It has been four years since the Vanderbilt Commodores have had a winning season and 30 years since they've won at least eight games. The Commodores have been the doormat of the SEC for a number of reasons but none more significant than the team's inability to match up with rivals like Tennessee at recruiting.
Since James Franklin was named the team's head coach in December 2010, things have been turning around in Nashville, with the team improving its win total by four games and earning an invitation to the Liberty Bowl.
But what really has Commodores fans excited is the complete turnaround in recruiting under Coach Franklin.
Under previous head coaches Bobby Johnson and Robbie Caldwell, the Commodores failed to get a foothold in chasing the top recruits in the nation.
According to Rivals.com, the Commodores' recruiting class never topped 61st in the nation during the coaches' time, even falling out of the top 100 recruiting classes for the 2004 season.
Franklin immediately made his presence known on the recruiting circuit, assembling the 29th-ranked recruiting class in the country in his first year, including 4-star recruits Caleb Azubike, Andrew Jelks and Brian Kimbrow.
Franklin is headlong into his second recruiting season, and with the announcement per Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel that Florida wide receiver Dominic Walker has committed to Vandy, Franklin currently has the 15th-best recruiting class in the nation.
Franklin's newest class, topped by 4-star quarterback Johnathon McCrary, linebacker Nigel Bowden and wide receiver Carlos Burse is notable not only for the stark increase in talent amongst the recruits but also where that talent is coming from.
Each of the three best player's in last year's recruiting class were Tennesseans, and not a single recruit came from outside of the south. The three 4-star recruits in this year's class were all poached from Georgia, and though the class is still made up primarily of southerners, Franklin has extended his reach into Illinois and California.
Franklin still has a lot of work ahead of him in turning Vanderbilt into a steady recruiting powerhouse.
Though Vanderbilt has commitments from three 4-star recruits and a dozen 3-star recruits, they have yet to recruit any truly elite players from this year's class. ESPN.com ranks their top player in Vanderbilt's class, Dominic Walker, as the 222nd best player in the nation; Rivals.com lists quarterback Johnathon McCrary tops at 100.
James Franklin made a name for himself as a skilled recruiter while a coach at the University of Maryland, and his talent for the job is evident.
But any coach's ability to convince recruits to come to his school will only work for so long; he must show recruits that his team is capable of winning. If Franklin is able to turn Vanderbilt into a credible SEC opponent instead of the conference's favorite homecoming opponent, Vanderbilt will begin to assemble some recruiting classes that could permanently raise the level of Commodores football.