Last season: 9-4 (4-4)
All-time record: 581-583-50
SEC titles: None
Opener: Temple on Aug. 28
Vanderbilt went 9-4 for a second consecutive football season last year, with receivers Jordan Matthews and Jonathan Krause having a lot to do with that.
Matthews and Krause combined for 156 receptions for 2,191 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Commodores, who posted back-to-back nine-win seasons for the first time in program history. Those two are gone now along with former head coach James Franklin, and among the top returning pass-catching options for new coach Derek Mason and new offensive coordinator Karl Dorrell is redshirt junior tight end Steven Scheu.
"Filling the void of two great players like that is obviously tough, so I am going to have to step up in a big way," Scheu said at SEC media days. "With this new offense under Karl Dorrell, they really like to spread the ball around and get the tight ends the ball, so I'm really excited about that.
"We don't need one guy to do something outside of himself. We just need everyone to do stuff collectively."
Scheu, a 6-foot-5, 250-pounder from Evansville, Ind., had nine receptions for 123 yards last season. He caught a 34-yard touchdown pass in the 39-35 opening loss to Ole Miss and made three catches for 48 yards in the 23-21 win over Wake Forest that concluded the regular season.
Matthews averaged nearly nine receptions for 113.6 yards per game last season, and Scheu has no problem envisioning some of those numbers coming his way.
"It's something I've wanted to do ever since I've been in college," he said. "I can't really name one big game that I've had yet, so there is more to come."
Vanderbilt fans are certainly hoping there is more to come after Franklin produced three bowl appearances in three years before taking an opportunity at Penn State. There are seven offensive starters back, including junior tailback Jerron Seymour, who rushed for 716 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Six scholarship quarterbacks will try to earn their spots in the pecking order, with Patton Robinette and LSU transfer Stephen Rivers expected to be the two vying for the starting role.
"They all have a little different spin on the ball, so it's nice to work with all of them to get that relationship," Scheu said. "Right now we have no idea who the starter will be, so you have to build a relationship with all of them. I would have liked to know yesterday who the starter will be, but Coach Mason may not name one until the first week of the season."
Five defensive starters are back for the Commodores, whom Mason describes as a bunch of "no-name young men who have a chance to do something great."
Mason was hired in January and immediately began talk of an SEC East championship. He has continued that conversation, citing that the opportunity is now.
"He feels like that if you can't talk about it, then you can't be about it," Scheu said. "What we want to be about is winning an SEC championship, so we've got to talk about it first. We've had some success the last couple of years, and that's just the expectation now, so we're ready to take that next step."
Vanderbilt should feast on Temple, UMass, Charleston Southern and Ole Dominion, and half of its league schedule will be against teams that had losing conference records last season -- Kentucky, Florida, Mississippi State and Tennessee. The Commodores defeated Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the same season for the first time ever last year, but the Commodores have been picked to finished sixth in this year's East race.
Not that low expectations from the outside are new to this program.
"We embrace it," Scheu said. "We look forward to being the underdog, and it's something we've been ever since I've been at Vanderbilt. That's probably what we'll keep being until we win a national championship, but we look forward to that. We have a more talented team this year than in any other since I've been a part of the program the last three years. We're young at receiver, but we're more talented than we've ever been.
"We can't wait until we go out there and prove the nation wrong."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.