- Greg Ostendorf, ESPN Staff Writer
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This week on the SEC blog we're taking a look at the most important position group for each SEC team heading into 2015. Today we wrap up the series with a look at the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Most important position: Quarterback
Why: Derek Mason didn’t beat around the bush when asked what position would be most important to his team’s success this season. Sure, the offensive line had its struggles last season. The defense didn’t play up to the standard set by the first-year coach. But let’s not kid ourselves. The main reason the Commodores went 3-9 was the revolving door that formed at quarterback.
"There’s no doubt about it," Mason said while at the SEC car wash in Bristol last week. "College football is a quarterback’s game. You know it and I know it, too. Here’s what happens: that guy handles the ball every play. He needs to be able to delegate it and manage it."
The four-quarterback carousel wasn’t the answer for Vanderbilt. It was evident right from the beginning when Mason ran out Patton Robinette, Johnny McCrary and Stephen Rivers in the season opener, searching for a spark in the embarrassing 37-7 loss to Temple. The trio combined to throw three interceptions in the game.
True freshman Wade Freebeck was added to the mix later in the season, but he too struggled, throwing one touchdown and five interceptions.
The Commodores look to be improved this season. Ralph Webb is one of the SEC’s best running backs that nobody is talking about, the team returns four starters on the offensive line and the defense has been rejuvenated since Mason took over as the defensive coordinator. But the question remains, who will be the quarterback when they open the season against Western Kentucky?
Robinette and Rivers are out. One chose medical school over football and the other transferred to Northwestern State. That leaves McCrary, Freebeck, Shawn Stankavage and incoming freshman Kyle Shurmur.
More than anything, Mason is simply looking for a game-manager out of that group.
'Nick Saban said something a year ago: (the quarterback) has got to manage the game, he’s got to make sure he takes care of the football and more than anything else, he needs to lead men," Mason said. "And if that guy for us just does that -- if he can manage the turnovers, if he can lead men and if he can make sure at the end of the day he competes at a high level -- we’re a better football team."
4dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough