Despite losing in the Liberty Bowl, Commodore fans have to look back on James Franklin's first campaign as Vanderbilt's Head Football Coach as a success. With many of the impact players returning (particularly on offense), the Vanderbilt faithful have season to be excited heading into 2012. How excited? Well, according to the VSL Braintrust, the question isn't if the Commodores are going to a bowl, it's which bowl are they going to.
Game 1: Thursday, August 30
South Carolina (Vanderbilt Stadium)
Stanimal: South Carolina 23 - Vanderbilt 20 - Vanderbilt Stadium is as loud as its ever been, but depth issues on the offensive line against an elite defensive front bring the Commodores just short.
Seamus O'Toole: South Carolina 21- Vanderbilt 13 - Jadeveon Clowney, Devin Taylor and Kelcy Quarles make it too difficult for the Dores to move the football despite an electric atmosphere on Thursday night.
Douglas James: South Carolina 27 - Vanderbilt 17: Vandy sticks with the Gamecocks into the 4th quarter but eventually are worn down by Carolina's superior skill
Bobby O'Shea: Vanderbilt 24 - South Carolna 20: This is probably a heart over head pick, but I can't help myself. Coach Franklin will have his guys fired up and Vanderbilt had success against South Carolina the last time they played on Thursday night. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the last time the Commodores played the Gamecocks on a Thursday night, the Republican nominee for President gave his acceptance speech. I'm just sayin'...
Douglas James: Vanderbilt 24 - Northwestern 10 - Vandy almost pitches a shut-out but gives up some garbage points to the Cat's, making the game seem closer than it was.
Bobby O'Shea: Vanderbilt 31 - Northwestern 16 - This is one of my "swing games" of the year and one I believe the Commodores absolutely have to have in order to take another step forward as a program. This is probably a "must win" either way, but takes on increasing significance if the Commodores drop to opener to Spurrier's Gamecocks. On a personal level, this is one of my last weekends as a man-boy before Baby O'Shea arrives on the scene. Springsteen on Friday night, the Commodores on Saturday isn't a bad way to go out.
Stanimal: Vanderbilt 34 - Northwestern 17 - "Must win." Vanderbilt gets it done on the road and shows that the SEC, unlike the Big Ten, is not top heavy
Seamus O'Toole: Vanderbilt 44 - Northwestern 28 - "Must Win." This will be the first good opportunity to see if all of that off season focus on developing the vertical passing game translates into success on the field. Northwestern's secondary is a weakness that should be tested early and often in this critical momentum game. With two extra days to prepare, the Dores come in fresh and make a statement.
Game 3: Saturday, September 15
Presbyterian (Vanderbilt Stadium)
Seamus O'Toole: Vanderbilt 38- Presbyterian 0 - Riding a high off the Northwestern road trip, the Dores return to Nashville and finally pitch a shutout.
Douglas James: Vanderbilt 45 - Presbyterian 13 - Norman and Stacy both go for over 100 yard rushing, Rodgers throws for 3 TD's.
Bobby O'Shea: Vanderbilt 41 - Presbyterian 3 - This shouldn't be close. Take the Commodores and the points.
Stanimal: Vanderbilt 41- Presbyterian 14 - Vandy's offense feasts on inferior prey in this one.
Editors note: none of us know squat about Presbyterian.
Game 4: Saturday, September 22
at Georgia (Athens, Georgia)
Stanimal: Georgia 23 - Vanderbilt 21 - Georgia's depleted running game forces Murray to play to the Commodores defensive strength and James Franklin takes his angst against Todd Grantham out on the field, but home field advantage is just a bit too much for the Commodores to overcome and the 'Dores lose on the road in a very close game.
Douglas James: Georgia 24 - Vanderbilt 20 - Similar to the USC game, Vandy puts up a good fight but can't pull it off the upset.
Bobby O'Shea: Georgia 27 - Vanderbilt 17 - Don't ask me why, but I think Georgia could be good this year. These teams have developed quite an animus for the other that pre-dates Franklin and Grantham's almost battle royale at the end of last year's game. These teams don't like each other, but I just don't think Franklin's intensity being enough between The Hedges.
Seamus O'Toole - Georgia 17 - Vanderbilt 10 - With emotions and anticipation running high, both teams come in too hyped up, leading to mistakes galore in a game that comes down to the final series but both sides would prefer to forget.
Game 5: Saturday, October 6,
at Missouri (Columbia, Missouri)
Seamus O'Toole - Vanderbilt 28 - Missouri 21 - "Game to Watch." Timing is everything in the "Battle of James Franklins" as Vandy pulls off its first big SEC win of the season, catching Mizzou looking ahead to their match up with Alabama.
Douglas James: Missouri 31 - Vanderbilt 10 - Vandy takes a step back and looks bad for the first time all year.
Stanimal: Missouri 34 - Vanderbilt 31 - Home field advantage and a slightly more potent passing attack are the difference in what should be a high-flying offensive affair.
Bobby O'Shea: Vanderbilt 31 - Missouri 28 - This is clearly a polarizing game among the Braintrust. I'm giving Vanderbilt the edge for a few reasons. The Commodores are sandwiched on Mizzou's scheduled between a road game at Central Florida and an open date. I'm not convinced the Tigers will give Vanderbilt the respect they deserve. Conversely, James Franklin will have the benefit of a bye to get his guys prepared.
Game 6: Saturday, October 13
Florida (Vanderbilt Stadium)
Bobby O'Shea: Vanderbilt 21 - Florida 13- Despite some close calls, the Commodores haven't been able to get by the Gators. That changes this year. I don't think the Gators are the team they've been as the program continues to rebuild after Hurricane Urban hightailed it out of town. This is another one of the "swing games" I see as being the difference between Vanderbilt hovering at 6 wins or taking a step forward. Given the rest of the SEC slate for this day, I'd say there is a shot we end up on CBS (although I still think South Carolina at LSU gets the Verne/Danielson treatment)
Douglas James: Florida 27 - Vanderbilt 21 - Best chance for an SEC upset. Black and Gold perform better but still can't make the stops when they need to.
Seamus O'Toole: Florida 20 - Vanderbilt 17 - In a game the Commodores will wish they had back, Will Muschamp's defense scores a TD and blocks a late field goal to leave fans wondering why something like this inevitably happens to us every season.
Stanimal: Vanderbilt 14 - Florida 13 - Florida fails to solve its QB issues by this point, and despite the presence of an elite defense, the Commodores are able to overcome with a late TD.
Editor's Note: If either of the things Seamus predicts actually happen, we're taking his ass to Vegas.
Game 7: Saturday, October 20
Auburn (Vanderbilt Stadium)
Seamus O'Toole: Auburn 21 - Vanderbilt 7 - Coming off an emotional loss to Florida, Vandy looks exhausted in the last of a tough four-game slate against SEC foes. Sitting at 3-4, fans start to wonder if SOV is rearing its ugly head.
Stanimal: Auburn 31 - Vanderbilt 20 - Auburn comes in rocking at this point with a vastly improved defense in a bounce back year. Vandy, after pulling two upsets in the past 30 days, can't quite recoup enough emotion to overcome. Auburn wins by more than a TD.
Bobby O'Shea: Auburn 24 - Vanderbilt 20 - I'll be honest, I don't like picking against Vanderbilt in this one, but if I'm going to preserve any level of credibility, I can't have the Commodores finishing 11-1 (which appears to be the road I'm on). I do think Vanderbilt will split with Florida and Auburn, I just don't know who they get the better of.
Douglas James: Auburn 17 - Vanderbilt 14 - Vandy's best defensive game all season considering the match-up.
Game 8: Saturday, October 27
UMASS (Homecoming - Vanderbilt Stadium)
Douglas James: Vanderbilt 28 - UMASS 20 - Finally back to their winning ways, but not the dominant win you would expect against an inferior opponent.
Bobby O'Shea: Vanderbilt 34 - UMASS 10 - Baby O'Shea is due the day next day. I'm hoping she holds out and Mrs. O'Shea wants one more afternoon in the soon pre- the rest of our lives to watch Vanderbilt beat-down the Minutemen.
Stanimal: Vanderbilt 35 - UMASS 7 - UMass is the medicine to get the 'Dores back on track just in time for a rather tasty part of the schedule.
Seamus O'Toole: Vanderbilt 41 - UMASS 10 - Nothing like some FCS competition to help right the ship.
Game 9: Saturday, November 4
at Kentucky (Lexington, Kentucky)
Seamus O'Toole - Vanderbilt 28 - Kentucky 17 - Vandy puts up 200+ rushing yards against UK and gives fans some encouraging signs by dominating in the trenches.
Douglas James: Vanderbilt 27 - Kentucky 10 - First SEC win.
Stanimal: Vanderbilt 38 - Kentucky 14 - "Must Win." The 'Dores further distance themselves from the bottom third of the SEC with a resounding road victory against Kentucky.
Bobby O'Shea: Vanderbilt 31 - Kentucky 13 - There is no reason to think Kentucky will be any better this year than they were last year. The Commodores will head into Commonwealth Stadium with swagger and a chance to put together the best season in the modern era.
Game 10: Saturday, November 11
at Ole Miss (Oxford, Mississippi)
Stanimal: Vanderbilt 38 - Ole Miss 14 - "Must Win." -The 'Dores further distance themselves from the bottom third of the SEC with a resounding road victory against Kentucky.
Seamus O'Toole: Vanderbilt 31 - Ole Miss 24 (OT) - Ole Miss comes in determined to break the streak and runs the ball with ease in the early going, but the Dores show maturity and character by bouncing back in the second half and executing better in overtime.
Douglas James - Vanderbilt 30 - Ole Miss 17 Commies get back to .500 overall.
Bobby O'Shea - Vanderbilt 31 - Ole Miss 20 - Everything I said about the Kentucky game, ditto.
Game 11: Saturday, November 18
Tennessee (Vanderbilt Stadium)
Bobby O'Shea - Vanderbilt 30 - Tennessee 20 - THIS is the game James Franklin has been waiting for all year. By this point in the season, I expect (or at least hope) Tennessee will be a beaten and defeated program. The circumstances surrounding last year's last still haunt Commodore fans (the whisle blew, whether it was a mistake or not, the play was dead), to say nothing of Coach Dooley's post-game chat to his team about what Tennessee "always does" to Vanderbilt. Commodore fans hope revenge is sweet as the Commodores finally take down their in-state rivals at home.
Douglas James: Vanderbilt 27- Tennessee 20 (OT) - Vandy exercises the demons by beating UT in overtime. If the team is going to take a step forward, this is the game they have to win.
Stanimal: Vanderbilt 28 - Tennessee 24 - Vandy puts the nail in the Derek Dooley coffin as head coach at Tennessee on the way to slamming the door to the Vols bowl hopes. Game is close in score, but not really close other than that. Despite what Vol fans think, Da'Rick Rogers IS the best player they have and they watch him rack up 200 yards for Tennessee Tech that week.
Seamus O'Toole: Vanderbilt 31 - Tennessee 21 - Stanimal said it: Nail in the coffin for Dooley. Vandy fans are now convinced CJF is the best coach in college football. Message board rumors crop up that UT is interested in making him an offer.
Game 12: Saturday, November 25
Wake Forest (Winston-Salem, North Carolina)
Seamus O'Toole: Vanderbilt 42 - Wake Forest 14 - Domination Part II: Vandy closes strong by putting it all together on offense, racking up 500 yards from scrimmage and sending fans into hysterical debates about which bowl we'll be invited to.
Douglas James: Vanderbilt 24 - Wake Forest 12 - Ensuring a winning season, but only baby steps better than last year.
Stanimal: Vanderbilt 23 - Wake Forest 21 - Wake surprises and makes this game real close, but Vandy perseveres on their way to their first bowl outside of the state of Tennessee since 1982.
Bobby O'Shea: Vanderbilt 28 - Wake Forest 20 - The game will be more respectable than last year, but the Commodores will still be the dominate force on the field as the wrap up their tremendous season by going a perfect 4-0 in November. The only question now, is where we be bowling.
Stanimal: 8-4 (Chick-Fil-A Bowl)
Douglas James:7-5 (Gator Bowl)
Seamus O'Toole: 8-4 (Gator Bowl)
Bobby O'Shea: 9-3 (Outback Bowl) - Screw it. I know, my numbers don't add up because if I stood by my predictions, I would have the Commodores going 10-2 rather than 9-3. I think I might be a little overly optimistic on a few of the games this season. With that said, I think this is a year where Vanderbilt takes a huge step forward. We've got a very favorable schedule with SEC West opponents of Auburn and Ole Miss, a quality bye week, 2 home games against tough opponents in October, and a relatively easy final 4 games. The only tough road games I see are Georgia and Missouri, and those come relatively early in the season. I think the roughest part of our season is early. Heading into the open date, I think we are 2-2, and starting in October, things get interesting. I am convinced we will beat either Florida or Auburn at home, and think we could sneak up on Missouri in Columbia. November is where our bread is buttered this season as Vanderbilt runs the table despite having 3 road games. Vegas has our over/under wins for the season at 5.5, bet the ranch.