Coach: Bobby Johnson (4th season, 6-29) 2004 record: 2-9 SEC finish: 1-7 (t-5th East) 2004 I-A offensive rankings: Rushing: 65th (148.5) Passing: 83rd (186.3) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 95th (194.5) Passing: 53rd (208.0)
at Wake Forest
at South Carolina
Depth Chart: Offense
6 returning starters in red
Depth Chart: Defense
5 returning starters in red
To order your 2005 Athlon Sports annual and receive $1 off plus free shipping courtesy of SI.com, click here.
Fourth-year coach Bobby Johnson, who has won just two games in each of his three years at Vanderbilt, said all losing seasons are difficult, but the 2004 campaign was the most frustrating of his coaching career.
"We felt like we were close enough to win enough games to get to a bowl," Johnson said. "It was very frustrating. Sometimes you just wanted to pull your hair out."
Johnson said there were plenty of factors involved in the Commodores' collapses. "There were different circumstances, but it would have helped to have a little more depth and more experience in some positions. Maybe some coaching calls, too. It all goes into it. Nobody is avoiding blame."
Now, with 11 starters back, including standout quarterback Jay Cutler, Johnson and the Commodores are hoping the '05 season offers another opportunity to break through.
Cutler flirted with the idea of entering the NFL Draft following his junior season but opted to return for one more tour through the SEC.
"We feel like Jay will be the best quarterback in the league this year," said Johnson. "He can do it all, and we need to take advantage of that."
The tragic death of starting tailback Kwane Doster in the offseason has created an opportunity for two young backs to take on the majority of the rushing load. Jeff Jennings, who scored five touchdowns on just 46 carries as a true freshman in '04, will be the primary ballcarrier, but combo back Cassen Jackson-Garrison will also be a big part of the attack.
Erik Davis isn't the quickest receiver in the league, but the senior has a knack for making tough catches all over the field. Marlon White, who caught seven passes for 118 yards against Tennessee, is the Commodore most likely to stretch the field.
The Commodores welcome back six players who started at least two games on the offensive line in '04, but it would be a stretch to call this a veteran unit.
The coaching staff felt a need to add speed to the defensive line after the Commodores finished 11th in the SEC with just 13 sacks in '04. Enter Herdley Harrison. The senior has 28 career starts at outside linebacker but made the move to defensive end in the spring. Lamar Divens saw significant action at end as a true freshman but has moved his 300-pound body inside.
There are five former Commodore linebackers currently in the NFL. Moses Osemwegie will soon be the sixth. The Nashville native was a first-team All-SEC pick last year after finishing second in the league with 9.4 tackles per game. Kevin Joyce, who has impressed the coaches with his work ethic since he stepped foot on campus, will take over for Harrison on the strong side.
With two starters gone and a key player making a position switch, the Vanderbilt secondary will have a different look this fall. Andrew Pace, a two-year starter at strong safety, has taken over at boundary cornerback. Junior Sean Dixon is the likely starter at the other corner spot. Dependable Kelechi Ohanaja will be back for his third year as the starting free safety, while Reshard Langford takes over for Pace at strong safety.
For the second consecutive season, the place-kicking at Vanderbilt was a debacle. Patrick Johnson started the season strong -- he made five of his first six attempts -- but struggled mightily down the stretch. Johnson kicked well in the spring, but he will have to beat out redshirt freshman Daniel Lee and incoming freshman Bryant Hahnfeldt in the fall. Sophomore Kyle Keown, who had a serviceable 37.1-yard average in spot duty last season, will take over the punting duties.
Vanderbilt fans have become accustomed to misery in the fall, but the 2004 football season was especially painful. The Commodores lost five games by five points or less and blew double-digit leads against Ole Miss, Rutgers, Florida and Kentucky en route to a 2-9 season.
The 2005 campaign offers Vanderbilt yet another chance to break through. Despite some significant personnel losses, the talent level should be comparable to last season. If this team can take the next step and find a way to win the close games, Vanderbilt could make a moderate jump in the win column.