Things have been somewhat of a roller coaster ride for the Vanderbilt Commodores since winning the BBVA Compass Bowl in early January.
After going out and getting their top choice at head coach in Derek Mason, things seem to be stabilizing for a program that is looking to remain out of the SEC cellar.
There are several reasons why the Commodores are in good shape to have another successful season even with James Franklin no longer running the show.
Perhaps the biggest thing the Commodores have going for them is their 2014 schedule, which includes eight home games. Their schedule will be their best friend as Mason begins to shape this program into his own.
The Commodores could very easily end up winning their first three games at home, with South Carolina coming in for a September 20 meeting in Nashville. The fact that the Commodores have their first four games at home is huge for their confidence.
The back end of the schedule also offers a lot of opportunities to string together some wins, including a very weak non-conference schedule.
|2014 Vanderbilt Schedule|
|11/22||@ Mississippi State|
Immediately after Franklin departed for Penn State, the Commodore recruiting class began to fall apart. Slowly but surely, Mason is rebuilding that recruiting class to be respectable as signing day unfolds.
The latest big commitments are safety Emmanuel Smith and defensive end Nifae Lealao, putting the Commodores right back into strong territory with their recruiting class.
Mason is clearly looking to build a gritty defense like the ones he coached with Stanford.
They also have running back prospect Dallas Rivers officially signed, and he's rated as a 3-star prospect by 247Sports.com. Rivers is expected to compete for significant playing time in his first season, and he will help this Commodore rushing attack continue to be a formidable one.
|Top 5 Vandy Prospects|
|Nifae Lealao||4-Star||DE||Sacramento, CA|
|Emmanuel Smith||4-Star||S||Murfreesboro, TN|
|Dallas Rivers||3-Star||RB/ATH||Stone Mountain, GA|
|Trent Sherfield||3-Star||S||Danville, IL|
|Cole Hardin||3-Star||OT||Florence, AL|
The Commodores have also jumped up 35 spots in the recruiting rankings, according to 247Sports.com, since the initial plunge when Franklin left. It may not be where the Commodores would've been if Franklin had stayed, but it does show that this program's future success isn't tied solely to Franklin.
Finally, everyone has to remember that Franklin left this program in great shape to remain successful. After you drop the bitterness, you realize he gave this program a foundation that is now going to be carried on by another rising star in Mason.
All it will take is another respectable season for Franklin to be quickly forgotten and for Mason to keep building this program up.
Realistically, the Commodores are still a few seasons away from competing for an SEC East title. With that said, there's no reason to think that Mason can't continue what Franklin has built.