilt actually lost their four best defenders from last season - Marve, Hayward, Sean Richardson, and Tim Fugger. That's a lot of production to replace in the offseason. Fortunately, the secondary should be able to recover - like SC, Vandy has done a great job of keeping the cupboard stocked when it comes to DBs in the recent past.
Replacing Marve will be the highest priority for Defensive Coordinator Bob Shoop. Chase Garnham will slide to the inside to fill his role, and he's a better athlete than Marve was. He could end up excelling at the role, but he'll have to prove that he has the football IQ to stay there. Archibald Barnes and converted safety Karl Butler will try to hold things down next to him. Vandy has a few talented freshmen at the position as well - Darreon Herring has been a standout in spring/summer practices this year - but it's clear that linebacker will be the 'Dores most volatile position in 2012.
Keep reading after the jump.
3. Vandy has tons of talent at the skills positions, starting with Jordan Rogers, Zac Stacy, and Jordan Matthews. However, most Carolina fans feel that we can dominate the line of scrimmage again this year and negate those talents. What do you think about that? What will Vandy try to do to offset Carolina's strong defensive front?
Our offensive line coach is Herb Hand. Herb Hand can do the worm (http://www.anchorofgold.com/2012/8/7/3226241/important-fall-practice-update-herb-hand-can-do-the-worm). Your argument is invalid.
Realistically, Vanderbilt's offensive line should continue to grow in '12. The team was filled with question marks last season, but recovered to play at a league-average level, giving Jordan Rodgers the time to develop into a capable passer. They'll have even more to build off of this season. Wesley Johnson and Ryan Seymour are two strong pillars to build around, and there is plenty of young talent to fill in the gaps this year.
Unfortunately, SC's front line is beastly. We all saw what happened when these two teams met last year, and I'm pretty sure that blowout is what Mel Ingram envisions when he goes to his happy place these days. South Carolina's defensive line will be a huge test for an unheralded offensive line. Vanderbilt should be better equipped to handle a Gamecock front that isn't as scary as they were in 2011, but that will still be the offense's biggest test on Thursday.
4. The outside perception is that James Franklin is making a difference for Vanderbilt, but that it will take the program a few years to become truly competitive in the SEC. Would you say that's true, or can Vandy make a big splash more quickly? Or is Vandy always going to have trouble competing in the SEC due to deep institutional differences between Vandy and the SEC's more successful programs?
Vandy can absolutely make a splash this year, but that's dependent on two things: A) that making a splash at Vanderbilt is a 6-6 season, B) Vandy's schedule this year was built for a run. The schedule-makers looked down on James Franklin's career and decided that 2012 was a good time for him to build momentum, because the SEC delivered Florida and SC at home and brought only Ole Miss and Auburn (at home) from the West. Sprinkle in an out-of-conference schedule with Northwestern, Wake Forest, UMass, and Presbyterian, and you've got the makings for a big year in Nashville.
Can Vanderbilt ultimately be successful over the long run? Yes, but it all starts at the top. Franklin's resurgence has been possible thanks to a big buy-in from the administration. That means more funding for athletic facilities, a bigger commitment to student-athletes, and the steady growth of a culture that treats Saturdays with reverence rather than indifference. Franklin has taken those tools and turned that into the best recruiting classes that Nashville has ever seen. The roots are starting to take place.
The model has been set by Stanford and, to a lesser extent, Northwestern (not pictured: Duke). High-level football and high-profile academics are not mutually exclusive. Pairing the two does leave a very slim margin of error, though. It won't be easy, but the chance to succeed is finally reaching realistic odds at Vanderbilt.
5. Prediction. Who wins? How does it go down?
Is Connor Shaw healthy enough to be effective? Because I think this one rings in the college football season with a shootout. Lattimore and Stacy go to war in a game that comes down to the final possession. Vanderbilt's defense bows up when it matters to keep the Gamecocks off the board as the clock winds down, and the Commodores start 2012 with a win; 35-31.