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Derek Mason feels Vanderbilt is ready to make a move in the SEC East

The fourth-year Commodore head coach finally has the “junior-senior” team he’s been craving.

NCAA Football: SEC Media Days Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

When Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason stepped off the stage at SEC Media Days, one would have thought the Commodores were on the verge of playing for the national title. The energy, enthusiasm, and confidence exhibited by Mason as he spoke of his team has, so far, been unrivaled in Hoover.

“Vanderbilt football is on the rise,” Mason proclaimed; “As I look at our program and where we're at and what we've done, I thought in 2016, we took several steps forward to be a better program.” Mason spoke of his team’s steady improvements each year with him at the helm. “This group is definitely moving forward.”

Mason, who will enter his fourth year as the Commodores’ lead man, stressed the importance of experience with college football being a “junior-senior sport.” Mason noted that Vandy has “38 juniors and seniors on this ball club. And these guys are primed. They understand exactly what the expectation is. They work through it every day, and that's good for Vanderbilt football.”

The Commodores have shown noticeable improvement since Mason’s first days – going from 3-9 in 2014 to 6-7 in 2016. “I said to myself I couldn't wait to be a junior-senior football team in this conference. Now, I'm not having to wait anymore,” Mason said. “We're here.”

Vanderbilt’s offense returns veteran quarterback Kyle Shurmur and running back Ralph Webb. Shurmur threw for over 2400 yards and nine touchdown passes, while Webb ranked second among returning SEC running backs with 1,283 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.

Webb and linebacker Oren Burks both had similar remarks on the state of the SEC East. “We want to compete and win the East just like everyone else, and we are going to do everything in our power to go out and get it done,” Webb said. “We caught some fire late in the year last year, and we are going to use that to start out hot this year. We are going to make sure we carry that out through the entire season.”

Burks: “We have always been the underdog in the SEC. We kind of like that, and we know what work we are putting in. We know we are setting ourselves up for a great season. So that is all that matters, and all this talk will go on. It matters about getting to the ball.”

Missouri freshman running back Damarea Crockett was a popular topic of discussion for both Webb and Burks, as each player had positive impressions of the Tiger. “He fits well in his offense,” Oren Burks said of Crockett, adding, “He’s very explosive.” Webb simply labeled Crockett as a “good back in this conference.”

Missouri defeated Vanderbilt in Columbia last season, 26-17, giving the Tigers one of their two SEC victories in 2016. Drew Lock and Crockett fared well, going for 294 passing yards and 154 rushing yards, respectively, and combining for three touchdowns. The Commodores’ offense did not function as smoothly – Shurmur threw two interceptions and Webb barely eclipsed 30 yards rushing on 11 carries.

With an overall improving team, a veteran quarterback, and a severely underrated running back (in my opinion), Vanderbilt fans should be excited. As Mason put it, “There is no ceiling.”