Jumping off point for Vandy

2016 Camping World Independence Bowl – Monday, December 26, at 4 pm, CST (espn2)
North Carolina State Wolfpack (6-6, 3-5 ACC) vs. Vanderbilt Commodores (6-6, 3-5 SEC)

William & Mary                W48-14                               South Carolina                     L10-13
at East Carolina               L30-33                                Middle Tennessee                W47-24
Old Dominion                   W49-22                               at Georgia Tech                   L7-38
Wake Forest                     W33-16                              at Western Kentucky    (OT) W31-30
Notre Dame                      W10-3                                Florida                                 L6-13
at Clemson               (OT) L17-24                               at Kentucky                          L13-20
at Louisville                      L13-54                               at Georgia                            W17-16
Boston College                 L14-21                               TSU                                     W35-17
Florida State                     L20-24                               at Auburn                             L16-23
at Syracuse                       W35-20                             at Missouri                           L17-26
Miami                                L13-27                              Ole Miss                              W38-17
at North Carolina               W28-21                             Tennessee                           W45-34

The Vanderbilt Commodores have come a long way, both in this season and in terms of the total program. Coach Derek Mason inherited a program on the ascendancy, but then he promptly ran it into the ground. It is often mentioned how players have to learn and get better, but that idea with coaches is often overlooked. The truth of the matter is, Derek Mason had to learn how to be a head coach, and how to be the voice to guide the ship through the hostel waters of the SEC. In year three, Mason hit his stride and the program has as well.

So it is with that backdrop that Vanderbilt takes on North Carolina State in the Camping World Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana, on December 26 at 4 pm. The game is to be televised on espn2. Like Vandy, N.C. State is 6-6 and like the Commodores, the Wolfpack enter fresh off a victory over their rival. But their paths to this game were quite different.

A pair of overtime games was central to each squad’s season. N.C. State missed a short field goal as time expired that would have beaten eventual playoff participant Clemson, then lost in overtime. Vanderbilt came from behind, then stopped a two-point conversion to beat eventual Conference USA champion Western Kentucky. N.C. State was 4-1 when they missed the opportunity at Clemson, but they went on to lose five of six until their upset win in Chapel Hill. Vanderbilt would lose their following two outings after the WKU win, but the lessons learned proved vital to the team’s 4-2 second half.

Much was expected out of N.C. State, validated by their strong start, but the disappointment at Clemson sent them reeling. N.C. State is led by QB Ryan Finley who threw 15 touchdown passes, and RB Matthew Dayes who rushed for 1,119 yards and 10 scores.

Very little was expected out of Vanderbilt by most, though some believed this revival could happen. Vandy was largely a case of a young team having to learn how to win. In four of their six defeats they had the ball at the end with a chance to tie or win, but inconsistency plagued them, especially from sophomore QB Kyle Shurmur. But helped by his stirring rally in Bowling Green, Shurmur matured. The game slowed down for him, and he put up Vandy’s first 400+ yard passing game since 2006 in the unforgettable win over UT. Ralph Webb became the school’s all-time leading rusher and LB Zach Cunningham became only the second position player ever to be named first team AP all-American and first since 1959, with only a pair of punters in between.

Vanderbilt is the hotter team and the team more excited to be where they are—something typically quite important at bowl time. One key stat, State was only 9-for-17 kicking field goals, with Vandy’s Openshaw 14-for-17. This is a jumping off point for a big 2017 for the Commodores. They’ll win 28-17.