This is the $10,000 question for Vanderbilt. Sophomore Chris Nickson was hobbled with injuries throughout the spring but emerged as the leader in the quarterback race over redshirt freshman MacKenzi Adams. Adams, however, played the entire Black & Gold scrimmage and showed some promise despite being treated for heat exhaustion after the scrimmage. Bobby Johnson must have had concerns for the position after he went out and obtained the services of veteran quarterback Richard Kovalcheck who transfered from Arizona and will be eligible in 2006 due to a new NCAA rule. Incoming freshman Jared Funk may also have say in the matter. Funk was a 3-star Scout.com prospect and like Cutler, Nickson and Adams possesses good running and accurate passing abilities. Another freshman could also make a run at the quarterback position. Turner Wimberly was recruited a quarterback/safety and could get a shot at quarterback at Vanderbilt. He accumulated over 2,400 yards in total offense at Westlake High School in Texas and then attended The Hun School in New Jersey where he earned Prep Player of the Year honors.
So who will emerge as starter? Our guess is that Nickson will start at Michigan but eventually Kovalcheck may get the nod. The 2006 team has talent and Bobby Johnson will not sacrifice the season breaking in a new quarterback. He will go with the experienced, veteran quarterback if Nickson or Adams don't get the job done. Wimberley and Funk will both very likely be redshirted.
Will Vanderbilt continue its improvement?
Many "experts" believe that Jay Cutler was superman. Cutler passed, blocked and caught his own passes. He even helped with some goal-line-stands on defense! Bobby Johnson and his staff have worked hard to improve the speed and athletisism of the team. Steve Spurrier, who knows his football, noticed this after he returned to coaching at South Carolina. Spurrier usually tells it like it is. While there may be a little dropoff due to the quarterback situation expect Vanderbilt to continue to improve.
How many games will the Commodores win?
Wins have been few and far between for the Commodore program since 1960. Since that year Vandy has only managed four winning seasons (above .500). Since 1982 Vanderbilt has had near misses of winning seasons with five 5-win seasons in 1984, 1992, 1994, 1999 and 2005. The 2005 team had the best chance at a 6-win season since 1982. Astonishing losses to MTSU and Kentucky cost Vanderbilt a sorely needed bowl. This season Vandy's schedule is tougher. Look for sure wins in the Tennessee State and Temple games. Duke, Kentucky and Ole Miss will be tougher but could go either way. Michigan, Georgia, Florida, Arkansas and South Carolina will be tough nuts to crack. More than likely Vanderbilt will lose those games but it's possible that Vanderbilt could emerge victorious in at least one of those games. Then there's Tennessee. Their quarterback situation is probably worse than Vandy's. By the time Vanderbilt hosts UT, Vandy's quarterback will be in the groove. The Vols will be beatable . . . again. Worst case scenario: 2-10 Best case scenario: 8-4 Most likely: 4-8 or 5-7.
Will the defense get more defensive?
Yes. Two words: Rick Logo. He's going to help the Vanderbilt defense. Vanderbilt has not gotten good production from its defensive line over the past few years. It wasn't all the players fault. While Vandy will not have a monster defense it will be capable of making some stops and giving the team a chance to win. Chris Booker, Jonathan Goff, Josh Allen, Theo Horrocks, Kevin Joyce, Reshard Langford, Curtis Gatewood, Ray Brown and Marcus Buggs are all battle tested veterans that can play defense. Expect a better defense during the 2006 season due to better schemes and personnel.
Who will be the "Earl Bennett" of the incoming freshman class?
Earl Bennett is a special player who likely single handidly helped propel Jay Cutler into a first round draft choice. The Denver Broncos probably do not have a wide receiver as good as Earl Bennett. There isn't another "Earl Bennett" in this recruiting class. However there may be some solid, impact players. Jonathan Massey could very well end up seeing significant action at either fullback or tight end. Greg Billinger, who opted for academics, could end up as a starter on the defensive line. Brett Upson may emerge as the starting punter even if Hahnfeldt returns this season (and it's looking good for his return). Although he's not a true freshman, Bobby Johnson has said some good things about redshirt freshman Ryan Hamilton. Hamilton will likely be the starting free safety at Michigan.