Vanderbilt finished 2022 with a surprising 5-7 record. This included wins over Kentucky and Florida towards the end of their season. This year, sportsbooks seem to expect a step back. FanDuel Sportsbook has opened the bidding on Vanderbilt’s win total at 3.5, with the over juice to -170 (63%). Unsurprisingly, Vanderbilt is tied with Missouri and Kentucky for the longest odds to win the SEC at +10000. Let’s dive into the 2023 Vanderbilt football season preview as we make some predictions and futures bets.
2023 Vanderbilt Football Season Preview & Predictions: Roster Overview
Vanderbilt Football 2023 Season Preview: Coaching Staff
On the coaching staff, Vanderbilt returns Clark Lea for his third season. Lea is 7-17 with Vanderbilt, which should be viewed as a success. Lea retains offensive coordinator Joey Lynch, who previously coordinated Colorado State’s offense. The same goes for Nick Howell on the defensive side of the ball. He coordinated Virginia’s defense from 2016-2021 before coming over to Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt Football 2023 Season Preview: Offense
Last year, Mike Wright began the year as the starting quarterback, but A.J. Swann took over as the season went on. Wright has since departed via the portal, leaving Swann as the clear starter. Swann is a big-bodied quarterback with a 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame. He completed 58.1% of his passes for 6.4 yards per attempt, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions last season. Swann struggled to avoid sacks last year and recorded -76 rushing yards, which is where Wright’s loss could be next season.
Overall, Swann was the 14th-ranked quarterback out of 16 qualifiers in the SEC last year, per PFF. The team also has Ken Seals, who started for Vanderbilt through much of 2021. He only completed 56.7% of his passes for 5.3 yards per attempt, five scores, and eight interceptions. However, an experienced backup has been a rarity at Vanderbilt.
At running back, Vanderbilt lost stud running back Ray Davis to Kentucky. They seem to have a few decent replacements in Patrick Smith and Chase Gillespie. Smith stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 185 pounds. He rushed 55 times for 129 yards last year. He averaged a poor 1.89 yards after contact per carry and a missed tackle on only 21.8% of his rushes. His efficiency metrics came in ahead of only LSU’s John Emery.
Gillespie also stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 185 pounds. He rushed 27 times for 118 yards season, looking more efficient than Smith but on a smaller sample. The rest of the depth chart looks completely unsettled. True freshman Sedrick Alexander has been receiving hype since he enrolled early. With such little production returning, he could quickly step into a role. Ultimately, it is reasonable to expect a step back after losing a stud like Davis.
Vanderbilt returns all three of their top receivers in Will Sheppard, Jayden McGowan and Quincy Skinner Jr. Sheppard measures 6-foot-3 and weighs in at 200 pounds. He led the team with 60 catches for 768 yards and nine scores on 116 targets. He ranked 19th in the SEC with 2.12 yards per route run and lined up in the slot just 19.6% of the time.
McGowan stands 5-foot-8 and weighs 177 pounds. He finished second on the team with 45 catches for 460 yards and three scores. He enters just his second year with the team after finishing 27th with 1.83 yards per route run and lining up in the slot on 42.9% of his routes.
Skinner stands 6-foot-2, weighs 205 pounds and finished as the third-best receiver with 17 catches for 236 yards and two scores on just 24 targets. Skinner battled injuries through 2022, but he finished with a solid 1.62 yards per route on an 18.5% slot rate. He now enters his third season.
Gamarion Carter is back for depth after catching six balls for 127 yards last year. However, Vanderbilt often used two tight ends instead of involving extra receivers.
Speaking of the tight end position, Ben Bresnahan and Gavin Schoenwald are both gone, leaving just 227 returning snaps from Justin Ball. Ball stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 245 pounds. He caught only five balls for 67 yards last year and spent over half of his snaps blocking.
Cole Spence will likely play more as well after a single special teams snap last year. He was a three-star recruit from last year’s class and stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 237 pounds. Kamrean Johnson is another option as a WR/TE hybrid. Specific packages could involve Johnson early this year.
Along the offensive line, Vanderbilt lost just right tackle Jacob Brammer. He played the most of anyone on this unit, but he certainly did not play well. Their left tackle, Gunnar Hansen, returns after playing 640 snaps. He should start again this year. Junior Uzebu should play right tackle after seeing 517 snaps himself last year.
On the interior, Julian Hernandez returns after playing 621 snaps. Bradley Ashmore should play left guard after participating in 518 snaps. Delfin Xavier Castillo is the main candidate for right guard after he played 344 snaps last year before getting injured six games into the season. He played both center and guard last year, giving him versatility.
Ultimately, Vanderbilt returns plenty of snaps along the offensive line, but most of these players struggled to contend with SEC competition. In addition to the returning starters, Gage Pitchford and Ben Cox played 260 and 240 snaps respectively. Overall, this group will rely on year-over-year growth on a roster deficient of talent required to play in the SEC.
Vanderbilt Football 2023 Season Preview: Defense
Vanderbilt ranked 126th on defense in 2022. This included the 116th-ranked run defense, 131st-ranked pass rush and 115th-ranked secondary. The defense lost a number of starters along the defensive line and in the secondary. To ease their losses, Vanderbilt brought in five transfers and one four-star recruit. However, the transfer portal currently hurts teams like Vanderbilt more than it helps.
On the defensive line, Vanderbilt lost most of its players with starting experience. The edge group actually looks a little more sound with Nate Clifton returning 431 snaps and Aeneas DiCosmo transferring in from Stanford. With Michael Owusu gone, this group could struggle with depth.
The Commodores lost both Christian James and Malik Langham at defensive tackle. With little experience remaining among this unit, Yilanan Ouattara and Devin Lee project to start. Neither played more than 208 snaps last year. Vanderbilt also added former Stanford defensive tackle Jacob Katona, but he doesn’t bring any on-field experience.
At linebacker, Vanderbilt lost Anfernee Orji, but the team returns Ethan Barr and Kane Patterson. Barr played 448 snaps in 2022 and Patterson played 328. The pair accounted for 42 and 39 tackles last year, which should be a solid foundation for the linebacker position this year.
Vanderbilt also brought in Prince Kollie from Notre Dame. He only played 136 snaps last year but played well on the limited snaps. Cason Casteel also comes over from Michigan State, but he doesn’t have any experience. Altogether, this looks like the deepest position on the Vanderbilt defense.
The secondary has a few question marks after losing starters BJ Anderson, Jeremy Lucien, Maxwell Worship and most recently Ja’Dais Richard to the transfer portal. The slot corner, CJ Taylor, has the most experience with 529 snaps. He ranked second on the team with five pass breakups last year. Tyson Russell played 390 snaps himself, recording one pass breakup and 32 tackles. With that said, he still doesn’t have a ton of starting experience.
The final corner position comes in as a complete unknown following the transfer of Richard. The next most experienced option is Jeffery Ugochukwu with 74 snaps in 2022. Vanderbilt did add Nyzier Fourqurean from Grand Valley State at the corner position, but this remains a massive jump in competition. Vanderbilt may be wise to hit the portal again or look at some of their youth.
At safety, both De’Rickey Wright and Jaylen Mahoney return after playing 659 and 644 snaps. Wright led the team with seven pass breakups last year. The pair also recorded over 50 tackles each. It should be noted that Vanderbilt’s only four-star recruit comes in at defensive back Martel Hight is the 398th-ranked player in this class and could find the field quickly.
2023 Vanderbilt Football Season Preview: Schedule & Predictions
Vanderbilt Football 2023 Schedule
As far as SEC schedules go, Vanderbilt’s doesn’t come in as particularly difficult. They’ll host Hawaii and Alabama A&M before traveling to play Wake Forest and UNLV in non-conference play.
Vanderbilt crosses over to the SEC West for a home game against Auburn and a road game against Ole Miss. The Commodores will host Kentucky, Missouri and Georgia this year but will visit Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Vanderbilt Football Futures Bet & Prediction
Ultimately, Vanderbilt comes in last in terms of odds to win the SEC. Rather than bet their postseason futures, the win total looks a little more enticing.
Vanderbilt has three games in non-conference play for which they should be favored. Post-Sam Hartman Wake Forest could even be closer than people think. Ultimately, Vanderbilt needs to pick off Wake Forest or a random SEC school to reach four wins.
Like last year, the SEC upset could happen at any point. That means it’s an entirely reasonable Vanderbilt football prediction to have them recording four or five wins in 2023. Playing Vanderbilt to go over 3.5 wins at -170 via FanDuel makes for a sharp bet.
Best Vanderbilt Football Futures Bet: Over 3.5 Wins -170 at FanDuel
You can read the rest of Matt Gajewski’s 2023 college football season previews and predictions below!
- Alabama Season Preview & Predictions
- Arkansas Season Preview & Predictions
- Auburn Season Preview & Predictions
- Georgia Season Preview & Predictions
- Kentucky Season Preview & Predictions
- LSU Season Preview & Predictions
- Mississippi State Season Preview & Predictions
- Missouri Season Preview & Predictions
- Ole Miss Season Preview & Predictions
- South Carolina Season Preview & Predictions
- Tennessee Season Preview & Predictions
- Texas A&M Season Preview & Predictions