SEC Make-or-Break Factors: Vanderbilt Commodores

Noah Gardner and Lance Dawe continue their series on make-or-break factors for SEC teams in 2021. They break down the Vanderbilt Commodores on Monday, May 24, 2021. Listen to On the Line on ESPN 106.7 (Auburn) and on Fox Sports Central Alabama (Birmingham, Sylacauga, Montgomery) from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. every weekday. Noah Gardner (@pointguardner) and Lance Dawe (@dawepound) break down the latest in Auburn Athletics, the SEC, and beyond. Find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and iHeartRadio.

Go 4-0 in non-conference play.

Vanderbilt has a manageable non-conference slate with its four opponents being East Tennessee State, Colorado State, Stanford and UConn. With one game against an FCS foe (ETSU) and the other against one of the worst FBS programs over the last five years (UConn), non-conference success depends on victories against Stanford and Colorado State.

It won’t be an easy trip to Fort Collins to play Colorado State in week two, but from playing in the SEC, Vanderbilt should be more talented than their Mountain West foe. Getting past Colorado State in week two brings Vanderbilt back home to Nashville to play Stanford, a program that has seen better days since the beginning of the David Shaw tenure a decade ago. In recent years, Vanderbilt has shown the ability to hang with tough teams in the non-conference schedule such as 2017’s victory over Kansas State and 2018’s narrow loss to Notre Dame. With it being a potential statement game for first-year head coach Clark Lea, Vanderbilt may punch above its weight class and shock Stanford early in the season.

If that’s the case and they also get past UConn, Vanderbilt would be looking at a 4-0 record in non-conference play, needing only two SEC wins to get to a bowl game. Whether or not that’s possible is another discussion, but going 4-0 in non-conference play puts Vanderbilt in a position to go to a bowl game and have a surprise season.