A new year means a new start. All 14 SEC teams will start the 2023 season full of optimism, but how about the teams who finished bottom of their division last year? Let’s examine the chances of success for Vanderbilt (East Division) and Texas A&M (West Division) in 2023. Can either go from worst to first?
What did 2022 look like?
Conference record 2-6. Point differential -137.
The Commodores defence was simply woeful in 2022. It gave up an average 36 points per game whilst allowing an average of 469.2 yards per game. For context this ranked 241st and 255th respectively in all of college football.
Sometimes the scheduling gods aren’t kind. In their defence (someone has to play defence for them) they had to play against perennial powerhouses Georgia and Alabama before closing the season against a high octane offense in Tennessee who had caught lightning in a bottle last year.
That said conceding 31 points in a win against Elon, or 45 points against the Sam Hartman lead Wake Forest makes it hard to argue for the Commodores.
The highpoint in a difficult year? A two week win streak in November against SEC opposition both of whom were lead by quarterbacks who were top 40 Draft Picks in the 2023 NFL draft.
The first was a narrow 24-21 road win against the Will Levis lead Kentucky Wildcats. The following week they entertained Anthony Richardson and the Florida Gators winning 24-31. One thing was for certain watching Vanderbilt in 2022, you were going to see points!
Texas A&M (5-7)
Conference record of 2-6. Point differential +19.
Isn’t it funny how the other last placed team had totally different issues?
For the Aggies much was expected of a team with a tough defence, and an offense that was lead by speed demon running back Devon Achane.
They’d also boasted 2022’s number one recruiting class. A class headlined by QB Conner Weigman and wide receiver Evan Stewart. Much was expected of both.
So what happened? The box score shows they didn’t score enough points (average 22.8 points per game) in spite of a decent defensive performance particularly against the pass. They had the 8th stingiest pass defence in college football last year.
But dig a little deeper and you’ll notice that 6/12 games the Aggies played in last year were settled by less than one score. Go deeper still. Of those six, one score games, they only managed to win one of them.
That’s five losses by a combined difference of 19 points. 4 of these losses came against SEC opposition. It’s safe to say Jimbo Fisher’s job would have been on the line had it not been for a reported $86 million dollar guaranteed contract. Removing a coach at that cost is expensive business!
The high point? The late season emergence of Conner Weigman following the benching of Haynes King which culminated in a 23-38 victory for the Aggies at College Station.
Cause for optimism in 2023?
Vanderbilt has largely withstood a mass exodus, with eleven players entering the transfer portal and three declaring for the 2023 NFL draft. The Commodores did hang on to most of its top underclassmen. Quarterback AJ Swann, wide out Will Sheppard and hybrid line backer / safety CJ Taylor are all returning which is a major win for a school of Vanderbilt’s size. Defensive reinforcements are also arriving, with three transfer portal commitments. Stanford edge Aeneas DiCosmo, Stanford DL Jacob Katona and Michigan State linebacker Carson Casteel. The 2023 schedule has also been somewhat kinder. From the SEC West, they’ll play Ole Miss and Auburn in back to back weeks. That means they miss Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi State, and Texas A&M.
For the Aggies the job in 2023 is simple. Put yourselves back in the competition and show that last year was a blip.
The experienced and well respected Bobby Petrino is in at offensive coordinator as Jimbo Fisher relinquishes calling the plays. You can bet Petrino will be looking to get the most out of his hot shot young QB Weigman.
The remainders of the much lauded 2022 recruiting class will be expected to step up. 5 of that heralded class are now off the team either by transfer or as a result of disciplinary issues. As a true freshman wide receiver Evan Stewart lead the team last year with 649 yards on 53 receptions and looked every bit capable of becoming an elite college football receiver. Can Weigman and Stewart form a deadly duo?
On the other side of the ball defensive lineman Shemar Stewart a former five star recruit (no. 9 nationally) flashed as a freshman and he’ll be expected to make the most of an assumed increased opportunity.
Where Vanderbilt struggled in its recruiting efforts, the same can’t be said for the Aggies and Five star running back Rueben Owens could be in line to make an immediate impact. Replacing Devon Achane won’t be easy, but Owens and the returning Amari Daniels should be up to the challenge.
Vanderbilt played the role of much unfancied spoilers down the stretch in 2022. It’s hard to see them doing much beyond that this year.They won’t be going from worst to first. If they have any aspiration of qualifying for a bowl game they will need to come flying out the blocks and make a strong start to the season during the easiest part of their schedule. There can be no slip ups and winning a minimum three of the first four games is a must. Ultimately I think they’ll fall short and fans will be in for another long season, but you will see a lot of points!
- Aug 26 Hawaii
- Sept 2 Alabama A&M
- Sept 9 at Wake Forest
- Sept 16 at UNLV
- Sept 23 Kentucky
- Sept 30 Missouri
- Oct 7 at Florida
- Oct 14 Georgia
- Oct 21 OPEN DATE
- Oct 28 at Ole Miss
- Nov 4 Auburn
- Nov 11 at South Carolina
- Nov 18 OPEN DATE
- Nov 25 at Tennessee
Texas A&M and more specifically Jimbo Fisher simply can’t afford to have another season like last year. With the talent they have on the roster and the changes they have made, I just don’t see it happening again. Their chance of going from worst to first is better than Vanderbilt. A strong start is necessary as any early missteps will see the pressure mount on the head coach. The schedule has been kind and is definitely one of the easier in the SEC this year with just four “true road games”. I think they turn it around but pump the breaks on thinking they get straight back into serious contention at the top of the SEC.
- Sept 2 New Mexico
- Sept 9 at Miami
- Sept 16 ULM
- Sept 23 Auburn
- Sept 30 Arkansas (in Arlington)
- Oct 7 Alabama
- Oct 14 at Tennessee
- Oct 21 OPEN DATE
- Oct 28 South Carolina
- Nov 4 at Ole Miss
- Nov 11 Mississippi State
- Nov 18 Abilene Christian
- Nov 25 at LSU
Texas A&M 8-4