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Posts Tagged ‘UTEP Miners’

ElViento: I recently helped out Adrian of the fantastic UTEP blog (if you care about what’s going on with other C-USA teams) Miner Rush. He had a two-part UH football preview, which you can find here (the part where I answer his questions) and here (the part I wasn’t really involved with).

If you’re anything like me, you’re all over anything football related at this point, so enjoy.

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ElViento: I have mixed reactions about the SMU game from Saturday, but I choose to be encouraged by the way the Cougars performed.

On one hand, it was Houston’s least-impressive offensive performance in a while. They failed to hit a lot of the now-expected benchmarks. The Cougars did not reach 500 yards of total offense for the first time this year, and Case Keenum failed to throw for 300 yards for the first time in a regular season game under Kevin Sumlin.

On the other hand, SMU’s defense is improved, and you have to give them some credit. Houston’s 38 points were just one shy of the highest total allowed by SMU in a game this year. And we have been somewhat spoiled by the Sumlin-Dana Holgorsen era. We should probably be more in awe that the 300-500 plateau is an expectation than we should be upset that the Cougars missed it once.

The Cougars earned a 3-0 advantage in turnovers against an SMU team in the top 25 in the country in turnover margin, and jumped out to a 24-3 halftime lead. After Tyron Carrier’s 92-yard kick return for a TD to open the second half, the game was over. The Cougars ended up running the ball a bunch from there on out, and just kind of cruised to a 38-15 victory. It was only the second decisive loss suffered by the Mustangs on the year. The first was a 39-14 loss at the hands of TCU, but the Horned Frogs didn’t truly put that one away until the fourth quarter.

What this game truly reminded me of was the Coogs’ Armed Forces Bowl victory over Air Force last year. The Cougar offense played less than its best ball, but didn’t make any big mistakes. The passing game didn’t click the way it usually does, with much credit given to the opposing defense, but the run game stepped up big. So did the defense, stopping the opposition from doing what it wanted to. (In this case, throwing the ball, as opposed to dominating with the option run.)

At the end of the day, it may have not been the most entertaining Cougar victory you’ll see this year, but it was a 23-point win over an upset-capable opponent. And you have to be happy about those.

Some other game notes:

  • SMU’s players were paying a lot of attention to the UH student section and Coog Crew before the game. The talented wide receiver duo of Aldrick Robinson and Emmanuel Sanders seemed particularly intent on talking smack with Coog Crew prior to kickoff. Predictably, this ended early, and the students were more than happy to let both know about their drops over the course of the game. Neither receiver eclipsed 50 yards on the game, and Sanders’ total of 47 yards receiving was a season-low.
  • It’s always a frightening proposition to call out opposing players on faking injuries, given the possibility that the injury is legit. But this is the second year in a row that SMU has unquestionably faked some injuries to slow down the Cougar momentum. I’m so tired of seeing Mustang players fall down, grab a hamstring, and be back in the game at full speed two plays later. I would like to see the NCAA crack down on this before college football turns into soccer. If a player has to stop the game for an injury, he should have to sit out at least five or six plays.
  • That said, best wishes to Bo Levi Mitchell, who obviously wasn’t faking his injury.
  • Major props to the Houston defense, which racked up five sacks, and held SMU to an incredible 0-12 on combined third- and fourth-down conversions. The Coogs were 9-16 on converting third down attempts. Along with the turnovers, that’s the difference in the game, right there.
  • Would you believe both Houston and SMU had more runs than pass attempts on Saturday? ‘Tis true.
  • A big salute to Charles Sims. The true freshman running back has proven to be a huge asset catching passes out of the backfield thus far this year, but had a breakout game actually taking handoffs on Saturday. His 105 yards rushing were nearly double his previous high on the year. And all of this came on the heels of a Tulane game in which Sims got just two touches. I’m very impressed the youngster kept his head in the game, and turned in such an impressive performance.
  • Keenum didn’t break 300 yards, but he did throw a TD pass for the 23rd straight game. This puts him just 12 games shy of the all-time Division 1-A record, held by Ty Detmer of BYU. The all-time NCAA record, held by Jimmy Terwilliger of D-II East Stroudsberg, is 39. I’m going to try and put up something about other NCAA records within Keenum’s reach sometime this week.
  • The Cougars are now bowl-eligible with six wins. If the Cougars receive a bowl berth this year (which seems like a shoo-in at this point), it will be the fifth-straight season Houston has competed in the post-season, a first in school history.
  • There is a four-way tie for first-place in Conference USA West, but UTEP remains the only school entirely in control of its own destiny, and their remaining schedule shapes up pretty nicely. I think you can pencil in the Tulane and Rice games as wins for the Miners, which leaves vs. UAB (this weekend), @ SMU (11/14) and vs. Marshall (11/28) as the potential roadblocks. While wins over Houston and Tulane prove that UTEP is a talented team, losses to Buffalo and Memphis show that the Miners are capable of slip-ups. Knock on wood, but I see them losing at least one more game.

Next up for the Cougars, Southern Mississippi. The Golden Eagles have outscored C-USA weak sisters Memphis and Tulane by a combined score of 79-22 the past two weeks, despite having lost starting QB Austin Davis for the season due to injury. More on the Golden Eagles, and (hopefully, finally, God-willing) some men’s hoops coverage coming this week.

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ElViento: The Houston Cougar volleyball team won on Saturday night. I don’t know if any other Cougar team had a game scheduled, and evidently neither did the Cougar football team.

The gamut of emotions running through the Cougar faithful right now is wide:

Shock.

Horror.

Disappointment.

Embarrassment.

Heartbreak.

What happened? To put it simply, UTEP wanted it more than us. Their offense wanted it more than our defense. Their defense wanted it more than our offense. Their special teams wanted it more. Hell, their coaching staff wanted it way more than ours. If I have to watch the Cougars throw a jump ball down field on third and short again, I will lose my mind.

What now? Go ahead and take the night to be pissed off, Cougars. Same as a big win, you get one night to think about it, then you turn to the new task at hand.

What happens now is we find out who the bandwagon fans were, and who the true fans are.

Which are you?

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SarCoog: So with Conference USA play about start for the Cougar football team, I figured I’d start a new trend here. Instead of giving you the readers an information overload and breakdown of each team unit… I’ll answer 5 question I assume the (above) average college football fan would want to know about the Coogs’ upcoming opponent: UTEP.

1.) Is the Miner Offense Really This Bad?

  • By all accounts I expected the Miners to be a scary team, with a 3rd year starter at QB in Trevor Vittatoe who has a pair of experienced receivers to throw to: Kris Adams and Jeff Moturi. On paper the only perceived weakness of the Miners’ offense was tailback, but so far Donald Buckram has averaged 6.5 yards/carry and a decent 74.5 yards per game. As a unit they have struggled both in the run and pass games, and they’re actually dead last nationally in total offense. A lot of the problems can be traced back to an offensive line that despite having 4 returning starters, hasn’t kept Vittatoe upright and has allowed 3.25 sacks per game. Granted they’ve played 2 good defenses (Texas and Kansas) but they also looked extremely pedestrian at home against Buffalo (a UB team who’s only win comes against UTEP). They’ll look better than the 120th offense in the country against Houston.

2.) What about the home field advantage of the Sun Bowl?

  • Miner fans will be the first to tell you about the raucous advantage they have by playing in the Sun Bowl and they may have had a point… at one time. But since the 2006 season they have a 9-11 record when playing at home and frankly that’s not enough for me to consider the Sun Bowl to be a serious “home field advantage”. For comparison the Coogs are 20-2 at Robertson Stadium since ’06. And while they drew 31,885 for a top 25 Kansas team, I expect that attendance number to be much lower when the boys in red and white come this Saturday.

Trevor VittatoeTrevor Vittatoe

3.) Who are the players to watch on UTEP?

  • While junior QB Trevor Vittatoe has had a rough year to say the least, historically he has given Cougar defenses the fits. Last season Vittatoe threw for 362 yards and 4 TD, while in ’07 he threw for 3 TD. I wouldn’t be shocked if Vittatoe has his best game of the year on Saturday against the Cougars. Senior receiver Jeff Moturi was originally a Houston signee and has TD catches in all the games he’s played against UH. His receiver counterpart junior Kris Adams absolutely owned the Coogs last year wth 6 catches for 111 yards and 3 TD. Junior tailback Donald Buckram could also have a breakout game against an inconsistent Cougar defensive front that’s been pushed around by (better) Oklahoma State and Texas Tech backs. On defense senior DE Aaron King leads the Miners with 3 sacks, and has a sack in all but the game against the Longhorns. After missing last year with an injury, junior S Braxton Amy leads the team with 2 INT and also has 23 total tackles, while senior Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith leads the team in solo (20) and total (47) tackles. Finally senior CB Melvin Stephenson II has the Miners’ lone defensive TD of the ’09 season.

4.) How much has the Miner defense improved this season?

  • When the coaching staff brought in DC Ossia Lewis to run the unique 3-3-5 defense last year, they probably didn’t expect instant success. Still that Miner defensive unit redefined awful, surrendering 37.0 points and 469 yards per game in ’08. You could make an argument that this unit is improved and played well enough to keep this team in 2 games: Buffalo and their ‘W’ against NMSU. Heck the offense never got going against Kansas, so maybe the defense would’ve looked better with a better performance from their offensive counterparts. So yes the Miners are improved on defense under Lewis, but not improved enough for me to be concerned about Case Keenum and company struggling against them.

5.) Why do Miner fans take this ‘rivalry’ so seriously?

  • Ask a Houston fan about the UTEP Miners and they’ll probably tell you that they’re a fellow CUSA team and they won the 1966 NCAA mens basketball championship (probably thanks to the movie ‘Glory Road’). Ask Miner fans and you will probably get a much less friendly response about how they feel about the Cougars generally… which always kind of surprises me. But it’s worth noting that almost every game between UH/UTEP has been a close shootout. In 2005 a late Kevin Kolb INT in El Paso sealed a 44-41 Miner victory. The 34-17 UH victory in ’06 was the exception to the rule and in ’07 the Coogs won a 34-31 decision in the Sun Bowl, in which Anthony Alridge rushed for 204 yards. Last season the Coogs trailed 28-9 late in the 3rd quarter, but rattled off 306 total yards in the 4th quarter to beat the Miners 42-37. Although UH leads the all-time series 3-1, out of those games 3 were decided by 5 points or less.

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ElViento: So UTEP head coach Mike Price held a media luncheon on Monday, and attempted – with minimal success – to make it sound like a) the 64-7 beatdown the Miners just experienced at the hands of UT-Austin wasn’t that bad, and b) his team has a chance against Houston this weekend. Some gems:

  • Price on eating his own: “I can probably get another quarterback in there who can throw four interceptions and complete 35 yards worth of passes.”…Trevor Vittatoe, feel the love!
  • Price on high expectations: “I would’ve liked to play better against Texas, to give them more of a game”…So you weren’t okay with losing by 57? Thanks for clearing that up.
  • Price on finding the silver lining: “You have to be on the sideline to see what these guys were going through. Guys were getting sick and going back into the game. I was proud of them. When you’re getting drubbed like we were and butt kicked like we were, to show the mental and physical toughness that our guys played with, I was proud of them.”… UTEP Miner football: We May Have Lost By Eight Touchdowns, But We’re Proud Of It!
  • Price on that pesky Buffalo loss: “Here we are at 1-3, when we probably should be 2-2”…So I guess if you just say that you should have beaten a team that lost by three scores to Temple (who lost to D-1AA Villanova), then that makes it okay that you actually lost.

No, it’s not some drunk from your family reunion. It’s your UTEP head football coach!

  • Price on putting your players’ lives in danger: “[Miner center Tanner] Cullumber was our best offensive lineman on Saturday, even though he had heat stroke. He played just about the whole game”…Really? He had heat stroke? He had a body temperature above 42 degrees C, a “medical emergency requiring hospitalization”? If your center had heat stroke, you let him play all game, and by some miracle he’s still alive, I wouldn’t be advertising that fact. I’d be thanking God, and/or offering Cullumber’s family a settlement check to keep quiet. I guess we can forgive Price, as long as nothing like this (your center having a stroke) has ever happened before. Wait…OH SHIT!
  • Price on putting the fear of God into the opposing team: “We may change the game plan. It may depend on who plays at the running back and quarterback position. We’ll probably hold that for a while, and let Houston try to figure out what kind of an offense we’re going to run”…He doesn’t know what the game plan is, or who is playing. But that’s a positive! Because the Cougars don’t know, either!
  • Price on leaving me speechless: “I thought after this game that the season was over, but it’s not. I had to look at the schedule and remind myself that we have eight games left on our schedule”…I honestly have nothing to say. This statement makes fun of itself.
  • Price on sounding creepy and old: “[Case Keenum]’s a neat guy, a neat kid, a coach’s son”…a neat kid? Really? My grandpa thinks you just made yourself sound old.
  • Price on making stuff up: “I feel good about our running game. We made some good runs against Texas, surprisingly”…I guess if you don’t have anything positive to cling to, you just make something up. What actually happened on Saturday was that the Miners ran for 9 yards on 25 carries. I guess Price was so surprised by UTEP’s good runs against UT-Austin because he conjured them up in his head about six seconds before he said this.
  • Price on dreaming about the impossible: “I would have liked to have been 4-0 right now”…Sure, we lost to lousy Buffalo, and got outscored 98-14 by Kansas and Austin, but our coach would like to have won those games. UTEP Miner Football, Feel the Exicement!!

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NIU_Huskies66.) Northern Illinois (written by ElViento)

’08 Record: 6-7 (5-3 MAC)

Overview: The 2002 Northern Illinois squad set many records on its way to a 10-2 season. That year’s Huskies started the season 7-0, becoming the first non-BCS team to crack the BCS top-10, and the first MAC team to beat two ranked BCS-conference teams. Unfortunately, under head coach Joe Novak, NIU’s season record got worse for the next four years in a row, culminating in a 2-10 season in ’07. Novak rode off into the sunset, leading to the Jerry Kill era in DeKalb.

Kill (hehe, his name is Kill! *giggles like a girl*) came to NIU from Division 1-AA Southern Illinois, where he was the 1-AA coach of the year in 2004 and 2007. In 2005, Kill had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor on his kidney. Soon after, Kill founded the Coach Kill Cancer Fund (my new favorite-named thing of all time) to help low-income Illinois families and individuals pay for treatment.

Kill brought Offensive Coordinator Matt Limegrover and Defensive Coordinator Tracy Claeys with him from SIU, and in the staff’s first season, NIU finished the regular season 6-6, making it to a bowl game for the third straight even year. The Huskies would fall 17-10 to Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl. In year one of the Kill era, the offense improved, especially in the rushing game, but the most noticeable improvement was the defense. A defense that featured 11 returning starters, including first-round-draft-pick-to-be Larry English improved by 136 yards and 12.8 points per game. The defense held five of eight MAC opponents to 14 points or fewer, and helped get NIU dangerously close to a pair of upsets. (The Huskies suffered four-point losses at the hands of both Minnesota and Tennessee.)

Losing English and a number of defensive starters figures to set the NIU defense back somewhat in 2009, so it’ll be up to an experienced offense to take charge and get the Huskies to back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time in school history.

Reasons for Optimism: The running game figures to be very good again in 2009. Quarterback Chandler Harnish led the team with 539 yards rushing as a true freshman in ’08, despite missing some time due to injury. As a team, NIU averaged 4.4 yards per carry in ’08, a number that should climb this year with the return of Harnish, and a stable of talented running backs that includes sophomore Me’co Brown (510 yards, 4.6 ypc, 2 TD), junior Chad Spann (429 yards, 4.9 ypc, 8 TD) and senior Justin Anderson (209 yards, 3.9 ypc, 2 TD). Anderson rushed for over 1,200 yards in ’07, but missed much of last year due to injury. The offensive line is experienced, which also bodes well for the run game, and things usually get better in year two under a new coach, as the Huskies will have had an extra year to learn Limegrover’s systems. (By the way: Kill? Limegrover? I hereby nominate give NIU the award for the Coolest Named Coaching Staff in College Football.)

Overall, the future of the NIU offense looks bright, with talented sophomores at QB (Harnish), RB (Brown), and Wide Receiver (Nathan Palmer).

Reasons for Pessimism: There is no real proven commodity at Wide Receiver, as the leading returning pass-catcher, Palmer, managed just 30 yards receiving in the last eleven games of the year, after racking up 248 in the first two. More perplexing is that I can’t find any indication that Palmer was injured. He just seemed to fall off the map. Maybe an NIU fan can help us with this one.

The WRs will need to step up, and Harnish will need to improve upon his ’08 passing numbers (56% completions, 8-9 TD-INT ratio). If Harnish has trouble through the air, don’t be surprised to see some of fellow sophomore DeMarcus Grady under center.

The big test for Kill and Claeys will be trying to put together a successful defense without the loaded group that was handed to them last year. Kill has remained confident in this year’s defense, but with just four returning starters, there are few outside of the DeKalb city limits who match his optimism.

Still, the defense could be better than some might expect. The secondary features talented returnees in David Bryant (83 tackles, 3 PBU) and Mike Sobol (67 tackles, 3 TFL). The linebacking corps will need increased production from Alex Kube, Cory Hanson and John Tranchitella. All three had promising 2007 seasons, but took on smaller roles in ’08. The D-line figures to be a weakness in front of them, so the trio will have to be up to snuff.

Season Prediction: The non-conference schedule for NIU features a pair of should-be-a-win-just-don’t-take-it-for-granted home games, in Western Illinois and Idaho. It also features a pair of roadies at Big Ten teams (Wisconsin and Purdue) who are probably thinking the same thing about the Huskies. The MAC West is tough, and NIU’s MAC East draw did them no favors, as they will face a couple of potential surprise teams in Ohio and Akron. Northern Illinois’s season will definitely have its highlights, but I don’t know if they’ll go bowling. I foresee another 6-6 regular season with only one home loss (Western Michigan) and only one road win (Miami RedHawks). That would make NIU bowl ineligible, if my understanding of NCAA rules is correct. Even if that happens, however, with a young team coming back in 2010, the Huskies figure to keep that going-bowling-in-the-even-years thing alive.

Top Web Destination: NIU Dog Pound

UTEP miners65.) UTEP (written by SarCoog)

’08 Record: 5-7 (4-4 CUSA)

Overview: There’s no question that coach Mike Price has accomplished more than most all of his predecessors in El Paso. But it’s high time for Price and company to improve upon the 5-7 record that the Miners have finished at 2 of the last 3 seasons. The most distressing thing for Miner fans has to be the team’s 3-14 record in the 2nd half of the season from 2006-08… talk about not finishing strong. The pieces are definitely in place on offense and now the question is whether the defense can at least become good enough not to blow games at critical times (see: Houston and Rice games last year).

He didn’t come in as a heralded QB, but junior Trevor Vittatoe (246-418, 3,274 yards, 33 TD, 9 INT) could very well be the best signal caller in school history. Outside of Houston’s Case Keenum, there’s isn’t a CUSA QB that’s as good as Vittatoe. The only real question mark on offense is a running game that doesn’t have a proven back to work with. Junior Donald Buckram (348 rushing yards, 4.6 yards/carry, 2 TD) leads all returning backs in yards and will compete with sophomore Daniel Thomas (132 rushing yards, 3.2 yards/carry) for time in the backfield. The Miner faithful ought to be happy with this receiver group that returns its top 2 guys: junior Kris Adams (50 receptions, 958 yards, 14 TD) and senior Jeff Moturi (51 receptions, 655 yards, 9 TD) plus a good all-purpose guy in junior James Thomas II (134 passing yards, 351 rushing yards, 125 receiving yards). Up front on the line the Miners lose inspirational leader Robby Felix, but return a good deal of experience. Junior C Tanner Cullumber takes over for Felix and started games against Houston and ECU last season. Senior OG Cameron Raschke and senior OT Mike Aguayo are both multi-year starters who’ve earned Honorable Mention All-CUSA honors.

Things might be fairly settled on offense, but the same can’t be said for the defense. It is the second year of defensive coordinator Osia Lewis and his unique 3-3-5 scheme that he brought from New Mexico. The numbers and results were absolutely awful last year, as the Miners finished 115th nationally in total defense, 112th in run defense and 104th in rush defense. The key to this defense improving is the return of senior S Braxton Amy, who missed all of ’08 with an ACL tear and led the team with 112 tackles in ’07. Up front, the Miners return 2 starting linemen: senior NT Steve Riddick (32 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks) and S&H all-name team candidate junior DE Robert Soleyjacks (28 tackles, 2.5 TFL). The Miners lose two starting linebackers, but bring in talented sophomore Justin Hickman who transferred in from the Juco ranks and was one of the top prep linebackers in Illinois 2 years ago. The lone returning LB starter is junior Anthony Morrow (44 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks) who’s the 2nd leading tackler among all returning players. However the ‘X Factor’ on this Miner defense will be senior Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith (77 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 2 INT) who plays the linebacker/safety hybrid position called ‘Miner’. Finally senior CBs Melvin Stephenson II (38 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 2 INT) and Cornelius Brown (29 tackles, 3 INT) are both returning starters.

Reasons for Optimism: Most everyone of significance has returned on offense and Trevor Vittatoe has improved each year as a QB, which bodes well for an already good looking offense. If there’s not too much of a drop-off from the ‘big uglies’ up front, then I expect this team will have one of the more prolific offenses in a CUSA that’s full of high-powered units. The running game wasn’t great last year, so there shouldn’t be too much of a dropoff with a talented group of newcomers. The defense was bad last year, but was racked by injuries and learning a completely new system. I think Braxton Amy and Da’Mon Cr0martie-Smith will lead an improved defense.

Reasons for Pessimism: This is an issue for a lot of teams, but if Vittatoe goes down then the Miner offense is going to have all kinds of problems. Senior Kyle Wright (1-9, 2 yards) looked bad in limited action last year (especially against New Mexio State) and redshirt freshman Tim Curry was a promising recruit, but hasn’t seen any game action. There were good reasons why the Miner defense was bad last year, but I don’t expect a bad defense to become tops in the CUSA in a seasons time. If the defense is near as bad as last year, there may not be a bowl bid in this team’s future.

Season Prediction: I expect that the Miners will do well enough for coach Mike Price to keep his job at the end of the year. The non-conference has a couple winnable games (Buffalo and @ New Mexico State) and 2 difficult match-ups with Big 12 opponents (Kansas and @ Texas). The most likely scenario is a 2-2 record heading into CUSA play. When it comes to conference play, the Miners get Houston and Tulsa at home and I think they could win at least one of those games. They also have relatively easy road trips to Tulane, Rice and SMU. A 7-5 record should be the expectation in El Paso.

Top Web Destination: Miner Digs

Vanderbilt_Commodores64.) Vanderbilt (written by SarCoog)

’08 Record: 7-6 (4-4 SEC)

Overview: There are few fan bases in college football that are longer suffering than the Commodore faithful. After all they’re an elite academic institution that plays in a conference full of teams with considerably fewer obstacles to recruiting the most talented players. I really can’t think of a situation in college football that’s a bigger challenge than Vandy. Last season coach Bobby Johnson guided the ‘Dores to a 16-14 win in the Music City Bowl against Boston College and that was the program’s first bowl win since 1955. This was especially sweet because of how close the team came to bowl bids under Johnson in 2005 and 2007 (both teams won 5 games).

Since the graduation of VU’s all-time leading passer and former 1st round draft pick Jay Cutler, the QB position has been a weak point. Chris Nickson was a former Alabama ‘Mr. Football’ award winner that had a decent ’06 season following the departure of Cutler and was the starter for all 6 of Vandy’s regular season wins last year. Senior Mackenzi Adams (77-156, 882 yards, 5 TD, 8 INT) has the most experience, but struggled and was injured much of last year. The starter in last year’s Music City Bowl win was sophomore Larry Smith (19-34, 167 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) and he’s the favorite to start. In the backfield, senior RB Jared Hawkins (593 rushing yards, 4.3 yards/carry, 4 TD) is a big power back and the leading returning rusher. Conversely, the receiving corps is way less experienced and sophomore TE Brandon Barden (20 receptions, 209 yards, 4 TD) is the most experienced guy. Senior WR Justin Wheeler would’ve been a major contributor, but a spring injury will likely keep him out for the year. Thankfully the top QB will be protected by an offensive line that returns all 5 starters. Senior C Bradley Viering has a good chance of being an All-SEC selection.

It’s fair to say that the defense carries this team for much of last year and things should only get better with 9 starters back. The only significant loss is D.J. Moore, who led the team with 6 interceptions, while earning multiple All-SEC and All-American honors in his career. Up front, the ‘Dores return 4 upperclassmen with starting experience. Senior DE Broderick Stewart (29 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 5 sacks) and senior DE Steven Stone (42 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 5 sacks) tied for the team lead in sacks last year. Senior DT Greg BillingerP (47 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks) led all defensive linemen in total tackles. In addition, all 3 starting linebackers return, including 2nd All-SEC LB Patrick Benoist (109 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 3 sacks) and sophomore Chris Marve (105 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 3 sacks). Admittedly the secondary is going to miss its heart and soul in Moore. But junior CB Myron Lewis (76 tackles, 7 TFL, 5 sacks) is a tall corner that can be physical in coverage and go up for run support. Senior FS Ryan Hamilton (104 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1 sack) is entering his 4th year as a starter. Finally, while I don’t usually devote much time to special teams, the ‘Dores punting was terrible and needs to improve (35.7 yards/punt average).

Oh and as a completely random note, former VU QB Kurt Page was the head football coach at my alma mater (St. Thomas High School) for 2 years and practically ruined the program. What does that have to with the current state of Vandy football? Nothing.

Reasons for Optimism: Hey, if you’re a Vandy fan last year was a cause to celebrate. Sure, a 7-6 season seems mediocre… but tell that to all the former Vandy players and coaches in the last 20+ years that didn’t get a chance to go to a bowl. The famed College Gameday even came to the school for a show! This team returns a whopping 17 starters and typically this kind of experience equates to success in college football. The offense has an experienced line and should open some holes for Hawkins. Also, a good and experienced defense should get even better with 9 starters back.

Reasons for Pessimism: The offense wasn’t that good last year and they lose their most effective QB (Nickson). There’s also a real lack of experienced receivers to throw to and that’s not going to help Smith or Adams. Also, while the defense is good they’ll now be without their best playmaker in Moore. It’s also fair to say this team won some tight games last year and they may have to get lucky at times this year… unless the offense improves a lot.

Season Prediction: It’s hard to say where there was this much hope around Vandy football. Last year’s team was inexperienced (only 9 starters returning) and they still found a way to go bowling. Things aren’t ‘black and white’ in football, but I believe this team will equal last year’s 6-6 record. Because the relatively difficult schedule though, I could see this team finishing at 5-7.

Top Web Destinations: VandyMania or Vandy Sports

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