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Every move toward optimism deserves an equal and opposite reaction, and that holds true for Vanderbilt football.

A story entitled, “How Vanderbilt football could win all 12 games this season,” appeared in this space before preseason camp kicked off Friday. To break down the flip side of that coin, here is a factor in each game that could give Vanderbilt a better chance of losing: 

MTSU

MTSU’s usually high-powered offense has fizzled against Derek Mason’s defense in three straight losses to Vanderbilt. But this game will be new defensive coordinator Jason Tarver’s play-calling debut after spending the past six years in the NFL. He has an adept defensive mind, but there could be an adjustment period to the college game.

Vanderbilt football: How Vanderbilt administrators undercut fundraising for football stadium

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The final day of SEC football media closes with Auburn, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Adam Sparks and Joe Rexrode wrap up the session.
Nashville Tennessean

Nevada

Nevada is coming off a 3-9 season, but it appears to be on an upward trajectory. At its best, the Wolf Pack offense can pass the ball and score quickly. If Vanderbilt’s offense is still figuring out its identity in Week 2, an early deficit at home could put the Commodores in a high-pressure position. This is no gimme game for Vanderbilt.

At Notre Dame

Ever been to South Bend? Vanderbilt has only once, and it lost 41-0 there in 1995. One year later, the Commodores lost 14-7 at home versus Notre Dame. Don’t let Notre Dame’s slide from national title status in recent years fool you. Winning there is difficult. Plus, the Fighting Irish are good, ranked No. 11 in the coaches poll.

South Carolina

Vanderbilt has lost six straight SEC openers, four under Mason and two under James Franklin. Granted, four of those six losses were decided by a touchdown or less. But history says Vanderbilt doesn’t start its SEC slate well.

Tennessee State

Could Vanderbilt lose to a neighboring FCS school? Keep in mind the Commodores struggled early in the 2016 homecoming game against Tennessee State and fell behind 17-14 late in the first half before pulling away. After facing two tough teams, Vanderbilt must avoid the midseason drop-off it suffered last season.

At Georgia

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Georgia steamrolled Vanderbilt at the line of scrimmage last season. Will the Commodores be better running the ball without all-time leading rusher Ralph Webb or defend the run with a mostly rebuilt front seven? Coaches think they will improve in both areas, but a lot of progress must be made to keep this game close.

Florida

Knock on wood, quarterback Kyle Shurmur stays healthy all season. But coming off a physical Georgia game and entering the second half of the season, Vanderbilt’s potential vulnerability at backup quarterback could start to become a factor in these SEC games. With the suspension of Deuce Wallace, Vanderbilt has no backups with Division I experience.

At Kentucky

Mason’s belief that the defensive line will be good and deep will be tested in this stretch run. Kentucky’s Benny Snell, the SEC’s top returning rusher, will run through the Commodores if they’re worn down by a third straight run-heavy opponent.

At Arkansas

Arkansas’ coaching change could help or hurt Vanderbilt. It should be an awkward transition from the Razorbacks’ pro-style offense to new coach Chad Morris’ up-tempo spread attack. However, this is Arkansas’ ninth game, when it should have things figured out. The Razorbacks play Ole Miss and Tulsa in the ensuing games, so they could be vying for a three-game win streak.

At Missouri

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Could Missouri be an SEC East contender? Most say no. But the Tigers won their last six regular-season games, including blowouts of Florida, Tennessee and Vanderbilt in consecutive weeks. Don’t undervalue Missouri’s ability to put up a lot of points, especially with quarterback Drew Lock and nine offensive starters returning.

Ole Miss

Matt Luke’s ascension from Ole Miss interim coach to permanent coach began with a 57-35 win over Vanderbilt last October, his first SEC victory. A.J. Brown and DeMarkus Lodge caught two TDs apiece, and they both return to lead one of the best collections of wide receivers in the country.

Rexrode: Vanderbilt can’t raise money for football? That’s ridiculous.

Tennessee

Will the Vols be completely fixed by November? Probably not, but they could improve on defense quicker than anywhere else under Jeremy Pruitt, the former defensive coordinator at Georgia and Alabama. Vanderbilt has scored 43.5 points per game in back-to-back wins over UT. If Pruitt can cut that number in half, the Vols could turn the rivalry back in their favor.

Reach Adam Sparks at asparks@tennessean.com and on Twitter @AdamSparks.

 

Vanderbilt football tickets

Single-game tickets: Tickets to the MTSU ($25 plus fees), Nevada ($25), South Carolina ($55) and TSU ($25) games are on sale. Visit vucommodores.com or call 615-322-GOLD.

Taste of Tennessee tickets: Three-game mini plan is on sale for $120 plus fees. It includes tickets to MTSU, TSU and Tennessee games. The first 500 ticket-buyers also receive a $15 gift card to Puckett’s or any A. Marshall Hospitality location (Deacon’s New South, Puckett’s Boat House, Scout’s Pub, Homestead Manor).