Andy Ludwig

Derek Mason puts his coaching vision in focus at Vandy


Vanderbilt completed the coaching staff for Derek Mason and his second season on Monday with the addition of Cortez Hankton as wide receivers coach. The former NFL receiver comes to Vanderbilt from Dartmouth.

“Cortez is simply one of the brightest, most impressive young coaches in college football,” Mason said in a statement released by Vanderbilt Monday. “He is a tremendous addition to our coaching staff.”

For Mason, the addition of Hankton allows him to move forward into year two as a head coach with a staff he has full confidence can and will buy into his vision for the program, and thrive selling it on the recruiting trails and in practices.

“All these guys have one thing in common. They embody my vision for Vanderbilt football,” Mason told on Monday. “I can already see the changes paying dividends. It’s never easy when you make changes, but what you have to look at is the program and what it looks like moving forward. It didn’t look like good football last season.”

Vanderbilt recently hired former Wisconsin assistant Andy Ludwig to be the new offensive coordinator, and Mason stated he will be taking control of the defense in 2014.

Mason’s debut season as a head coach at Vanderbilt in 2014 was a rough experience, but not one that will break down the tough-minded and determined Mason. Vanderbilt was left with a bare cupboard after James Franklin bolted out of town to take the Penn State job a year ago.

It is far too early to suggest Mason is not cut out for the job of head coach, but year two at Vanderbilt will need to see some changes on the field. College football programs can have short leashes when things are not going well, and few jobs are guaranteed to be safe. Another rough season may not be the end of the line for Mason so quickly, but with Tennessee improving and Florida expected to rebound in the same division as a somewhat consistent Georgia and perhaps Missouri, the pressure to keep pace could continue in 2015.

Vandy adds new OC, but Derek Mason will call the defensive shots

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Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason will not add a defensive coordinator to his staff in 2015. Instead, the former Stanford defensive coordinator will take on the responsibility himself. He will, however, have someone else run the offense. That will be former Wisconsin assistant Andy Ludwig.

Mason was known for his defensive coaching while at Stanford, working under David Shaw. Mason ascended to the role of co-defensive coordinator in 2011 after coaching the defensive backs for the Cardinal in 2010. He then was handed the role of defensive coordinator by Stanford for two seasons under Shaw. He did not have much left to work with when he took over as head coach at Vanderbilt, and the ceiling is still relatively low for the Commodores in 2015, but Mason was clearly not happy with the performance of his team in 2014 and now he is taking on more responsibility for whatever happens on the field in 2015.

Ludwig joins the Vanderbilt staff after two seasons in Madison under Gary Andersen‘s staff. Andersen left for Oregon State, which opened the door for a return for Wisconsin man Paul Chryst. Ludwig has plenty of offensive coordinator experience, having filled the role of offensive coordinator at a number of stops in his coaching career. Prior to his two seasons at Wisconsin, Ludwig was in charge of the offense at San Diego State, California, Utah, Oregon, Fresno State and Cal Poly. At Vanderbilt, Ludwig will also take control of the quarterback coaching, which he has done at multiple stops as well, including the past two years with Wisconsin.

Vanderbilt has been busy at shaking up the coaching staff this season, a disappointing one in Mason’s debut as a head coach. For the players at Vanderbilt, this will essentially be the third coaching staff in three years for the Commodores. Penn State head coach James Franklin took a number of assistants with him when he left the Vanderbilt program a year ago to coach the Nittany Lions. That left Mason with a lot of work to do, and the results this season were not positive.

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 18 Wisconsin

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2013 record: 9-4 overall, 6-2 in Big Ten (2nd in Leaders Division)
2013 postseason: Capital One Bowl vs. South Carolina (34-24 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 22/No. 21
Head coach: Gary Andersen (39-35 overall; 9-4 in 1 year at Wisconsin)
Offensive coordinator: Andy Ludwig (1 year at Wisconsin)
2013 offensive rankings: 8th rushing offense (283.77 ypg); 94th passing offense (197.1 ypg); 18th total offense (480.8 ypg); 27th scoring offense (34.8 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: 6
Defensive coordinator: Dave Aranda (1 year at Wisconsin)
2013 defensive rankings: 5th rushing defense (102.54 ypg); 17th passing defense (202.5 ypg); 7th total defense (305.1 ypg); 6th scoring defense (16.3 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: 3
Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Stadium: Camp Randall Stadium (80,321; FieldTurf)
Last conference title: 2012

Wisconsin has a very favorable draw in the Big Ten scheduling this season, with no Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan or Penn State. The Badgers also get Nebraska at home late in the season, but must travel to Iowa the following week, and I have already suggested how dangerous that can be for Wisconsin. The running game should be as strong as it ever is in Madison with Melvin Gordon set to carry the load behind four returning starters on the offensive line (Kyle Costigan, Rob Havenstein, Tyler Marz and Dan Voltz). Wisconsin’s season starts off with an early test against LSU in Houston, but the Badgers could be looking at a 10-win season and should be the favorite in the Big Ten west to reach the Big Ten championship game.

Wisconsin has had one of the more underrated defenses in recent years, but this is a bit of a rebuilding year for the Badgers on defense. Wisconsin returns just three starters from last season and must rebuild the entire front seven.  Having to replace so much in the first game of the season against LSU could make a difficult take slightly more challenging. Wisconsin may feel comfortable with Joel Stave at quarterback, but the Badgers also need to find their new go-to receiver after losing Jared Abbrederis. The top four receivers on the team have moved on since last season, leaving some uncertainty in the open field for now.

Just how good can Wisconsin be? Is this a Badgers team that will challenge Ohio State or Michigan State for the Big Ten championship in Indianapolis, or will this be a team more likely to play in the Capital One Bowl or Outback Bowl? There is nothing wrong with Orlando or Tampa, but the Badgers will have a chance to prove themselves worthy of being in the same conversation as the Buckeyes and Spartans early on if they can show something against LSU.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Nebraska
The season opener against LSU will certainly be the highlight of the 2014 Wisconsin schedule, and for good reason, but the more realistic make-or-break game will come at the other end of the schedule. With back-to-back November games against Nebraska and Iowa, the Badgers will likely have to do no worst than spit the two in order to earn a trip back to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game. Getting a win out of the way against Nebraska before heading to Iowa would be wise and could prove to be the deciding factor in the Big Ten West this fall.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: Running back Melvin Gordon
We will be highlighting top players from each team in our preseason top 25, but Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon is a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender. Gordon rushed for 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, and that was while splitting time with James White (1,444 yards, 13 touchdowns). With White gone, Gordon’s production may actually increase and challenge the numbers put up by Montee Ball in 2012 or 2011. Of course, getting Gordon some rest when possible could be key for the success of Wisconsin this fall as well.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)