Orlando Sentinel college insider Matt Murschel has ranked all 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 125 to our projected No. 1 team.
Today at No. 39: Vanderbilt
Coach: James Franklin (15-11 entering third season, 15-11 overall).
2012 results: 9-4 (5-3 in SEC, fourth place in SEC East)
Offensive starters returning: 7
Offensive starters lost: 4
Defensive starters returning: 7
Defensive starters lost: 4
Key losses: RB Zac Stacy, QB Jordan Rodgers, DT Rob Lohr, DT Colt Nichter, OT Ryan Seymour
Top returnees: WR Jordan Matthews, WR Chris Boyd, S Kenny Ladler, S Javon Marshall, CB Andre Hal, LB Chase Garnham, DE, Walker May, DE Kyle Woestmann, DE Caleb Azubuike
Look back: In just his second season at the helm, coach James Franklin has turned Vandy football from a laughingstock to a middle-of-the-pack program in the nation's best football conference. The Commodores' nine wins were their most since 1915 and three more than 2011 when Franklin led the team to twice as many wins (six) as the previous two seasons combined.
Vanderbilt closed the season on a seven-game winning streak, with five of those victories by a margin of 14 points or more. Franklin's team was solid on both sides of the ball, ranking fifth in the league in total defense and a eighth in total offense.
Strengths: Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd make up one of college football's top receiver tandems, accumulating 144 catches and 2,097 yards last season. Vanderbilt is deeper on the offensive line, but has to replace its quarterback and tailback. The Commodores' experience secondary will be the strength of the defense.
The unit features cornerback Andre Hal and safeties Kenny Ladler (90 stops in '12) and Javon Marshall (83 tackles). Linebacker Chase Garnham (84 tackles) also is back to help anchor a unit that features six returning starters.
Vanderbilt boasts some good, young pass rushers on the defensive line, led by junior end Kyle Woestmann (six sacks and 9 1/2 tackles for a loss in the final seven games). During the spring game, the first and second team defensive units combined for 12 sacks and 19 tackles for loss.
Weaknesses: The run game will have to replace Zac Stacy, the school's all-time leading rusher. A fifth-round NFL draft pick, Stacy gained 1,141 yards and averaged 5.5 yards a carry last year. The Commodores lose 59 starts at defensive tackle between Rob Lohr and Colt Nichter and have only three players returning who logged meaningful snaps at the position in 2012.
During spring workouts, coaches moved highly touted offensive lineman Adam Butler, a redshirt freshman, to defensive tackle. Tight end remains an area of concern, too.
Outlook: While pleased with the progress of his program, Franklin is not getting ahead of himself. “Schools in this league have been signing top-10 recruiting classes for the last 280 years,” he said jokingly. “We've done that well for the last two years.”
This year, the team's success will hinge on the play of senior quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels. He was a two-year starter at Wyoming, but he now will have to take on SEC defenses a season after backing up starting quarterback Jordan Rodgers.