Vanderbilt football bold predictions: Yes, Commodores, Clark Lea will win an SEC game

Aria Gerson
Nashville Tennessean

Vanderbilt football can hang its hat on this: This season will almost certainly be better than last.

In 2020, the Commodores went winless. This year, with nonconference games back, Vanderbilt will likely find itself back in the win column.

Under new coach Clark Lea, the team says it has a new attitude. But Lea faces the same struggles as most first-year coaches with attrition and depth struggles.

How successful will Lea be in his first season? Here are three bold predictions:

1. Vanderbilt wins an SEC game

I'm not ready to say which SEC game the Commodores win, but I have a feeling they'll win one. With a relatively light conference schedule, Vanderbilt has several options. South Carolina was predicted by preseason SEC media poll voters and coaches poll voters to be the second-worst team in the conference. Kentucky nearly lost to the Commodores last season. Mississippi State will probably be better than it was last season, but last season it was a mess. And Tennessee? Well, Vanderbilt has beaten the Vols more times than it has lost since 2012.

2. Vanderbilt has an All-SEC player

The Commodores were shut out from the preseason All-SEC teams by coaches and media. But this team has talent, and at least one player will break through for that all-conference distinction.

My money is on one of the pass-catchers. First-team receivers Cam Johnson, Will Sheppard and Chris Pierce have impressed in practice and preseason scrimmages, and tight end Ben Bresnahan rated well among other SEC tight ends last season.

But don't overlook the defense, either. Defensive tackle Daevion Davis has been turning heads, as has linebacker Elijah McAllister, who plays the versatile anchor position.

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3. Ken Seals breaks Kyle Shurmur's sophomore passing record

Ken Seals has not been named the Commodores' starting quarterback, and Lea has hinted that he won't name one until before the first game. But Seals started with the first team in the most recent scrimmage and as Vanderbilt's starter last year is the odds-on favorite for the job.

Seals already found his way into the record books as a freshman. His 1,928 yards in 2020 was the most for a freshman quarterback in school history, and Seals did it in fewer games. His 2020 season also ranks third all-time in single season completion percentage.

That's a good start for Seals. Combine that with the talent at receiver and a dangerously thin running back room, and it stands to reason the Commodores will be passing a lot. Shurmur's sophomore record, set in 2016, is 2,409 yards. Prorate Seals' 2020 numbers across 12 games and he's at 2,570, more than Shurmur's record.

Another record to keep an eye on is for most 300-yard passing games in a season. Seals is tied for third on the list with three; Kurt Page's 1983 record holds the top spot with six. The offense would have to be better than it was last season for Seals to hit that mark, but if he continues to improve and the offense is built around him, the record isn't out of the question.

Aria Gerson covers Vanderbilt athletics for The Tennessean. Contact her at agerson@gannett.com or on Twitter @aria_gerson.