Vanderbilt Commodores

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 17: Dedrick Mills #26 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets eludes the tackle attempt by Zach Cunningham #41 of the Vanderbilt Commodores to score a touchdown at Bobby Dodd Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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SEC’s leading tackler Zach Cunningham declares for the 2017 NFL Draft

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It’s not often that Vanderbilt is a must-stop sight on the Pro Day circuit for NFL scouts but it might be this year.

Commodores star linebacker Zach Cunningham has declared for the 2017 NFL Draft instead of returning to school for his senior season. The redshirt junior announced the move at Saturday’s Walter Camp Football Foundation Awards Banquet.

Cunningham did just about everything he could on the field for the team this season, becoming Vanderbilt’s first ever unanimous First Team All-American. He led the SEC in tackles with 125 total stops and finished third all-time on the school’s career list for tackles for loss despite playing just three seasons.

The 6-4, 230 pounder isn’t considered a first round pick by most pundits but fans, coaches and players across the south are well aware of what the tackling machine can do on the field and probably won’t be too broken up about seeing Cunningham move on to the next level.

Amidst Cal rumors, Derek Mason reaffirms commitment to Vandy

COLUMBIA, MO - NOVEMBER 12: Derek Mason head coach of the Vanderbilt Commodores gives support to his team during a game against the Missouri Tigers in the first quarter at Memorial Stadium on November 12, 2016 in Columbia, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Even as we don’t know yet who’ll be the new head coach at Cal, we can cross one potential name off the list. Probably.

Cal is in the midst of a search to replace Sonny Dykes, who was summarily dismissed three days ago after four years on the job.  In a tweet earlier today, FOXSports.com‘s Bruce Feldman suggested that Cal could be interested in Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason to fill the vacancy.

Not long ago, Mason took to the same social medium to address that potential interest.

The interest in Mason on Cal’s part makes sense on at least one level. From 2010-2013, Mason was an assistant at rival Stanford, with the last two seasons coming as defensive coordinator before leaving for Vandy after the 2013 season.

In his three seasons at the school, Mason has guided the Commodores to a 13-24 record. Mason’s third season ended with a bowl bid.

Cal offensive coordinator/interim head coach Jake Spavital (HERE) and Wisconsin defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox (HERE) have both reportedly interviewed for the job.

CFT Previews: Your Dec. 27 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

ANNAPOLIS, MD - DECEMBER 03:  Members of the Temple Owls celebrate after defeating the Navy Midshipmen 34-10 win the AAC Championship game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 27 bowl menu, which features just the second ranked team to play in the postseason as well as two ACC teams along with one each from the Big 12 and SEC.

WHO: Army (7-5) vs. North Texas (5-7)
WHAT: The 6th Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl
WHERE: Cotton Bowl, Dallas, Texas
WHEN: Noon ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: This is one of those unique bowl games in which there’s very tangible recent history on which to look back on — North Texas easily handled Army 35-18 in Denton in Week 7 of the 2016 season, thanks in very large part to a whopping seven Black Knight turnovers.  Since that win, UNT has stumbled while Army hasn’t, with the former going 1-4 down the stretch and the latter 3-2.  Army is easily one of my favorite stories of the 2016 college football season, though, with the service academy winning at least seven games — two of those came against FCS teams, it should be noted — for the first time since 2010 and just the third time in nearly three decades; an eighth win would be the program’s most since going 10-2 during the 1996 season.  They capped off this bounceback regular season in the best way possible, too, beating Navy and snapping a 14-game losing streak in the rivalry game in the process.  While it came in a sub-.500 season, the Mean Green will be playing in a bowl game to cap 38-year-old Seth Littrell‘s first season as a head coach, with UNT going bowling for the first time since 2013.  This is likely the most relevant stat for this game: Army is second nationally in rushing yards per game at 327.8, while UNT is 105th (out of 128 teams) in the country in stopping the run at 219.2 ypg.  Army ran for 303 yards in the loss to UNT earlier in the season, but the Mean Green scored 21 points off Black Knights turnovers to secure the 35-18 win.  Here’s to guessing that more than a half-dozen turnovers aren’t on Army’s bowl agenda and they get that eighth win.  Plus, #Merica, which goes without saying
THE LINE: North Texas, +10
THE PREDICTION: Army 27, North Texas 17

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WHO: Wake Forest (6-6) vs. No. 24 Temple (10-3)
WHAT: The 9th Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, Maryland
THE LINE: Wake Forest, +11½
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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WHO: Minnesota (8-4) vs. Washington State (8-4)
WHAT: The 39th National Funding Holiday Bowl
WHEN: 7:00 PM ET on ESPN
WHERE: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California
THE LINE: Minnesota, +10
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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WHO: Baylor (6-6) vs. Boise State (10-2)
WHAT: The 28th Motel 6 Cactus Bowl
WHEN: 10:15 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Chase Field, Phoenix, Arizona
THE LINE: Baylor, +7½
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

NC State smashes Vanderbilt in Independence Bowl rout

North Carolina State running back Matthew Dayes (21) tries to fight off a tackle by Vanderbilt safety Ryan White (14) in the first half of the Camping World Independence Bowl NCAA college football game in Shreveport, La., Monday, Dec. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
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NC State was too much for Vanderbilt on Monday night. More specifically, the pitch-and-catch combination of Ryan Finley-to-Jaylen Samuels was too much for Vanderbilt, as the Wolfpack raced to a 41-17 Independence Bowl victory in Shreveport, La.

Finley and Samuels hooked up six times for 104 yards and three decisive touchdowns on the night. The first came at the 9:08 mark of the second quarter, a 9-yard strike to put NC State on top 7-3, handing the club a lead it would not relinquish. The second connection came nearly eight minutes later, a 55-yard snatch-and-dash that all but put the game out of reach at 14-3.

After a 5-yard scoring rush by Reggie Gallaspy II pushed the lead to 21-3, Finley’s third and final strike to Samuels, a 17-yard connection, put the game out of reach with 5:34 still to play in the third quarter.

Vanderbilt briefly climbed back in the game when Ralph Webb posted a 30-yard touchdown run and Khari Blasingame bulled in from the 1-yard line to pull the Commodores within 28-17 with 10:37 left in the game, but NC State (7-6) immediately ended any comeback hopes when Nyheim Hines raced the ensuing kickoff back 100 yards for a touchdown.

Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmer provided NC State its final score of the night when Niles Clark returned an interception 32 yards for a touchdown as time expired. Shurmur finished the night hitting 19-of-46 passes for 158 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. Vanderbilt (6-7) managed 156 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 4.5 yards per carry.

Finley closed his season connecting on 19-of-30 passes for 235 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Matthew Dayes led the Pack on the ground with nine carries for 47 yards.

The win pushed the ACC to 2-0 in bowl games pitting 6-6 teams and clinched at least a .500 record for the conference against the SEC in 2016. The ACC is now 7-3 against its southeastern rival with three games and the possibility of a Clemson-Alabama CFP national championship still remaining.

NC State leads Vanderbilt in low scoring Independence Bowl

Vanderbilt v Mississippi State
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NC State holds a 14-3 lead over Vanderbilt at halftime of the Independence Bowl. And with the way Vanderbilt’s offense performed through the first two quarters, an 11-point separation might as well be 100.

Vanderbilt opened the scoring when Tommy Openshaw concluded an 8-play, 46-yard drive with a 52-yard field goal at the 6:06 mark of the first quarter. But as Vanderbilt’s offense gave the ‘Dores the lead, their next possession did the opposite. Kyle Shurmur was intercepted in his own territory, and NC State capitalized when Ryan Finley hit Jaylen Samules for a 9-yard scoring strike at the 9:08 mark of the second quarter to give the Wolfpack the lead.

The Commodores marched 62 yards in seven snaps on their next possession, but Openshaw’s 27-yard try was a duck that sailed wide left. Vanderbilt had a great opportunity to take a late lead before the halftime gun, accepting the ball at its own 36 with 3:09 remaining, but punted just 55 seconds later.

After the punt, Finley again found Samuels — this time on a 55-yard snatch-and-dash that gave NC State its second score of the day at the 1:24 mark of the half. Finley closed the half connecting on 14-of-17 throws for 164 yards with two touchdowns while rushing three times for 19 yards, and Samuels netted eight grabs for 87 yards and both of the scores. NC State has also rushed for 87 yards on 19 attempts.

Shurmur struggled mightily to throw the ball, completing 6-of-18 passes for 63 yards with an interception. The ‘Dores have rushed for 94 yards on 16 carries, but 45 of them came on one Trent Sherfield carry.

Vanderbilt will receive to open the second half.