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College Football Analysis: Can Vanderbilt Win 9 Games in 2012?

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Here is our look at Vandy football for the upcoming 2012 SEC football season. Pay attention to this one as this is our first SEC foe...

Coach: James Franklin (6-7), 2nd year

Team Nickname: Commodores

2011 recap: What seemed to be a "ho-hum" typical Vanderbilt hire turned out to be a coup of sorts for the beleaguered Commodores. When, at the time, high profile Gus Malzahn passed on the VU job, the Commodores turned to Maryland assistant James Franklin. Many were surprised to see the young, energetic, and outspoken Franklin jump start a long stagnant program to a 6-6 (fantastic by Vandy standards) record and a bowl bid (24-31 loss to Cincinnati).

Franklin got off to a fast start beating Elon and Connecticut at home. Ole Miss tripped to Nashville in week 3 and Franklin hung a 30-7 whipping on the Rebels in what ended up being a nightmare season in Oxford. Vandy would drop the next three to South Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia though Franklin and Co still had plenty of fight for Georgia. After an emotional game against Georgia, which saw Vandy rally in the second half and having the ball with a chance to win at the buzzer, Franklin and Georgia's DC Todd Grantham got into a well-documented shouting match. 

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Vandy recovered to get to 4 wins by notching a W over Army and lost narrowly to both Arkansas and Florida. Vandy thumped Kentucky 38-8 before losing to Tennessee in overtime. The Commodores punched their bowl ticket with a 41-7 win over Wake Forest.  
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Best case/Worst case (9-3/5-7) Vanderbilt opens the season with the eyes of college football on them when they kick off the season and host South Carolina on Thursday, August 30. No doubt, there will be much talk about an upset, but if Lattimore is healthy (as has been reported), Carolina should be able to control the clock and make enough plays on defense to get out with the win. Week 2 sends Vandy on the road of Northwestern in what should be a winnable game.  Presbyterian serves as a paid for win and a last chance to tweak things before the meat of the SEC schedule starts.

Franklin will no doubt be looking to settle a score in Athens in week 4, but Georgia will be ready for the Commodores this go round. After a week off, Vanderbilt trips to Missouri for a game that both teams will need if they want to earn a bowl bid (and the valued 15 additional practices). Florida will pay a visit to Vanderbilt on October 13. Last year, Vanderbilt rallied to make things uncertain for a reeling Florida team, but the Gators held on for a 26-21 win. If the Commodores couldn't beat UF last year, when will they?

Following the Gators, Vandy will play host to Auburn in a game that could be telling about Franklin's tenure. Will Vandy be a team that beats the OOC teams, beats Ole Miss and Kentucky and is satisfied? Or will Vandy emerge as a threat to be dealt with week in and week out in the Southeastern Conference? Auburn hired two new coordinntors in the offseason. If Auburn is still figuring things out, this could be a win for Franklin and Co.  The Commodores bowl chances will be buoyed by the next three games with Massachusetts, Kentucky, and Ole Miss next up. Vanderbilt needs to win all three of these games. The last two games will be interesting for Vanderbilt. Tennessee and Wake Forest could be the difference between going bowling or staying home. These two games could be the difference between progress, regression, or status quo (6-6). I look for Vandy to split. Tennessee will be a tough win, but Vandy should be able to notch win 6 against the Deacs. I look for Vandy to continue to be a tough out and win enough to get to a bowl game with another 6-6 record.

Losses: South Carolina, Florida, Georgia

Toss ups: Northwestern, Missouri, Auburn, Tennessee, Wake Forest

Show up and win: Presbyterian, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Ole Miss

Keys:

Jordan Rodgers returns at quarterback along with 2nd team all-SEC tail back Zac Stacy. Jordan Matthews emerged last year as a big play receiver. Overall, Franklin has fifteen starters returning, but the Commodores lose the element of surprise in 2012. The Commodores can still go bowling if injuries don't derail the season. The Commodores will need to be a big play team (18 plays over 40 yards in 2011) if they want to advance beyond a mediocre team.

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Bryant Roberts is a life long SEC fan, has 2 autographed pictures of Steve Spurrier, is addicted to BBQ, and a graduate of Presbyterian College.  Follow him on twitter here.

Get more great college football analysis over at Leftover Hot Dog.