- Associated Press - Friday, August 12, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Derek Mason has flipped through a few college football previews and saw his Vanderbilt Commodores slotted around 118th in the country. It’s not a number he likes, and there’s only one way to change it: Win more games.

“It’s very disrespectful to me,” the coach said. “This football team’s got a huge chip on our shoulder.”

He says it’s taken the past two years to “figure out who we are.

“We know who we are now. We’re not worried about that,” he said. “There’s some things we’ve got to iron out with us and college football to help people understand what you get here on West End is going to be good football.”

After three straight bowl seasons, the Commodores have struggled in Mason’s first two years. The coach believes his team is ready to turn things around after a 4-8 season. Vandy has 42 juniors on the roster, along with eight starters back on offense and every starter back on defense.

The Commodores lost two games by a total of four points, including a 9-7 loss to Florida.

“I know we’re better,” Mason said.

Here are some things to know about Vanderbilt:

PASSING AND CATCHING: Mason isn’t playing games at quarterback, making it clear Kyle Shurmur is his starter and Wade Freebeck the backup. Shurmur started the final five games last season as a freshman. His first two starts were wins over Missouri and Kentucky. He threw for 503 yards, with three of his five touchdowns coming in the season finale at Tennessee. C.J. Duncan is back from injury to help at receiver, but Trent Sherfield is expected to be the top pass-catcher.

The receivers also spent about six weeks working with Eagles receiver Jordan Matthews. Mix that with a handful of tight ends, and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig is hoping an offense that ranked 116th last year will be much improved.

ANCHOR DOWN: Every starter is back on defense, where the Commodores improved last season with Mason acting as coordinator. Vandy ranked 28th nationally giving up 350.5 yards per game and 22nd in scoring defense allowing 21 points per game. Linebacker Zach Cunningham was All-SEC after racking up four sacks, four forced fumbles and 16 ½ tackles for loss. Nigel Bowden is back after an injury wiped out most of last season.

SEASON OPENER: The first game has set the tone for the Commodores the past two seasons with last year featuring a 14-12 loss to Western Kentucky. Now Vanderbilt opens against SEC foe South Carolina on Sept. 1.

KEY GAMES: Vanderbilt has a chance to avenge its loss to Western Kentucky on Sept. 24, a road game that follows a visit to Georgia Tech on Sept. 17. The SEC slate features road games at Kentucky (Oct. 8) and Georgia (Oct. 15). Home games include visits from Florida (Oct. 1), Mississippi (Nov. 19) and Tennessee (Nov. 26).

PREDICTION: Vanderbilt should end a two-year bowl drought and could win seven games, which would match its total of the past two years combined.



AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org


Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

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