Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Jennifer Risper of Vanderbilt named national defensive player of the year

On Saturday, Jennifer Risper guarded Maryland's Marissa Coleman and gave up 42 points in a heartbreaking loss in the NCAA Sweet 16.

Yesterday, she was named the national defensive player of the year, as voted on by the coaches.

Who undoubtedly voted before Saturday.

It sounds ridiculous, but anybody who's seen Risper play knows how tough she is to score on. And anybody who's seen Coleman play knows what an explosive scorer she is. And Risper, forced to play the post because of injury, gave up four inches to Coleman.

For more details on the award, here's the press release posted on the official Vandy site.

So congrats, Jennifer. We'll miss you and Katrina Wirth next season.

Oh, and Coleman and the Terps overextended themselves so much against the Lady Dores that they ran out of gas in their next outing and lost to Louisville, who'd never been to a ladies' Final Four.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Reshard Langford recognized as Vanderbilt's 'heart and soul'

The Commodores honored 14 players yesterday at the annual football awards banquet. Safety Reshard Langford received the Vanderbilt Hustle Award and got a standing O from the crowd. Coach Jimmy Kiser called him "the heart and soul of this team."

Isn't it refreshing when somebody who's actually talented and who actually plays in games wins the hustle award and not some kid like Rudy? Langford has a good chance to get drafted and/or make an NFL roster.

You can read all about it here on the official Dore site.

Other winners include:

• David Leinweber, Dr. Henry Tyler Academic Achievement Award

• Brett Upson, Special Teams Player of the Year

• Jared Hawkins, Most Valuable Offensive Back

• Brandon Barden, Most Valuable Receiver/Tight End

• Thomas Welch, Most Valuable Offensive Lineman

• Steven Stone, Most Valuable Defensive Lineman

• Chris Marve, Most Valuable Linebacker

• D.J. Moore, Most Valuable Defensive Back

• T.J. Greenstone, Lifter of the Year

• Chavez Scott, Offensive Scout of the Year

• Johnell Thomas, Defensive Scout of the Year

• Patrick Benoist, Captain's Award.

• George Smith, Dedication Award.

Nothing's changed in the Vanderbilt quarterback race

What did we learn from Saturday’s Black and Gold Scrimmage? That we should keep things in perspective.

That won’t be happening next Saturday at Alabama, where Tide fans will pack a 90,000-seat stadium and a million more will watch the game on ESPN, looking for clues to next season.

Bobby Johnson didn’t seem too interested in providing clues to the 1,000 or so fans at Dudley Field on Saturday. For example, everybody but maybe Mackenzi Adams’ mother and grandmother wants to see Larry Smith be the starting quarterback next fall. So how did he do? Well, he was just another quarterback on Saturday, splitting time with Adams and especially Jared Funk, who got a ton of snaps this spring. Oh, and he was sacked twice on the game’s first drive.

Which means nothing. He was wearing a red jersey so all the defenders had to do was touch him. How often do we expect Larry Smith to go down when somebody puts a hand on him? Not much. How often last season did we see our guys put their hands on a mobile quarterback like, say, Miss State’s Tyson Lee and not make the tackle? A lot.

Anyway, if you want a bunch of stats and details about the game, check out the official Commodore site or Mo’s game coverage in Sunday’s Tennessean.

When it comes to the quarterback race, nothing has changed: Larry Smith is the superior athlete and our best chance to compete against SEC defenses but needs more playing time, which is why he worked out with the No. 1 offense so much; Mackenzi Adams has considerably more big-game experience and even some monumental victories which is why he played the least in the spring; and Jared Funk is raw and unproven which is why he got so many snaps in the spring. And don’t forget: The only reason Smith even played against Wake Forest last season and then got a chance in the Music City Bowl was because both Chris Nickson and Adams were hurt. I was discouraged to hear that. Mackenzi is a competitor and he’ll be playing every snap in pre-season practice like it’s the Auburn game. As much as Vanderbilt fans don’t want to hear it, the quarterback race is still up for grabs.

Here are some other things we learned from the spring:

• Best running back behind Jared Hawkins: Kennard Reeves
• Defender most poised for a break-out season: DT Greg Billinger
• Rising star on defense: CB Casey Hayward
• Rising star on offense: WR Terence Jeffers
• Better late than never: WR Alex Washington, who had two touches for 104 yards on Saturday, including a 75-yard TD reception from Funk
• Most underrated player: LB Brent Trice, one of the few true seniors; has a knack for the big play

Here are some redshirt freshmen who could make a splash in the fall:
• WR John Cole
• WR Akeem Dunham
• DB Al Owens
• DB Micah Powell
• DT Rob Lohr
• DT Colt Nichter
• DE Johnell Thomas
• LB DeAndre Jones
• OL Ryan Seymour

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Season over for Lady Dores

Well, I'd planned to watch Vanderbilt play No.1-seed Maryland in the women's Sweet 16 today but I went to the early showing of my daughter's ballet recital so I could watch the men's games, which finished tonight with a classic battle between Villanova and Pitt. Alas, the Panthers, my bracket's team to go all the way, fell at the end.

And so did the Lady Dores. Jennifer Risper's a great player but somebody 5-9 can play the post so long she's exposed, and Maryland's big gun went for 42 as the Terrapins erased an 18-point deficit to advance to the round of eight.

It was a fine season for the Lady Dores, probably the best so far of any of Vandy's sports teams in the 2008-2009 school year.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Vanderbilt spring football game kicks off Saturday

Actually, it's not a traditional spring game. Even though it's called the Black & Gold scrimmage, the team won't split into a Black team and a Gold team. It'll be the offense against the defense in various combinations, like the No. 1 offense vs. the No. 1 defense, and then the No. 2 offense against the No. 3 defense and then maybe the No. 3 offense against the No. 1 defense. In all, there are nine possible combinations if my Vanderbilt math training serves me well (I was an English major).

And they probably won't kick off. You know, Bobby Johnson doesn't want to lose anybody returning kicks. At least, that's the conventional wisdom but you never know.

Anyway, if you're in the Nashville area, head over to Dudley Field. The game starts at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. They'll probably run through 80 plays or so and then you can go get some lunch. If you're there, let me know how it goes. I'm always a little skeptical of the press releases from the athletic department that list the top performers from a scrimmage. For one thing, you never hear about a single offensive lineman. Those guys are practicing, aren't they?

And you'll get lets of details about the third-string quarterback, as if that's going to detract from more questions about when Larry Smith will actually be named the starter.

Have a good Saturday, whatever you're doing.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Vanderbilt's bowling dynasty continues — and yes, it's a big deal

Call it the Elite Eight. The Lady Commie Heavy Ballers are among eight teams invited to the 2009 NCAA Bowling Championship in Detroit April 9-11.

It's not the first time. This will be the fourth straight appearance for the Commodores, who won it all in 2007. That's them at the White House with the former Bowler-in-Chief, who during the visit may or may not have made references to the Special Olympics.

The other teams in this year's tournament are Arkansas State, Fairleigh Dickinson, Delaware State, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Nebraska, Central Missouri and New Jersey City.

Maybe you're wondering how many collegiate women's bowling teams even exist. Glad you asked. There are 59 — 32 of them are Division I but D-2 and D-3 teams are eligible too. In fact, Central Missouri is D-2 and New Jersey City is D-3.

Though the Lady Commie Heavy Ballers are undoubtedly a powerhouse, it never hurts when you have somebody on the selection committee. Vanderbilt Associate Director of Athletics Brian Reese is the Chairman of the NCAA Bowling Committee.

"We take a wide variety of statistics into account including head-to-head meetings, strength of schedule and won-loss records," he said in a press release. "This year the difference among the so-called bubble teams was very small as the number of quality teams in collegiate bowling continues to grow."

And when only eight out of 59 teams get a bid, you've got a lot of bubble teams. So stop whining, Jeff Lebo (coach of the Auburn men hoopsters, among the last teams to be rejected for the NCAA's field of 64).

Anyway, the championship game will be shown live on ESPN2 on April 11. If Vanderbilt makes it to the finals, that'd be a pretty good excuse to wear loose clothing and drink lots of beer, wouldn't it?

By the way, what do think of the name Lady Commie Heavy Ballers? Believe it or not, it didn't take us very long to think that one up.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Reshard Langford's draft status on the rise — while D.J. Moore drops

Who cares if former Vanderbilt safety Reshard Langford didn't get invited to the combine? The man's gonna be playing in the NFL.

On Vanderbilt's pro day on Friday, Langford and D.J. Moore each ran the 40 in 4.55 seconds. Great for Langford, lousy for D.J.

Reshard is a big, strong, imposing-looking safety who I think could wind up at linebacker. D.J.'s a cornerback, and for the past two years everybody's been saying that, sure, he's small but he's really, really fast.

Anyway, Reshard, who was a borderline pick, may have climbed into the fourth round while D.J., who was a possible Top 15 pick, may have fallen into the second round. The man can still play football, of course, but it's funny how fast a player's strengths can become his weaknesses. You know, taking two punts last year all the way down the field to the one-yard line seemed mighty impressive. You've got to be fast. But why didn't he take it all the way to the house? Hmmm. Must not be fast.

So which is it?

It'll be nice when these guys get to an NFL camp and you can throw all these stats out the window.

Oh, both Sean Walker and one of D.J.'s many backups, Jared Fagan, posted 4.4 times. But you won't see them in the NFL. And Chris Nickson looked mighty athletic, even with an injury, which makes you wonder where he'd be if he'd gone to one of those bigger schools that wanted him to play defensive back. Of course, Jay Cutler was in the same boat coming out of high school. Illinois and Purdue wanted him as a safety and Vanderbilt was the only school willing to promise him a chance behind center. And we know how that turned out. Well, at least his college career.

Vanderbilt women's basketball: Lady Dores are the only SEC team left in both NCAA tournaments

Last week, the SEC had 10 basketball teams in the NCAA tournament, including:

Three men's teams:

• LSU (No. 8 seed)
• Tennessee (No. 9)
• Miss State (No. 13)

And seven women's teams:
• Auburn (No. 2)
• Vanderbilt (No. 4)
• Tennessee (No. 5)
• LSU (No. 6)
• Florida (No. 8)
• Miss State (No. 9)
• Georgia (No. 11)

The Lady Dores got shipped off to New Mexico, while the Lady Vols and their many fans got a short trip to Bowling Green. The Lady Dores got a No. 4 seed while the team they beat twice, Auburn, got a No. 2 seed.

Nevertheless, Vanderbilt's the only SEC team in a Sweet 16. LSU was the only men's team to survive the first round before getting blasted by UNC. Meanwhile, the Lady Vols were dominated by Ball State, giving Pat Summitt the first one-and-done season of her career. Georgia was also bounced in the first round. In the second round, Auburn got shocked by Rutgers, and Florida, LSU and State fell to higher seeds.

Vandy plays No. 1 Maryland on Saturday.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

OK, now Vanderbilt's in the Sweet 16

Yesterday, we prematurely announced the Lady Dores were in the Sweet 16. No, it's just like the men's tournament — you've got to win two games, and that's what they did last night by pounding Kansas State 74-61. Jennifer Risper (above) slashed to the basket for 27 points. Now they're in.

Want to hear something weird? If LSU and Florida women lose tonight to higher seeds as expected then the Lady Dores will be the only SEC team to make either the men's or women's Sweet 16. While No. 4 Vandy was dispatching the No. 5 Wildcats, No. 2 Auburn was getting destroyed by No. 7 Rutgers.

Anyway, this weekend the Dores will play the winner of tonight's Maryland-Utah contest.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Vanderbilt spring training notes: Hayward looks Moore-esque, quarterback battle continues, redshirt frosh emerge on D

Guess how many touchdowns the Vandy offense generated in an 80-play scrimmage on Saturday? Um, two.

Guess how many touchdowns the Vandy defense generated while defending on those 80 plays? One.

Sounds kind of like last season, huh?

Speaking of last season, the 80 plays were divided between the three quarterbacks, which is normal for the spring but definitely not normal for a regular season.

Jared Funk, the redshirt junior, is getting tons of snaps in an effort to give him one last chance to compete for playing time. Larry Smith is the heir apparent and if he grabs the starting position in the fall like everybody believes he will, then Mackenzi Adams will be as battle-tested a backup as there is in the SEC, leaving Funk to tote the clipboard or give hand signals or whatever for the fourth straight season. And next spring, if Smith has established himself as the leader of the offense, then all eyes will be on Charlie Goro’s development as the future of the program. So if Jared is going to ever see the field as a Commodore, he’s going to have to play out of his mind this spring or move to another position and bulk up like Steven Bright did a couple of seasons ago when he transformed himself into a pretty good pass-catching H-back.

On Saturday, Funk fumbled his first snap but then settled down and moved the ball with passes to redshirt senior Alex Washington and walk-on Chris DeGeorge, neither expected to give the team much of a boost next season. Four drives later, he got the nod and moved the ball with a pass to Washington and then a 28-yard TD strike to Udom Umoh, a redshirt sophomore who emerged last season after Smith cracked the lineup. It was the only touchdown pass of the scrimmage.

Larry Smith started the scrimmage and moved the ball well but then the coaches stopped the drive in the red zone. Maybe they don’t want Smith to be anointed too early. You know, people like us go crazy whenever Larry does anything good and want him to be the only quarterback on the field in the fall. (Look at our poll on the right. Mackenzi Adams doesn’t have a single vote from fans to be next year's starter.) Smith did move the team into the red zone later in the scrimmage, but underthrew a pass to Turner Wimberly (speaking of former quarterbacks who’ll do anything for playing time) and it was picked off by Casey Hayward and returned 100 yards for a touchdown. Whoops. One high note: Smith’s favorite target — and vice-versa — is Terence Jeffers, who’s without a doubt the team’s biggest weapon at receiver. (Keep going to class and racking up those credit hours, Terence.) He also distributes the ball well, finding tight ends Brandon Barden and Justin Green and receiver Umoh.

Mackenzi Adams’ favorite target on Saturday was Minnesota transfer Tray Herndon, whom he found for three receptions. He also had a 68-yard strike to Umoh, who raced into the end zone, but it was called back because of a penalty. Adams did put together a scoring drive to end the scrimmage, capped by a short plunge by Ryan van Rensburg. The coaches already know what he can – and can’t – do. If Smith falters, the coaches won’t hesitate to put Adams on the field.

Other notes:

• Casey Hayward (pictured above) was the star of the scrimmage. How confident is the sophomore cornerback? He actually told reporters he’d gotten beat by Turner Wimberly and got the pick six because Smith threw a bad pass. Most guys would have just said they knew what was going to happen and held back a little and then broke on the ball. Hayward said he got beat by a guy at the bottom of the depth chart and then got lucky. Lucky people will say they are good. Good people – who know they’re good – will say they are lucky.

• Three receivers were all over the place on Saturday. Redshirt sophomore Udom Umoh caught a pass from each of the three quarterbacks, including a touchdown from Funk and a long touchdown from Adams that was called back. Jeffers, the junior transfer, continued to shine with tough catches. He’s a big, physical receiver – unlike the guys he’s replacing, speedy but slight Sean Walker, drop-plagued George Smith and the injured Justin Wheeler. The other transfer, the sophomore Herndon, also looked sharp, making a spectacular fingertip grab of an Adams pass.

• Receiver Akeem Dunham, defensive tackle T.J. Greenstone, and linebackers Chris Marve, Patrick Benoist and Michael Garcia sat out with minor injuries.

• A bunch of redshirt freshmen had big hits and looked like players on defense, including tackles Rob Lohr and Taylor Loftley, linebacker DeAndre Jones, safety Al Owens and ends Josh Jelesky and Johnell Thomas. Everybody seems to think Jones could be another Chris Marve, who could make people forget about Patrick Benoist — when he finishes his career at the end of this year — even faster than Marve made people forget about Jonathan Goff and Marcus Buggs. But we really need depth at D-Line, where it was a miracle that we survived with only Adam Smotherman, Greg Billinger and Greenstone last season, so it's great that Lohr and Loftley are playing well. Colt Nichter could emerge too. And despite going five deep at end (Steven Stone, Brandon Stewart, Theron Kadri, Teriall Brannon and Tim Fugger), having two or three hungry young guys won't hurt either.

• The three candidates to replace Bryant Hahnfeldt – redshirt freshman Ryan Fowler, senior punter Brett Upson and senior John Laughery — kicked well. Look for Fowler to win the job and for Upson to step in if he falters.

• With Jared Hawkins missing spring practice and perhaps the team's best three running backs finishing high school, it's now or never for redshirt junior Kennard Reeves, who looked strong carrying the rock in the Wake Forest game; Gaston Miller, a shifty little guy who's been primarily a return man; and redshirt sophomores Jermaine Doster and Ryan van Rensburg, neither who've played in their Vanderbilt careers. Reeves, Miller and van Rensburg all had carries of 14 or more yards on Saturday, but Miller and van Rensburg were each stuffed on third-and-short. Miller's small and van Rensburg's really a fullback on a team whose only fullback last season was walk-on Matt Bubis. Doster hasn't gotten any meaningful totes yet. Still looks like Reeves is the best bet to back Hawkins next season or replace him if he aggravates the foot injury — but he'd better look out if Wesley Tate, Warren Norman or particularly Zac Stacy burst on the scene in the fall.

• No word yet on the progress of the offensive line or how Jamie Graham’s transition to cornerback is going. Anybody seen or heard anything?

Sweet! Wirth and Risper lead the Lady Dores tonight against Kansas State in the Sweet 16

The Lady Dores face Kansas State tonight in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Tipoff's at 8:45 pm.

Not even gonna say whether this one's televised. Saturday's game with Western Carolina was supposedly on ESPN2 but by the time I got there the teams on the screen were Rhode Island Tech and Mother Mary's Convent or some teams I've never heard of before (which I must confess would be most of the women's teams). The game probably started out being televised but then the Dores jumped on WC pretty quick on the way to a 73-44 victory and so the Deuce switched to another game. And I'm sorry, but the Lady Dores are the only women's team that I'm gonna miss a second of the men's tournament for.

Speaking of the men's tournament, the SEC didn't wow America like Kevin Stallings had predicted (1-3, gone in two rounds) but he's a smart man who has to maintain the collegiality among his fellow coaches in the conference and saying that Miss State, Tennessee and LSU were all going to make a run certainly didn't hurt.

Don't you hate when people talk about how they're bracket's doing? Well, here goes: We predicted lower seed Purdue to make the Sweet 16 (though we missed on USC and Utah State) and have 13 out of 16 teams — which is how many we'd have if we'd just gone with the top seeds, though we beat that method in the first round. Our only Elite Eight team that's gone is Wake Forest. Pitt is our champion, and they were lucky to get past East Tennessee State (where have you gone Mister Jennings?) and Oklahoma State. We'll see.

But back to the ladies. Expect Christina Wirth and Jennifer Risper (pictured above) to have big games tonight against No. 5 Kansas State. The Dores beat the Wildcats in 2005 when they were No. 5 and the Cats were No. 4. KSU's Shalee Lehning is the nation's second-leading assist woman with 7.8. Risper will be guarding her and you've got to feel good about that.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Former Vanderbilt football players in pro day today

Vandy players were scheduled to work out for NFL scouts on campus this morning. They include:

• D.J. Moore: Cornerback's being projected to go late first or early second round.

• Reshard Langford: Safety may go late in the draft, but has a good shot of cracking somebody's roster.

• Chris Nickson: The hot-and-cold quarterback capable of shredding defenses with his feet wants to prove he can play wide receiver — or anywhere — in the NFL. Don't you wish he'd lined up at receiver last season or at least had a throw-back play run for him.

• Sean Walker: Speedy wideout will probably go undrafted.

• Bryant Hahnfeldt: Music City Bowl hero could get a shot as a free agent.

And three guys who are long shots at best:

• Wide receiver George Smith.

• DB Jared Fagan.

• DB Josh Allen.

Funk's a spring workhouse at quarterback — who's who in Vanderbilt football spring practice

Jared Funk’s been getting plenty of work at quarterback. In last week’s scrimmage, he and Larry Smith split time, and yesterday he and Mackenzi Adams took turns leading the offense.

From what I can tell from reports, Smith still looks like our starter at quarterback, Adams still looks like a solid backup, and Funk has the skills and is getting experience running the offense in case he’s pressed into action.

Kennard Reeves appears to be a great option at running back and could even split time with Jared Hawkins next season, especially if the true freshmen get off to a slow start. Remember that Hawkins was considered to be a situational back at best until he burst on the scene last season. Reeves, a redshirt junior, is quicker and more athletic.

John Cole and Terence Jeffers are emerging, along with the three tight ends, as the top targets for Smith. Turner Wimberly has the most TD receptions in the spring, but I don’t expect him to be more than a spot receiver and special teams performer once the real season starts.

On defense, Chris Marve is as dominant as ever and seniors Greg Billinger and Brent Trice appear poised to have big final seasons. Redshirt freshmen Rob Lohr and Josh Jelesky are among a boatload of redshirt freshmen capable of making big contributions next season on the D-Line.

Here are the standouts after a couple of scrimmages:


• Funk has two touchdown passes, 32 yards and 8 yards to Turner Wimberly. Funk and Wimberly. Sounds like a law firm.
• Adams fired a 28-yard TD pass to tight end Justin Green.
• Smith has lots of completions for 15+ yards, including a 38-yard TD to Terence Jeffers

Running backs
• Kennard Reeves has looked great, reeling off punishing runs, including one for 11 yards and one for 30 yards in yesterday’s scrimmage. On Saturday, he gained 28 yards after breaking an open-field tackle and also took a Funk pass 12 yards.
• Ryan van Rensburg, Vanderbilt’s only apparent option at fullback, has been getting lots of reps, including a 2-yard touchdown on his fourth consecutive carry on Saturday.
• Gaston Miller collected a pair of first down runs on Saturday.

Wide receiver
• John Cole’s bouncing back from injury, catching five passes yesterday, including a pair of acrobatic grabs.
• Terence Jeffers is the real deal. He just needs to keep hitting the books.
• Former quarterback Turner Wimberly has caught two TD passes from Funk, a 32-yarder yesterday and an 8-yarder Saturday.
• Udom Umoh, whose playing time increased in the Music City Bowl, caught an 18-yard pass from Smith on Saturday.
• Alex Washington caught a 19-yard pass from Smith on Saturday.

Tight end
• Justin Green, a 6-foot-6 target at tight end, grabbed a 28-yard TD pass from Adams
• Brandon Barden caught a pass from Smith on Saturday.


• Greg Billinger’s looked solid with a tackle for a loss and a third-down quarterback sack.
• Rob Lohr, a redshirt frosh, has a tackle for loss.

• Theron Kadri has a big third-down stop and a tackle for loss.
• Steven Stone also chalked up a quarterback sack.
• Tim Fugger had a pair of impressive stops on Saturday.
• Josh Jelesky, a redshirt frosh, has a tackle for loss.

• Chris Marve’s big plays have included a third-down stop and a quarterback sack.
• Nate Campbell ended a drive by deflecting a Smith pass.
• Brent Trice, the former safety, was impressive with a sack and a tackle for a loss on the same drive on Saturday.

• Casey Hayward tackled big fullback Ryan van Rensburg for a loss on third down.
• Joel Caldwell, the senior safety, deflected a Smith pass on the goal line.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Stallings thinks SEC teams will "outperform" in NCAA tournament — don't bet on it

Kevin Stallings is quoted in the Nashville City Paper saying that he thinks LSU, Tennessee and Miss State will "outperform" their seeds.

If you go solely by how those teams performed against Vanderbilt then, yes, they should do very well. Vandy had a combined record of 1-3 against those teams, getting swept by the Vols and manhandled in Starkville but catching LSU in premature celebration mode in Baton Rouge, which was probably the young Dores best game of the year.

But we don't agree. We've got all three teams getting bounced in the first round.

No. 9 Tennessee has the best shot at advancing, and has the athletes to beat No. 8 Oklahoma State and with some breaks upset No. 1 Pitt and advance as far as the Elite Eight. Could happen, but don't think it will.

And No. 13 Miss State faces the best possible option for them at No. 4 — Washington instead of Xavier, Gonzaga and Wake Forest. They could even beat No. 5 Purdue and advance to the Sweet 16, but no way the Bulldogs get past UConn. Again, it could happen, but we don't think they get past the Huskies and the first round.

And No. 8 LSU could certainly beat No. 9 Butler, but no way they get past No. 1 UNC in the second round. You saw how A.J. Ogilvy manhandled the skinny Tigers. Wait till they face the Tar Heels... if they get the chance, which we don't think they will.

Our first round upsets, as defined by a lower seed beating a higher seed:

• No. 12 Western Kentucky over No. 5 Illinois.
• No. 9 Butler over No. 8 LSU.
• No. 10 USC over No. 7 Boston College.
• No. 11 Utah State over No. 6 Marquette

Our Sweet 16:

• No. 1 seeds: Pitt, UNC, Louisville, UConn
• No. 2 seeds: Duke, Oklahoma, Memphis (Mich St upset by USC)
• No. 3 seeds: Villanova, Syracuse, Kansas (Missouri upset by Utah St)
• No. 4 seeds: Xavier, Gonzaga, Wake Forest (Washington upset by Purdue)
• No. 5 seed: Purdue
• No. 10 seed: USC
• No. 11 seed: Utah State

Our Elite 8:
• No. 1 seeds: Pitt, UNC, UConn (Louisville upset by Wake)
• No. 2 seeds: Oklahoma, Memphis
• No. 3 seeds: Villanova, Kansas
• No. 4 seed: Wake Forest

Our Final 4:
• No. 1 seeds: Pitt, UNC, UConn
• No. 3 seed: Kansas

National Championship game:
• Pitt over UConn

We made these picks based on statistics like turnover percentage, FTs per FG, shooting accuracy, field goal defense, overall team strength and offensive rebounding.

Do we really want to see Pitt play UConn for the championship? Heck no. For entertainment value, our Final Four would have been Pitt, North Carolina, Louisville and Memphis, with UNC playing Louisville. And we'd have Kansas getting bounced out early.

The fact that we don't like our picks makes us feel better about them. But we'll see in a couple of hours.

Happy March Madness everybody.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Don't cry for Vanderbilt's passing game — as long as Terence Jeffers is eligible

Sure, I wish Justin Wheeler hadn't torn ligaments in his knee late last week. ESPN blogger Chris Low thinks it means that Vanderbilt is now "really hurting at receiver."

But even without our only returning starter at wide receiver, the Commodore passing game should be vastly improved over last season.

The real blow would be if UConn transfer Terence Jeffers can't get enough academic credits to be eligible in the fall. (Think he'd have enough academic credits if he went to, say, UT?)

Coach Bobby Johnson remains cautiously optimistic that Jeffers will be in the lineup come September. Assuming he is, and Wheeler misses the 2009 season, this is how our top 14 pass targets will compare to last season's.

Last season: R-SR Sean Walker (36 catches, 520 yards, 3 TDs)
This season: R-JR Terence Jeffers. This will be a vast improvement. Jeffers is bigger, stronger and more aggressive (see photo). His numbers as a sophomore at Connecticut (44 catches, 582 yards, 5 TDs) were better than Walker's. And provided Larry Smith starts at quarterback as expected, Jeffers will get plenty of home run opportunities like the one Walker dropped in Smith's debut against Wake Forest.

Last season: R-FR Brandon Barden (28-209, 4 TDs)
This season: R-SO Barden. Expect Barden to be even better than last season, when his touchdown receptions broke the back of South Carolina and Auburn. And with Smith a threat to go deep, Barden will get plenty of opportunities to catch the ball underneath and turn upfield and run.

Last season: R-JR Justin Wheeler (16-145, 1 TDs)
This season: R-SO Tray Herndon. An improvement. Sure, Wheeler's only TD, against Auburn, will go down in Commodore lore. But his numbers are shockingly weak for a No. 2 receiver. Herndon had better numbers (22-235, 1 TD) as a true freshman at Minnesota.

Last season: JR D.J. Moore (7-143, 2 TDs)
This season: R-SO Jamie Graham. A draw. Sure, Moore was an unbelievable threat who had the good fortune in the Kentucky game of getting the two best passes Chris Nickson has thrown in his life. But Graham can catch a jump ball in the corner of the end zone like nobody's business. Plus he already knows the offense and as a new corner or nickelback he'll be more than ready for spot duty at receiver.

Last season: R-SR George Smith (13-142)
This season: R-SO Udom Umoh. An improvement. Smith was a testimony to perseverance and we wouldn't have won the Music City Bowl without his clutch catch that put us in field goal range. But let's face it, he dropped a ton of passes last season and was a liability. Umoh came on strong at the end of the season, especially when Larry Smith started getting more reps at quarterback. That was no coincidence. While not as big as George, Umoh will be more of a deep threat.

Last season: R-FR Jamie Graham (17-125, 3 TDs)
This season: R-FR John Cole. An improvement. Graham made the highlight reel, but his numbers were low for getting so many snaps at receiver. While Graham's an athlete, Cole is a true receiver who can get the tough short stuff or go deep or in between. He's capable of getting 125 yards in a single game, and Smith's capable of getting the ball to him.

Last season: R-JR Jared Hawkins (16-121)
This season: R-SR Hawkins. Hawkins was used last season as a battering ram and was broken down at the end. With a big-armed quarterback stretching the defense and plenty of exciting young talent at running back, expect JHawk to get more opportunities to catch the ball and run with it.

Last season: R-SR Jeff Jennings (10-57)
This season: R-JR Kennard Reeves. An improvement. Jennings clearly ran out of gas at the end of his career and just looked big and slow. Reeves is pretty big but pretty fast, averaging eight yards on a pair of catches last season.

Last season: SO Austin Monahan (4-45)
This season: JR Monahan. He's huge (6-foot-7), an awesome bookend for Barden, and back after missing most of last season.

Last season: R-SO Gaston Miller (3-31)
This season: FR Wesley Tate. A vast improvement. While Miller has earned playing time as a return man, Tate is a prototypical SEC back who can catch the ball out of the backfield.

Last season: R-FR Udom Umoh
This season: FR Brady Brown. A huge improvement. While Umoh will emerge as a deep threat this year, he struggled last season in Vandy's short passing game. The 6-foot-6 Brown should establish himself early as a possession receiver and short yardage end-zone threat for Smith.

Last season: R-SO Kennard Reeves (2-16)
This season: FR Zac Stacy or Warren Norman. An improvement. While Norman is the better receiver, he's a bit slight right now and may redshirt and beef up. A bruising, low-to-the-ground runner, Stacy will get a chance to tote the rock this season and should get way more opportunities than Reeves did last year.

Last season: R-SO Chris Reinert (1-13)
This season: R-FR Akeem Dunham. A vast improvement. The 6-foot-three Dunham was a high school basketball star and is the far superior athlete. Reinert may return next season, provided he can recover from a gruesome broken leg early last season.

Last season: R-JR Alex Washington (1-minus 2)
This season: R-SR Washington. He's this year's version of George Smith, without the experience as a starter. Though he should be improved over last season, Washington will likely take a backseat to all the new young talent.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Holy crap! Charlie Goro gets a vote too

I mentioned earlier today that the national media considers the Vanderbilt quarterback job to be up for grabs between Larry Smith and Mackenzi Adams, but Commodore fans have already written down Larry's name as the starter. In ink.

And Mackenzi's name's in ink, too, as the backup. I mean, how can you kick a guy to the curb who'll forever be on the Vanderbilt highlight reel for his game last season against Auburn?

But so far Mac hasn't garnered a single vote in our admittedly uncreative poll. But a lame poll can yield interesting results, right?

So now even Charlie Goro's gotten a vote. Anybody who's seen that kid in person swears he's the quarterback of the future. But not the present. So I'll ask the same question that I did this morning with Funk. What made you vote for Charlie? Do you really think he can be our starter next season? Are you his mother?

Or maybe you're from Illinois, home of both Funk and Goro. Funk and Goro. Sounds like a construction company.

News flash! Funk gets a vote

In one of the least creative polls in the history of polls, we're asking you who should be Vanderbilt's starting quarterback next season. Of course, national media's writing about the battle between Larry Smith and Mackenzi Adams, while the people who actually saw Vanderbilt play somebody besides Auburn last season — you know, Vanderbilt fans — are assuming that Larry Smith will be the man. And they're right. He just has to be the starter.

And yes, the first 13 people to vote pulled the lever for Mr. Smith. (He really needs a nickname.)

But in the wee hours of this morning, somebody cast a vote for Jared Funk, who's been playing pretty well in spring practice.

So who out there voted for Jared Funk? Do you know something we don't know? Are you Jared Funk's mother? I'd like to know. Really.

Give it up — Vandy's men are done, so let's root for the women

The guys over at VSL are lamenting the fact that the Commodores aren't playing in a post-season tournament. They're young; they need more game experience; they need more time to play together as a team; etc. They should write a check and host a CBI tournament game so they'll have a better season next year.


Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't buy it. The Dores have already played 31 games this season. And don't they have opportunities to play together as a team in the late summer and early fall?

The last time we didn't get a post-season bid was in 2003. We had a losing season and lots of pieces but not a lot of chemistry. So what happened the next season? We went to the Sweet 16, where we lost to eventual national champion UConn.

This season is over. It had its ups and it had its downs. And playing a couple of games in the CBI — the what? — isn't going to change any of that.

Instead, let's follow the Lady Dores, who play Western Carolina on Saturday in the NCAA tournament. They got a No. 4 seed last night and have a fun team to watch. It's particularly cool to watch 5-foot-9 Jennifer Risper flying around. Try it, you'll like it.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Vanderbilt says no thanks to CBI — whatever that is

Of course Vanderbilt didn't get an invitation to the Big Dance. But then the Dores got snubbed by the NIT, which actually extended an invitation to Tennessee-Martin, which was ranked 149th in the nation according to the RPI.

It's the first time since 1982 that Vanderbilt had a winning record and didn't get an NIT berth.

Is the NIT field smaller now? Are there just more basketball teams? Are the little guys getting better? What sort of tie-ins does the NIT have?

On second thought, I don't really care.

And thank goodness we turned down an invitation to play in the College Basketball Invitational, whatever that is. Evidently you have to put up money to host a game. I can think of a lot of analogies for that but I'm not going to try. It's Monday morning.

Hey, the Lady Dores get their NCAA bid tonight. Should be a pretty good seed.

Oh, Justin Wheeler tore some ligaments in his knee yesterday in spring football training. Like I said, it's Monday. We didn't want to end on good news.

But have a good one anyway.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Jamie Graham just keeps on breaking up passes — Some notes on Vanderbilt football and basketball

Ah, this time last year Vanderbilt was about to get a sweet seed in the Big Dance. Things change. Those Commodores got waxed in first round by a team named after a color from the really big Crayola box.

Now Jamie Graham is on the football field, having given up basketball. (He's pictured above, showing why he was the only player who seemed to give a darn last year in the loss to Burnt Siena.) And now he's practicing at defensive back, where he's got the best chance to play on Sundays. And he's looking good there, too. This weekend, in playing conditions reminiscent of last season's Wake Forest game, he made a beautiful interception and has broken up a couple of passes. For more spring training news, click here.

Speaking of football, Mo Patton has a nice article about five little-used football players from the 2008 season who could make a big difference in 2009. He names quarterback Larry Smith (R-SO) — of course — and also receiver John Cole (R-FR), running back Kennard Reeves (R-JR) and defensive backs Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson, who are both sophomores who played special teams last season as true freshmen and showed loads of promise in the Music City Bowl.

Speaking of champions, the Lady Hoop Dores are headed to the NCAA tournament. Seeds and bids and all that stuff will be announced Monday night.

In the world of male college hoops, brace yourself for only two NCAA tournament bids for the SEC if Tennessee beats Miss State in the SEC championship game; it's tied right now with the second half just starting. The Vols and LSU appear to be locks, with all the other teams apparently sliding off the bubble. Here's where all the teams stand in the current RPI:

18-Tennessee, 21-11 (10-6)
37-LSU, 26-7 (13-3)
52-Florida, 23-10 (9-7)
58-South Carolina, 21-9 (10-6)
63-Auburn, 21-11 (10-6)
67-Miss State, 21-12 (9-7)
78-Kentucky, 20-13 (8-8)
82-Ole Miss, 16-15 (7-9)
93-Vanderbilt, 19-12 (8-8)
108-Alabama, 16-14 (7-9)
149-Arkansas, 14-16 (2-14)
192-Georgia, 12-20 (3-13)

I seemed pretty certain yesterday that Vanderbilt would be going to the NIT, but I took a closer look at the RPI and I'm not so sure anymore. Looks like Florida, South Carolina, Auburn, Miss State and Kentucky would get the nod before the Dores, and maybe even Ole Miss.

Why are all the SEC teams down this season in the RPI? It's simple: They couldn't hang with teams from other conferences. Vanderbilt, for example, got smoked by Illinois-Chicago, which ain't going nowhere. I think the biggest out-of-conference victory by an SEC team was Arkansas' victory over Texas, but that didn't help Vanderbilt any when the Commodores beat the Razorbacks, because the Hogs were on their way to a 14-16 record and an RPI ranking of 149.

Anyway, NIT bids are announced at 9 p.m. tonight. It's televised on ESPNU and ESPN2, if your life is really that miserable.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Random Commodore-related thoughts on a Saturday morning

Thank goodness we're not playing Tennessee today. Alabama has a nice, athletic team, as they showed in their dunk-a-rama victory over Vandy on Thursday — but they're kind of like Tennessee Lite, as they showed in their loss yesterday to the Vols. We just don't match up well with UT, and A.J. Ogilvy in particular has problems against guys like Chism.

The guys over at VSL think we may not even get an NIT invite. I'd be shocked if we don't. It's been a long time since a team from a major conference that's more than five games over .500 didn't get a shot at Madison Square Garden. (We're 19-12.) How often have you seen a big-name team that's 16-14 make the NIT? Very often.

But speaking of big-name teams, the Lady Dores should land a nice seed in the Big Dance. At least a four-spot, I'd say, maybe even a three. Their victory over No. 5 Auburn in the SEC finals was most impressive.

Speaking of Auburn, how could the male Tigers look so great against Florida last night when we handled them pretty good at their house earlier this season and got spanked twice by the Gators? Well, point guard Quantez Robertson, the SEC defensive player of the year who had a huge blocked three-pointer at the buzzer yesterday, missed the Vanderbilt game because he was getting a haircut and was late to the game and Coach Jeff Lebo benched him for the whole thing.

Not much news from football practice. A recent Tennessean headline was lauding Brent Upson's versatility. What, is he gonna play cornerback? Oh, kicker. Hmmm. He's a punter who was second on the depth chart last season at placekicker. You need a strong leg to punt. You need a strong leg to kick. I think I understand.

Looks like Austin Monahan's leg injury has healed but Chris Reinert's has not. Best wishes to Chris. But in the cold, cruel world of collegiate sports, we need the 6-foot-7 tight end with starting experience on the field a whole lot more than we need the scrappy little receiver whose biggest play of the year was pumping up the crowd when he was being driven off the field in a golf cart.

Redshirt freshman Ryan Seymour has moved to offensive tackle from defensive end. Think I've already told you that. But the last time we moved a young, quick-footed 275-pound defensive end over to offense was a couple of years ago when Reilly Lauer shifted to left tackle, where he was starting by the end of last season. And look where Seymour has landed on the pre-season depth chart: As a backup to Lauer at left tackle.

Friday, March 13, 2009

OK, so Vanderbilt is not going to the NCAA tournament

Is anybody really surprised that the Commodores are one and done in the SEC tournament? Stallings has never had success there, and this young team seems shell-shocked the first time they do anything — first home game, first road game, first SEC home game, first SEC road game, first Raycom game, first ESPN game, first CBS game, and now first conference tournament game. And soon to be first NIT game.

This has been a fun season, though, with a lot of hope for the future.

As for last night's loss to Alabama, let's just forget it ever happened. The foundation of our team — A.J. Ogilvy and Jermaine Beal — combined for 13 points on 4-18 shooting, and 1-10 from three-point land. Ogilvy got off only seven shots, but tried to make the best of it with six assists and eight rebounds.

Late in the season, the Commodores were successful because they went to the charity stripe an insane number of times while keeping the opposition off it. Not last night. Vandy shot 17 free throws, making 13, but sent Bama to the line 28 times, and the Tide responded by making 25 of them.

Vanderbilt couldn't make three-pointers early, while Bama didn't even try, instead launching a dunk-a-thon that was pretty entertaining.

Bright spots included Brad Tinsley, who had 20 points on 5-10 shooting from three-point land, and Jeffrey Taylor, who scored 17 points on 11 field goals, grabbed six rebounds and did a nice job of passing the ball and playing within the system. And George Drake had 14 points and four steals in 19 minutes, though it's not necessarily a good sign when Stallings takes the wraps off Drake — his biggest games have come when the guys who are supposed to step up don't and the team falls behind.

Anyway, hopefully we'll get to host some NIT games instead of, say, having to travel to Robert Morris. Wherever that is.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Vanderbilt plays Alabama tonight in SEC tournament

Vanderbilt plays Alabama at 7:30 EDT tonight in the SEC tournament. The Commodores have been hot lately but so has the Tide. Vanderbilt beat Alabama earlier in the season, which means it'll be harder to beat them a second time. Or maybe not. The game's in St. Pete, where Vanderbilt got destroyed by Siena in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season. Which probably doesn't mean much. When somebody asked Jermaine Beal about it, he was surprised the Siena game was played in St. Pete. Yeah, those guys played that game like they didn't know what planet they were on.

Like we've said before, the team is mighty young and has experienced some growing pains and everybody seems convinced that next year could be a great season for them. But this season's not over. The tournament's more wide open than it's ever been and anything could happen.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Redshirt freshmen lead Vanderbilt's clean plate club

So who on the Vanderbilt football team has gained the most weight since last season?

The redshirt freshmen, of course.

Safety Al Owens gained a whopping 34 pounds since arriving on campus. He now tips the scales at 212 — wonder if he's lost any speed? He's pictured above, in his lighter days.

Here are the other redshirt freshmen who've gained more than 10 pounds:

• Offensive lineman Caleb Welchans: 25 pounds to hit 290
• Defensive tackle Taylor Loftley: 22 pounds to 272
• Offensive lineman Ryan Seymour: 20 pounds to 275
• Athlete Archie Barnes: 18 pounds to 218
• Defensive tackle Rob Lohr: 15 pounds to 275
• Defensive end John Burrow: 15 pounds to 245
• Linebacker Dexter Daniels: 15 pounds to 225
• Defensive end Josh Jelesky: 14 pounds to 248
• Defensive back Micah Powell: 13 pounds to 205
• Wide receiver Akeem Dunham: 13 pounds to 198

Most of the guys strapping on the feedbag are linemen. But Richard Cagle did quite the opposite, dropping 10 pounds to weigh 270.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

So long, Darlron Spead

I thought nickelback Darlron Spead had a year of eligibility left, and he did. But he's scheduled to graduate in May, and he's giving up his final season of eligibility.

“Darlron had several injuries ... and he had some things he had to take care of as far as the other parts of his life,” Coach Bobby Johnson told the Tennessean. “He wanted to go ahead and graduate, get out and start earning a living. We wished him the best of luck. It was the right decision.”

Spead's finest moment as a Commodore was his huge interception in the first half of the upset victory over South Carolina. He showed unbelievable quickness and speed on that play, breaking on the ball, getting the pick and racing 41 yards before getting forced out of bounds. Unfortunately, he broke his leg on the play. He returned for the final five games of the season.

Darlron was a staple at nickelback for two seasons, and I'm sorry to see him go a year early. His absence likely precipitated Jamie Graham's move to defense.

But Darlron will have a Vanderbilt degree and a bright future ahead of him.

Thanks, Darlron, and all the best to you.

A.J. Ogilvy makes underclassman All-SEC — and Jeffrey Taylor among top frosh

A.J. Ogilvy’s been named second-team All-SEC as voted on by the coaches. But he’s one of the top four underclassmen in the SEC.

Know how college basketball is supposedly a young man’s game in which the best players — and next year’s top draft picks — are freshmen and maybe sophomores?

Not in the SEC, at least according to the coaches. Here’s a breakdown of the 18 players voted to the first two teams, by class:

1-Marcus Thornton, LSU
2-Alonzo Gee, Alabama
2-Korvotney Barber, Auburn
2-Garrett Temple, LSU
2-Zam Fredrick, South Carolina

1-Jodie Meeks, Kentucky
1-Tasmin Mitchell, LSU
1- Jarvis Varnado, Miss State
1-Devan Downey, South Carolina
1-Tyler Smith, Tennessee
2-Michael Washington, Arkansas
2-David Huertas, Ole Miss
2-Dominique Archie, South Carolina
2-Wayne Chism, Tennessee

1-Nick Calathes, Florida
1-Patrick Patterson, Kentucky
2-A.J. Ogilvy, Vanderbilt

2-Terrico White, Ole Miss

Speaking of freshmen, Jeffery Taylor made the All-Freshman team.

Congratulations, guys.

Let the battle begin — Vanderbilt spring football practice starts today

Hey, spring practice starts today. Here's some stuff you might want to know:

First practice: Today
Last practice: April 3
Black & Gold game: 10 a.m. March 28

The following players will sit out spring practice with injuries:
• LB Brandon Bryant, R-Sr.
• RB Jared Hawkins, R-Sr.
• CB Myron Lewis, Sr.
• DE Brandon Stewart, R-Sr.
• LB John Stokes, Jr.
Note: No true freshmen will be participating in spring training.

• Quarterback: R-Fr. Larry Smith vs. R-Sr. Mackenzi Adams
• Wide receiver: R-Fr. Akeem Dunham, R-So. Tray Herndon, R-So. Udom Umoh and R-Fr. John Cole fight for playing time alongside returning starter R-Sr. Justin Wheeler and hotshot transfer R-Jr. Terence Jeffers
• Running back: R-Jr. Kennard Reeves, R-So. Gaston Miller, R-So. Jermaine Doster and R-So. Ryan van Rensburg battle to back up Jared Hawkins… at least until the true freshmen arrive
• Offensive line: Seniors Thomas Welch and Bradley Vierling have the strongest lock on their positions, but R-So. Kyle Fischer, R-Jr. Reilly Lauer and especially R-Sr. Eric Hensley face competition from experienced backups R-Sr. Ryan Custer, R-Jr. Joey Bailey and R-So. James Williams and redshirt freshmen Richard Cagle, Michael Bryant, Ryan Seymour and Caleb Welchans.
• Defensive tackle: Three experienced players — Sr. Greg Billinger, R-Jr. Adam Smotherman and R-So. T.J. Greenstone — duke it out for two starting positions.
• Linebacker: The starters are sewn up, but solid backups Sr. Brent Trice, R-Jr. Austin Newton and R-Jr. Nate Campbell get competition from redshirt freshmen DeAndre Jones, Tristan Strong and Dexter Daniels and especially senior Brandon Bryant, who returns from injury.
• Secondary: All-purpose R-So. Jamie Graham battles So. Casey Hayward and R-Jr. Alan Strong for the starting cornerback position vacated by D.J. Moore as well as the nickel back slot vacated by Darlron Spead.

Here's a closer look at the players returning at each position:

Started every game: None
Starting experience: Mackenzi Adams, Larry Smith
Played in every game: None
Inexperienced: Jared Funk
True freshmen: Charlie Goro
Best bets to start: Smith

Started every game: None
Starting experience: Jared Hawkins
Played in every game: None
Playing time: Gaston Miller, Kennard Reeves
Inexperienced: Jermaine Doster, Ryan van Rensburg
True freshmen: Warren Norman, Zac Stacy, Wesley Tate
Best bets to start: Hawkins

Started every game: None
Starting experience: Jamie Graham, Justin Wheeler
Played in every game: Udom Umoh, Wheeler
Playing time: John Cole, Chris Reinert, Alex Washington, Turner Wimberly
Redshirts: Cole, Akeem Dunham, Tray Herndon, Terence Jeffers, Jameson Sackey
True freshmen: Brady Brown
Best bets to start: Cole, Jeffers, Wheeler

Started every game: None
Starting experience: Brandon Barden, Austin Monahan
Played in every game: Barden
Playing time: Justin Green
Inexperienced: Chris DeGeorge
True freshmen: Mason Johnston
Best bets to start: Barden

Started every game: Thomas Welch, Bradley Vierling
Starting experience: Joey Bailey, Ryan Custer, Kyle Fischer, Eric Hensley, Reilly Lauer
Played in every game: Custer, Fischer, Hensley
Playing time: Rob Ashabranner, James Williams
Redshirts: Michael Bryant, Richard Cagle, Ryan Seymour, Caleb Welchans
True freshmen: Mylon Brown, Justin Cabbagestalk, Wesley Johnson
Best bets to start: Fischer, Hensley, Lauer, Welch, Vierling

Started every game: Greg Billinger
Starting experience: T.J. Greenstone, Adam Smotherman
Played in every game: Billinger, Greenstone, Smotherman
Redshirts: Rob Lohr, Colt Nichter, Taylor Loftley
True freshmen: None
Best bets to start: Billinger, Smotherman

Started every game: Steven Stone
Starting experience: Teriall Brannon, Theron Kadri, Broderick Stewart
Played in every game: Stone
Playing time: Tim Fugger
Redshirts: John Burrow, Josh Jelesky, Johnell Thomas
True freshmen: Walker May, Thad McHaney
Best bets to start: Stewart, Stone

Started every game: Patrick Benoist, Chris Marve
Starting experience: John Stokes
Played in every game: Nate Campbell, Austin Newton, Stokes, Brent Trice
Playing time: Brandon Bryant, Michael Garcia
Redshirts: Archie Barnes, Dexter Daniels, DeAndre Jones, Tristan Strong
True freshmen: Blake Southerland
Best bets to start: Benoist, Marve, Stokes

Started every game: Ryan Hamilton, Myron Lewis
Starting experience: Jamie Graham (wide receiver)
Played in every game: Joel Caldwell, Casey Hayward, Sean Richardson, Alan Strong
Redshirts: Al Owens, Micah Powell
True freshmen: Eddie Foster, Jay Fullam, Javon Marshall, Eric Samuels, Trey Wilson
Best bets to start: Graham, Hamilton, Hayward, Lewis, Richardson

Started every game: Upson
Redshirts: Richard Kent
Best bets to start: Upson

Started every game: None
Starting experience: None
Playing time: None
Inexperienced: John Laughrey
Redshirt: Ryan Fowler
Best bets to start: Fowler

Monday, March 9, 2009

Jamie Graham being moved to cornerback

Looks like when Jamie Graham catches passes next season, they'll be interceptions. Coach Bobby Johnson told espn.com's Chris Low today that Graham's moving to cornerback to replace D.J. Moore.

Kudos to the person who posted this here about a month ago:

"I wish that they would put him back in the defensive backfield. They could still use him for offensive sets every now and then (like they did with DJ), but he seems to have a knack for defense."

Here was my response:

"Great, great point, and it was an oversight on my part not to mention Jamie's ability as a defensive back. Like Eric Samuels this year, Jamie was listed as an 'athlete' when we recruited him, and we listed him from the start as a DB.

"After a full redshirt year of playing Jamie at DB in practice, we lost Earl Bennett to the NFL and moved Jamie to receiver. This turned out to be a nice move, especially with John Cole's injury in the first game, George Smith's lack of production, and our reticence to take the wraps off Larry Smith, the only QB we have who can throw the long ball (maybe Funk can too but he's below Larry on the depth chart). And all TEN defensive backs returned on our two-deep depth chart.

"Jamie's still a playmaker. But this season we return 60 percent of our two-deep secondary instead of 100 percent. Of our recruits, Eric Samuels and Trey Wilson can probably do what Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson did last season. But we still need at least two other guys to play major roles for us.

"You're right, if Jamie got moved to the secondary, he'd certainly have the ability and experience to jump right into our offensive sets."

Lady Dores win SEC — but sorry about the hair

Congrats to the Vandy women, who beat Auburn last night to win the SEC championship. This season, No. 5 Auburn has lost to only two teams, Georgia and Vanderbilt. But now they've lost to Vanderbilt twice.

Auburn was clearly the bigger, more athletic team — kind of a trend regardless of which sport we're playing — but the Lady Dores played smarter and more together. Oh yeah, and they hit their threes and Auburn didn't.

If you haven't watched the Vandy women play this season, you should. They're a fun team to watch, and I don't watch a lot of women's basketball.

And you've got to love the first thing coach Melanie Balcomb said in the post-game press conference:

"First of all, sorry for my hair, I apologize."

Don't think you'll ever hear men's coach Kevin Stallings say that, huh?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Vanderbilt cooks up Hogs — Commodores beat Arkansas 75-58

As expected, the Commodores hammered Arkansas to finish the regular season 19-11 overall and 8-8 in the SEC.

A.J. Ogilvy was in foul trouble and played only 23 minutes, but still garnered 12 points, 10 rebounds and even a couple of steals.

The star of the game was freshman Jeffrey Taylor, who had 16 points, 10 rebounds (6 of them offensive) and six assists.

Fellow freshman Brad Tinsley scored 13 points, shooting 3-4 from three-point land, and even grabbed five rebounds.

Dolla (Jermaine Beal) had 11 points, and Big Festus (Ezeli) scored 10 points in only 17 minutes.

Regardless of how the Dores do in the SEC tournament and where they go and what they do in the post-season, expect this team, which returns in its entirety, to be unstoppable at home next season.

After losing two of their first three conference home games, the Dores won their last five of the season. Last year’s team also won two conference road games but they were undefeated at home and finished 10-6.

The Vandy women play No. 5 Auburn at 7:30 pm ET tonight for the SEC championship.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Only once has 8-8 been great for Commodores

While a .500 conference record will get you a bowl bid in football (see last season's Commodores), it will not, usually, get you an NCAA tournament berth in basketball.

OK, there are 34 bowl games, so maybe being among the top 68 college football teams isn't that big a deal when there are only 119 college football teams. And maybe getting an NIT bid and being among the top 96 college basketball teams isn't so shabby when you consider there are nearly 350 college basketball teams.

So maybe getting a bid to the Music City Bowl is comparable to getting a bid to the NIT. Whadya think of that?

Anyway, if Vanderbilt beats Arkansas tomorrow at home, it'll be the fourth time in Kevin Stallings' 10 seasons that the Commodores have finished 8-8:

• 2000: Vandy won in the first round and lost in the second round of the SEC tournament, got an NIT bid and lost in the first round.

• 2004: Vandy won in the first and second rounds, lost in the semi-finals, got an NCAA bid and went to the Sweet 16 behind Matt Frieje, losing to eventual champion UConn.

• 2005: Vandy lost in the first round, got an NIT bid and went to the third round before losing.

The experts say this year's Vanderbilt team will have to make it to the SEC tournament finals to even be in the discussion for an NCAA bid. That'll be highly improbable. Vanderbilt doesn't traditionally play well in the tournament. Under Stallings, the team is 5-3 in the first round, but only 1-5 in the quarterfinals, and 0-1 in the semifinals.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Don't forget about DeAndre Jones and the other redshirt freshmen Commodores

Until we play Western Carolina on Sept. 5, Vanderbilt fans will no doubt be talking about Commodores who were on the field last season — whether it was LP Field in the Music City Bowl or high school fields as three-star prospects.

But don't forget that this time last year few people were talking about receiver Jamie Graham or tight end Brandon Barden or tackle Kyle Fischer or linebacker Chris Marve or quarterback Larry Smith.

That's right, all those guys were redshirt freshmen who were wowing their teammates on the practice field during the 2007 season and 2008 spring practice (except for Graham, who was wowing fans with his hustle and intensity on the basketball court). And all those guys were starters for the Music City Bowl. And another redshirt frosh, T.J. Greenstone, was a huge part of the defensive line rotation and even made Freshman All-SEC, joining Barden, Marve and Fischer. (Why didn't Graham make it? Ever heard of A.J. Green and Julio Jones?)

Other redshirt freshmen on last season's two-deep chart were receiver Udom Umoh, defensive end Tim Fugger and tackle James Williams.

Who were the true freshmen who started last season? Um, nobody. And only three of them — Casey Hayward, Sean Richardson and John Cole — played last season. Hayward and Richardson played key roles in Vandy's bowl victory, but Cole was injured in the opener and should start over next season as a redshirt freshman.

So while everybody's raving about Trey Wilson, Wesley Tate, Zac Stacy, Brady Brown, Eric Samuels and the other members of Bobby Johnson's best-ever signing class, don't forget about the redshirt freshmen, who have a much better chance of becoming major contributors on next year's team.

You know how we need depth at defensive line and how recruiting junkies have been mourning the loss of Darrius McMullin? Well, we've got a whopping seven redshirt freshmen D-linemen — Tayor Loftley, Colt Nichter, Ryan Seymour, Rob Lohr, Johnell Thomas, John Burrow and Josh Jelesky — on the team.

We need secondary help, too. What about redshirt freshmen Al Owens, a safety, and Micah Powell, a cornerback? Athlete Archie Barnes could play in the secondary, too, though he's 6-4 and may wind up at receiver.

Next year's Chris Marve could be linebacker DeAndre Jones, a high school teammate of John Stokes who was turning heads in practice last season with his wicked licks and aggressive play. And don't forget linebackers Tristan Strong and Dexter Daniels.

On offense, lanky receiver Akeem Dunham should contribute to the new-look passing game, and offensive lineman Richard Cagle, Michael Bryant and Caleb Welchans have been getting bigger courtesy of food coach Magic Noori and stronger courtesy of strength coach John Sisk.

And don't forget kicker Ryan Fowler. We should be in a lot of close games next season, and he's the front runner to replace Bryant Hahnfeldt.

We'll be monitoring reports from spring practice, which starts next week, and speculating about which one of these guys could be starters next season.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The skinny on Vanderbilt's win in Baton Rouge: LSU was too skinny

Throughout the game, LSU insisted on defending the perimeter and leaving whichever lanky fellow happened to be playing the post to stop A.J. Ogilvy by himself.

Kevin Stallings expected it, and exploited it. "That's the way they do things," the Vandy coach said after the game. "They've won the league championship playing that way, so you can't fault them for it because it's worked the whole season. We just wanted to get the ball to A.J. and see if he could do some work for us and he was able to step up and play well."

LSU tried doubling up on Ogilvy a couple of times in the first half, but A.J. kicked it out to Jermaine Beal and the other perimeter players, who hit their shots. So LSU stuck to its perimeter defensive scheme. And Ogilvy, who actually led the team in assists with three, became a black hole in the second half, firing up inside shots and either making them or going to the line.

In all, he was 12-17 from the field and 9-14 from the line for a total of 33 points.

"We knew they were pretty skinny inside so we knew we had to pound down low," Ogilvy said. "We did a good job preparing all week for that and the coaches obviously knew what to do to get us a win down here."

"Ogilvy was a dominant force out there tonight," said LSU forward Tasmin Mitchell. "He scored most of their points in the paint. He had a lot of points, but it really wasn't him. We had a lot of opportunities to stop him. He came out and played a terrific game and did was he was supposed to do, but it wasn't him. It was us as a whole, as a team."

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Rumblin'! Bumblin'! Stumblin'! Scorin'! Winnin'! A.J. Ogilvy leads Vanderbilt to upset in Baton Rouge

Wow. Vanderbilt just upset LSU 75-67 in Baton Rouge. It's only the Tigers' second conference loss of the season.

How in the world did the Commodores do it?


Vanderbilt trailed only once in the game, 2-0, then raced out to a 22-8 lead in the first half, led 37-26 at halftime, then held on for dear life.


A.J. Ogilvy scored 33 points and had 10 rebounds against LSU's long, athletic defense. He'd have scored even more if not for five turnovers and clanking the front or back end of four or five sets of free throws. But in the waning minutes he was 4-4 from the charity stripe.


How many times have we seen the Commodores go cold in the last five minutes of a half or a game? Not tonight. Case in point:

• After the Tigers shot a three to cut the VU lead to 56-54 with 8:26 remaining, A.J. scored a layup to stretch the lead to 58-54.

• After the Tigers nailed another three to cut it to 58-57, freshman Steve Tchiengang hit a pair of free throws to make it 60-57.

• After Marcus Thornton converted an old-fashioned three to tie the game at 60-60, Tchiengang hit the back end of a pair of charity shots to make it 61-60 VU, then freshman Brad Tinsley gunned in a three-pointer to make it 64-60 VU with 4:43 remaining.

• At the 2:15 mark, the Tigers hit yet another three-pointer to narrow the lead to 66-64, but then Jermaine Beal nailed a jumper to make it 68-64.

• After a pair of Tiger free throws cut the Vandy lead to two with a minute remaining, Brad Tinsley hit another big three, then hit a pair of free throws to make it 73-66 with 23 seconds left.


Though shooting under 70 percent from the free throw line for the game, Vanderbilt was 9-10 in the final seven minutes, and a perfect 6-6 in the final 3:30.


Jermaine was the only other Commodore in double digits, with 17 points.

So we're 18-11 and 7-8 in the SEC. If we can take care of business at home against Arkansas, we can finish 19-11 and 8-8 with some nice momentum going into the conference tournament next weekend in St. Pete.

Oh, and that loss to Georgia in Athens doesn't look so bad anymore. The Dawgs just beat Kentucky in Rupp.

Vanderbilt basketball team not exactly road warriors

This season, Vanderbilt's 1-6 on the road in league play, with the only win coming against Auburn. And those six road losses weren't even close. Even counting the 4-point loss to lowly Georgia in Athens, the Commodores have lost on the road by an average of 11 points.

And tonight they play LSU in Baton Rouge. The Bayou Bengals have lost only one conference game all season and are easily the league's most dangerous team.

The game's at 8 pm Eastern time. Thankfully, it's not scheduled to be televised nationally.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Jamie Winborn released by Denver Broncos

While Matt Stewart returns from a one-year hiatus from the NFL to be signed by the Dallas Cowboys, his former Vanderbilt teammate and fellow linebacker Jamie Winborn is looking for work.

Winborn, who led the Broncos in tackles last season, didn't have the best of relationships with his former San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Nolan. So guess who's the Broncos' new defensive coordinator?

Nolan. Whoops.

Unlike his former Commodores and Broncos teammate Jay Cutler, Winborn showed a lot of class, telling the Denver Post that he understands it's a business and he believes he just didn't fit into Nolan's new system.

I've always liked Winborn, except for that time he and future NFL player Jimmy Williams got suspended from the season opener against Miami-Ohio but they were allowed on the field in Nashville and they were taunting the Redhawks' pudgy little quarterback, Mike Bath, who had been planning to attend Vanderbilt but had his scholarship rescinded. And of course Bath soaked the Commodores for two touchdowns in the final minutes of the game to pull off a 33-30 upset. (Way to go, Woody.)

But when he was suited up, Winborn always played hard. In his final game, against Tennessee, he singlehandedly kept the Commodores in the game. You could see his lateral speed. I remember thinking he was one of the best players on the field.

Best wishes, Jamie. Somebody should pick you up.

Add Matt Stewart back to the list of NFL players from Vanderbilt

Today, as I was blogging about Jovan Haye signing with the Titans and listing all the Vanderbilt players in the NFL, Matt Stewart was signing a one-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys. So add him to the list, too.

Stewart had been out of football for a year, having been cut by the Cardinals at the start of the 2008 season. He was drafted by the Falcons in the fourth round of the 2001 draft, played four seasons in Atlanta, then signed a nice contract with the Browns and played three seasons in Cleveland.

Stewart played for Woody Widenhofer at Vandy and was part of the 1999 team that dang near had a winning record and went to a bowl... but didn't.

My favorite memory of Stewart was in 2000, when Steve Spurrier substituted superfreshman Brock Berlin, who would later transfer to Miami-Fla, for future Super Bowl loser Rex Grossman and future Bachelor Jesse Palmer. Stewart picked off Berlin's first pass and took it to the house. Alas, the Commodores lost 43-20, but it was an impressive play against one of the top teams in the nation, and Stewart was hence an NFL prospect.

Jovan Haye gets the bling — and a return trip to Nashville, where he played for Vanderbilt

Now Jovan Haye can buy a diamond necklace that spells his whole name and not just his initials. The former Vanderbilt Commodore signed a four-year, $16 million contract with the Titans and is headed back to Nashville.

You may remember that Haye, who played on Bobby Johnson's awful 2-9 team of 2004 — as well as his awful 2-10 teams of 2002 and 2003 — thought he'd be a first or second rounder and came out early for the draft. But he went in the sixth round to the Carolina Panthers, playing only two games and then getting cut the following season. Meanwhile, Johnson's persistence started paying off and the Commodores won five games behind Jay Cutler and the high-flying offense and beat Tennessee for the first time in a million years. What would Vanderbilt have done that season with a dominating D-lineman like Haye? Maybe, I don't know, beaten MTSU? How high would Haye have gone in the draft if he'd stuck around, raised his stock and helped the Commodores go to a bowl?

Instead, he did it the hard way, playing only two games in his first two seasons. But he persevered, became a bona-fide NFL player for the Panthers and then the Buccaneers, and now he's making the big bucks with the Titans. Way to go, Jovan.

Here's a quick rundown of other Commodores in the NFL:

• Corey Chavous, safety, 11 seasons, Rams
• Jamie Winborn, linebacker, 9 seasons, Broncos
• Todd Yoder, tight end, 9 seasons, Redskins
• Hunter Hillenmeyer, linebacker, 6 seasons, Bears
• Justin Geisinger, offensive tackle, 4 seasons, Redskins
• Jay Cutler, quarterback, 3 seasons, Broncos
• Chris Williams, offensive tackle, 1 season, Bears
• Earl Bennett, wide receiver, 1 season, Bears
• Jonathan Goff, linebacker, 1 season, Giants
• Marcus Buggs, linebacker, 1 season, Bills
• Curtis Gatewood, linebacker, 1 season, Chiefs

A whopping five players off the 2007 team that went 5-7 — and beat South Carolina and scared the you-know-what out of Georgia and Tennessee and Kentucky — played in the NFL last season.

This year, expect to see D.J. Moore and Reshard Langford playing on Sundays — Moore as a first day pick and Langford perhaps as a free agent, the path Buggs and Gatewood took. I really think Langford's going to crack some team's roster.

Other players who might get a shot in NFL camps include wide receivers Sean Walker and George Smith and maybe even kicker Bryant Hahnfeldt. And what about Chris Nickson as an athlete? I always wanted to see him try another position besides quarterback. But all those guys are long-shots.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Angry Bronco fans rally ’round Jay Cutler — who's smart because he went to Vanderbilt

Can you imagine what last year's Vanderbilt football team would have done with Jay Cutler at the helm?

Well, right now Denver Broncos fans are imagining what life might be like without Jay Cutler at the helm. And they're not happy.

In case you missed it, the Broncos were approached by Tampa Bay about a three-way trade with the Patriots that would have sent Matt Cassell to Denver and Cutler to the Buccaneers. Josh McDaniels, as you may recall, was selected to replace fired Denver head coach Mike Shanahan in large part because of the performance of perennial backup Cassell after Tom Brady went down for the season.

You know, McDaniels was going to implement the Patriots system so why not bring the Patriots quarterback to Denver with him? Of course, Cassell is now headed for Kansas City and the Broncos office is now saying that Tampa Bay approached them first and they've never had any intentions of trading Cutler.

Come on. Why didn't Tampa Bay approach, say, the Colts and ask for Peyton Manning? Because they didn't have a chance. But they thought they'd have a chance with the Broncos franchise quarterback. And why is that?

Cutler, who has a reputation for being cocky and outspoken (after all, he is a multimillionaire NFL quarterback who's been on "South Park"; see above photo) is understandably livid and quickly unloaded on a Denver Post reporter.

In the story, Cutler wonders if McDaniels thinks he's not smart enough to run the complicated new offense. Then the reporter mentions that Cutler graduated from Vanderbilt. I can tell you it works — I graduated from Vanderbilt and let's just say that people think I'm smarter than I really am.

Anyway, when the story broke, Denver fans went crazy posting in defense of Cutler. My favorite comment: "If we trade Cutler, I'll shoot myself."

Now there's even a site dedicated to saving Jay Cutler.