NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The first season of Vanderbilt football under head coach Clark Lea will have some serious challenges as far as the 2021 schedule is concerned, a full slate that was released Wednesday.
While Lea and the Commodores have seven home games, four of those matchups are against opponents who defeated Vandy in 2019. Vanderbilt also ends the season with two road contests against key division rivals.
After an 0-9 season in 2020 and a 3-19 mark in the last 22 contests, the Dores will try to break a 10-game losing streak when they begin the campaign Sept. 4 against East Tennessee State at Vanderbilt Stadium.
Here’s a closer look at the 2021 schedule as the Clark Lea era begins in mere months:
The last time Vanderbilt won a football game was actually against the Buccaneers, a 38-0 triumph Nov. 23, 2019. Ke’Shawn Vaughn rushed for 139 yards and two touchdowns in that contest while quarterback Riley Neal threw for 179 yards and two scores in the 2019 season’s home finale.
September’s meeting will be just the second between the two programs separated by less than 300 miles.
East Tennessee, coached by Randy Sanders, finished the 2019 campaign 3-9 and did not play in 2020. It is scheduled to participate in an eight-game, Southern Conference-only season starting Feb. 20.
AT COLORADO STATE
Vanderbilt’s first road trip of 2021 will be a long one.
The Commodores will head to Fort Collins, Colorado, to play Colorado State in the first meeting between the two programs. Vanderbilt last played a game in the state of Colorado in 1979, when it lost 30-29 to Air Force.
Colorado State, led by head coach Steve Addazio, played a four-game schedule in 2020 and went 1-3 in those contests. The Rams went 4-8 in 2019.
Vandy is 4-4 all-time against programs out of the Mountain West Conference.
The first meeting between two academic heavyweights – Vanderbilt and Stanford – is scheduled for Sept. 18 at Vanderbilt Stadium.
A six-game 2020 schedule saw the Cardinal go 4-2 and end the season on a four-game winning streak. Head coach David Shaw’s team went into the offseason after a 48-47 double-overtime win at UCLA.
Vandy has only played one previous game against a program from the Pac-12, a 1961 matchup at UCLA.
Vanderbilt and Georgia attempted to meet on the gridiron twice in 2020, but COVID-19 forced the first matchup to be postponed and the second to be canceled. That meant 2020 was the first time since 1967 that Vandy and Georgia did not play one another.
The 2021 contest is scheduled for Sept. 25 in Vanderbilt Stadium. That will mark the first time since 1932 and 1952 the two teams have played consecutive games in Nashville. Georgia won the last meeting 30-6 in 2019 on West End.
Owning a 59-20-2 mark against the Commodores, the Bulldogs went 8-2 in 2020 and completed their season by beating Cincinnati 24-21 in the Peach Bowl.
Vandy steps back outside of SEC play and begins the month of October by hosting UConn on Oct. 2 at Vanderbilt Stadium.
The Huskies did not play in 2020 after going 2-10 in 2019. Head coach Randy Edsall’s team competes in the American Athletic Conference and is 6-30 over its last 36.
Vanderbilt has faced UConn three previous times: A 28-24 win in 2002 in Nashville, a 40-21 loss in 2010 in Hartford, Connecticut, and a 24-21 victory in 2011 back in Music City.
The first of seven straight league tilts, four of which will be on the road, occurs Oct. 9 in Gainesville, Florida.
Vanderbilt has only defeated the Gators 10 times in 54 tries and just twice at The Swamp – the last being in 2013. Florida has won seven consecutive matchups, including last season’s 38-17 victory at Vanderbilt Stadium.
Head coach Dan Mullen’s team went 8-4 in 2020 and ended the season with three defeats in a row, including a 55-20 loss to Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl.
AT SOUTH CAROLINA
In 30 tries, Vanderbilt has defeated South Carolina just four times. It will go for a fifth win against the Gamecocks on Oct. 16 in Columbia, South Carolina – although the Dores have not won there since 2007.
South Carolina went 2-8 in 2020 and ended the season on a six-game losing streak. Shane Beamer will be in his first season as the Gamecocks’ head coach in 2021.
The Commodores lost last season’s contest 41-7 in Nashville.
Vanderbilt ends in the month of October with consecutive home games, the first against the Mike Leach-coached Bulldogs of Mississippi State on Oct. 23.
Mississippi State was a 4-7 team in 2020 and ended the campaign with a 28-26 triumph over Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl. The Bulldogs also beat Vandy 24-17 on Nov. 7.
Vanderbilt is 7-14-2 in 23 all-time meetings against the Bulldogs having last won in 2004.
Missouri heads to Nashville on Oct. 30 looking to build on an 8-4-1 mark all-time against the Commodores. The two teams have split the two most recent meetings with the home team winning each of those.
Missouri went 5-5 in 2020 and was scheduled to face Iowa in the Music City Bowl until that event was canceled.
The Tigers topped Vandy 41-0 last season in Columbia, Missouri.
The Commodores do not have an off week until the first weekend of November. They resume the 2021 schedule with the final stretch of the season against SEC East competition starting with a visit from Kentucky on Nov. 13.
Vandy has lost five in a row to the Wildcats and six of seven since 2014. Kentucky now leads the all-time series 47-42-4.
The Wildcats were 5-6 in 2020 and went into the offseason fresh off a 23-21 victory over North Carolina State in the Gator Bowl.
AT OLE MISS
Ole Miss will go for its third straight win over Vanderbilt when it welcomes the Commodores to Oxford, Mississippi, on Nov. 20.
Coached by Lane Kiffin, the Rebels were a 5-5 team in 2020 and ended the season by knocking off Indiana in the Outback Bowl. They also own a 53-40-2 mark against Vandy.
The Commodores, who lost last year’s battle 54-21, were last able to escape Vaught-Hemingway Stadium with a win in 2012.
Meeting No. 116 between Vanderbilt and Tennessee is scheduled to be played Nov. 27 in Knoxville, Tennessee.
A back-and-forth affair in the last decade (each team won five games), the long-time rivalry next continue at Neyland Stadium in the regular season finale for both squads. Vandy and Tennessee played Dec. 12 – a 42-17 Volunteers victory – before Tennessee went on to end its season with a 34-13 loss at Texas A&M.
The Volunteers went 3-7 in 2020 and will have a new coach in 2021. They will be looking for their first three-game winning streak over the Commodores since winning six in a row from 2006-11.
Vanderbilt last won in Knoxville in 2017.
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.