Saturday scrimmage scenes.
— Vanderbilt Football (@VandyFootball) September 5, 2020
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In a season unique in uncountable ways, Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason and his Commodores are welcoming the challenge of what lies ahead starting at the end of this month.
Vandy will start what is scheduled to be a 10-game, league only slate Sept. 26 when it visits No. 13 Texas A&M. The Dores will play nine straight more Southeastern Conference games after that during a campaign heavily altered by the affects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re going to take every team, starting with Texas A&M, and get better. That’s what we want to do,” Mason said. “We want to compete, we want to find ourselves deep into the fourth quarter well in ballgames and trying make sure we can compete to win these games. That’s exactly what it looks like.
“The challenge in 2020 is to make sure we can get to the blackout zone, find ourselves trying to get to deep water and playing good football in the fourth quarter to try to bring games home and put some victories in the win column.”
Typically, in the modern era of SEC football, teams play eight conference games and are afforded four matchups against nonconference foes. Vanderbilt was previously scheduled to begin the 2020 season Sept. 5 at home against Mercer.
Instead, the Commodores are headed to College Station, Texas, for just the second time in program history and for the first time since 2013. They’ll open their home slate the following Saturday (Oct. 3) against the defending national champions and sixth-ranked LSU.
“I love the idea of (only) playing SEC football,” Mason said. “I don’t think you’ve ever heard me in the time that I’ve been here ever waver about this being a really competitive conference and that all teams are good in this conference – and I don’t think I’ve ever complained about a schedule.”
Vandy has one bye week (Oct. 24) over the next 2+ months. From the end of this month until Dec. 5 it will play five home games and five road games against many of its long-time rivals.
The month of November lines up to be a guantlet with back-to-back road trips to Mississippi State and Kentucky, respectively, followed by home games with No. 8 Florida and then arch-rival No. 25 Tennessee.
“We usually play eight SEC games, anyway, so it’s not too much of a difference – an extra two games,” Vanderbilt senior defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo said. “I’m excited to be able to play with the best of the best. And that’s why we came to this school, to play in the SEC.”
Of course, the major wildcard as the season approaches is how the ongoing battle against COVID-19 will affect all SEC-member programs. The Commodores have already paused preseason practice twice for precautionary reasons and numerous teams throughout the conference (and country) have been faced with similar circumstances.
Vanderbilt and Mason have continued to monitor the current climate and prepare as best as possible for what may lie ahead – much of which could be the unknown.
“Right now I don’t see any of our players having any anxiety about what we’re doing,” Mason said. “I think what people have to wrap their minds around is COVID is something we don’t have a cure for, COVID is something that we’re trying to minimize.
“We just keep talking about what we’re going to do in terms of our protocols and procedures. Somebody is going to get it. When they do we’re not going to panic. You got to make your teams aware of what you have to do outside of this place.”
More schedule notes
• Vanderbilt’s Sept. 26 opener is latest start date for the program since 1959 when it began that campaign Sept. 26 at Georgia.
• The Commodores’ Oct. 3 home opener is its latest home opener since 1959 when it welcomed Alabama on that date of that year.
• Vandy’s regular-season finale is scheduled for Dec. 5. That would be the latest the Dores have wrapped up a regular season since 1911 when it finished with a win over Sewanee on Dec. 9.
• The Dores’ 10 games in the regular season will be their fewest played since the 1969 squad also played 10.
• Vanderbilt traditionally ends its season with a matchup against cross-state rival Tennessee. This season’s finale against Georgia will mark the first time since 2013 (Wake Forest) that Vandy has ended the slate with a team other than the Volunteers.
• A regular-season finale in December marks the first time that has occurred for Vanderbilt since 2001 when it ended that season Dec. 1 at Ole Miss.
Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com. Follow him @MrChadBishop.