Vanderbilt had the country's 52nd ranked SOS-BE; in the SEC, only Mississippi State was lower (at 58th). They played five games against teams in the power top 30 and lost four: South Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Northwestern; they beat Ole Miss. They played eight games against teams in the bottom half nationally in the power rankings (plus Presbyterian) and won all eight. This is not to say that Vanderbilt was a good team or a bad team, but they were a consistent team that won the games they should win and lost 80% of the rest; three wins, nine wins, or 13 wins is more about schedule than Vanderbilt. (They're are many parallels here with Mississippi State).
If you were to design a consistent team, what would they look like? They would be strong on defense. They would be good in the red zone and prevent explosive plays, and they would not be dependent on turnovers. On offense, they wouldn't turn the ball over, they wouldn't be explosive but they'd have a strong running game. In short, games would be decided by the accumulation of a bunch of small plays, not a handful of big plays.
The Vanderbilt defense was exactly what we'd expect. They were particularly strong against the pass and big pass plays, league average in points off turnovers but very good in the red zone. The offense was altogether different: fairly explosive, but in almost all other ways sub-par. They were terrible in the red zone and on third downs. They ran the ball often, but not that well. In one of the great play-calling conundrums, Vanderbilt runners were among the worst in the country at getting back to the line of scrimmage but Vanderbilt ran the ball more than 80% in short yardage situations (12th most nationally)*. They converted top 10 field position into only 2.2 points per possession.
*To be fair, Tate and Stacey converted on about 70% of short yards runs, which, while not spectacular, is above average.
Vanderbilt has the statistical odor of a team that will lose more games in 2013 than they did in 2012. Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee and Ole Miss may all put up more of a fight. They trade Auburn for Texas A&M out of the West. In good news, they drop Northwestern in 2013 for UAB. Add in some key losses and 2013 could appear to be a small step backwards even if the team, as a whole, is moving in the right direction.
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