NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The Vanderbilt Commodores have a new coach and are ready to start proving that their winning ways didn't leave when their last one departed.
Derek Mason makes his coaching debut against Temple on Thursday in the nightcap game on the new SEC Network
With James Franklin leading them, the Commodores went 9-4 and finished in the Top 25 rankings each of the past two seasons. They are 16-4 over their past 20 games, tied with South Carolina for the second-best record in the Southeastern Conference in that span.
Franklin now is coaching Penn State, but he brought plenty of talent to Vanderbilt that's still on campus. The Commodores feel like they've been overlooked in all the success of the past two seasons.
''We as players feel that was us,'' quarterback Patton Robinette said. ''That was what we did . and I feel like we're ready to show that, indeed, was us and we're going to keep climbing.''
Guard Spencer Pulley said the Commodores know it's very important to come out strong and play fast.
''Everyone on the team is confident in how we're playing and how confident in how good a camp we had,'' Pulley said.
This will be the third straight season the Commodores have opened the season on a Thursday night, but they get a break in opponent. They lost by four points both to South Carolina in 2012 and to Mississippi in 2013, and now they start against a nonconference opponent facing Temple from the American Athletic Conference.
The Owls are in their second season with coach Matt Rhule after going 2-10 last year playing 13 freshmen. Rhule took them to Notre Dame to open the 2013 season, an experience he thinks helped them not be intimidated the rest of the year. He's hoping for a similar effect in 2014.
''I'm sure some of our freshmen will be scared we're in a different place now,'' Rhule said. ''We're trying to challenge our guys to face their fears. It's OK. ... What better way to start than against an SEC team?''
Here are some things to watch Thursday night:
SMARTER QB: Robinette played in 10 games last season, and the sophomore says he now realizes he wasn't quite ready to be an SEC quarterback. He now sees he was a bit skittish in the pocket, didn't look downfield enough for receivers, work through his progressions or throw the ball to receivers so they could keep running. Mason said he told Robinette not to worry about getting yanked from the game for a mistake. ''I want him to play with a lot of confidence and to not look over his shoulder and worry about making mistakes because football is not a mistake-free game,'' Mason said.
VANDY BACKFIELD: Mason is going with a redshirt freshman as his starting tailback. Ralph Webb from Gainesville, Florida, had a strong spring game, and he edged out junior Brian Kimbrow. Jerron Seymour started eight games last season and tied a team record running for 14 touchdowns. But he dealt with an injury in August, and Mason said Seymour is a few practices away from being ready.
SOPHOMORE SEASON: P.J. Walker comes into the season as Temple's starting quarterback. He started the final seven games as a freshman and wound up throwing for 2,084 yards and 20 touchdowns.
LEARNING ON THE JOB: Temple junior center Kyle Friend has 21 career starts. The rest of offensive line has five combined starts, and that means only six Division I programs have fewer combined starts than Temple's 26. The others are Tennessee (6), Ohio State (20), Arkansas State (22) San Jose State (23) and Army and Louisiana Tech (24). Vanderbilt's offensive line ranks third in the SEC for most combined starts with 82.
NEWCOMER: Mason is the only new head coach in the SEC this season and is one of only five first-year head coaches in FBS this season.
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