SEC Football Recruiting: James Franklin and Vanderbilt Making a Statement
Vanderbilt has long been the doormat of the SEC in football, sitting in the proverbial cellar for years.
Once in a blue moon the Commodores have sprung out of the basement, for maybe one six or seven win season, with a player like quarterback Jake Cutler leading the team in years past.
However, for the most part, there has been light success in Nashville.
It has come to be that 2011 was a year of change for the Vanderbilt program.
New head coach James Franklin, the previous offensive coordinator at Maryland, took over the reigns last off-season.
He slowly but surely changed the disposition of the team, the attitude of the players and the perception of what Vanderbilt football is and can be.
Past coaches leaned on academic standards as the reason for so many losses.
How do they explain Stanford, Northwestern and Baylor? Those programs have had big seasons and upward growth amid their difficult academic standards.
Franklin doesn't believe in excuses. He doesn't let his players believe in them either.
He has his team believing they can win any game and play against any program.
The exciting thing for Commodore fans is that the team did just that.
Winning six games in Franklin's first season in Nashville, Vanderbilt was awarded a bowl invitation. Those invites haven't come all to often in past years.
Not only did they win six games, including wins over Connecticut, Ole Miss, Kentucky and Wake Forrest, they took highly ranked teams to the wire.
The Commodores lost to top-10 ranked Arkansas by just three points, after missing a game tying field goal with seconds left on the clock.
They also fell to Georgia by just five points in a game they had every opportunity to win, lost to Florida by just five and were barely edged out in overtime in a loss to Tennessee.
After a successful season and hints of Vanderbilt rising from the bottom of the SEC totem pole, people began to wonder if this was a one-year wonder or a trend of things to come.
Recruiting is the life blood of a program, especially in the Southeastern Conference.
To truly build a winner in Nashville, Franklin needs to bring in top talent to compete with the big programs in the SEC.
Franklin knows that to maximize the positive season in 2011 the Commodore program needed to sign play-makers this off-season.
Where do they stand in this effort?
As of today, Vanderbilt is ranked No. 24 in the nation for its current recruiting commitments, according to Rivals.com.
To highlight the significance of that ranking, be aware that in the previous decade (before the arrival of Franklin) Vanderbilt failed to finish with a top-50 ranked recruiting class in the Rivals.com team rankings.
From outside the top 50 to ranked in the top 25.
Yes, significant change is happening at Vanderbilt.
The current commitment list for the Commodores is stocked with impressive talent that chose the 'Dores over major programs.
Four star running back Brian Kimbrow chose Vanderbilt over six other SEC schools, including Alabama and Arkansas.
Four star offensive tackle Andrew Jelks picked the Commodores over top programs Stanford, Alabama and Tennessee.
One of the top 15 defensive end prospects in the nation, four-star Caleb Azubike, chose Vanderbilt over a laundry list of school such as Miami, Boston College and Kentucky.
Even better news for Franklin's program is the fact that they are not having to settle for lackluster talent.
Vanderbilt has zero one or two star players on its current commitment list of 20 recruits.
In contrast, over the past three recruiting classes (2009-2011) Vanderbilt signed 16 total two star players, averaging just over five per class.
The Commodores class averages 3.2 stars per player currently. In comparison, LSU, Tennessee and Georgia are just ahead of them at 3.3 and the Commodores are ahead of teams like Arkansas (3.1), Missouri (3.0) and Mississippi State (2.9).
Franklin and his staff aren't done yet and are still going after players like three star linebacker Nardo Govan and four star corner-back Sheldon Dawson.
We all know stars don't always mean much, but they can be a good general indicator of a class.
Vanderbilt will happily trade this class of three and four star players for the classes in years past dotted with overlooked and undersized two star guys.
Six wins and a bowl game, a top 25 ranked recruiting class and a tenacious new head coach.
Things are changing at Vanderbilt and no longer a pushover in Nashville.
Teams around the conference should continue to take notice.
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