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The Vanderbilt football team made no bones about it at the SEC Media Days: The Commodores are here to stay.
Head coach Bobby Johnson emphatically reinforced that he expects his team to eventually compete at a championship level in the SEC, and he insists that the Commodores were not just a flash in the pan during the 2008 season.
"I think the sky's the limit for Vanderbilt," Johnson said. "We expect to compete for championships. We can continue to make those kind of leaps and bounds."
Recruits certainly seem to be noticing Vanderbilt, as Johnson and the Commodores landed four commitments from three-star prospects over the past two weeks. Those commitments gave the Commodores 14 three-star or better prospects in the 2010 class, exceeding their previous best of 13 in the 2009 class.
The next-best years for Vanderbilt in the modern recruiting era were 2006 and 2007, when the Commodores landed only six players with a three-star ranking or better.
The recruiting numbers for the past two years nearly double the amount of three-star prospects Vanderbilt has had since the recruiting services began releasing rankings back in 2002. What this means for Johnson and the Commodores is that they're beginning to get some talent that can keep up with some of the elite schools in the SEC East.
"We think we've recruited well the last two or three years," Johnson said. "Like I said, I think every year I've been here, we have a fantastic product to go out and recruit with. We're a top 20 rated university. We play football in the SEC. We're in a great city in Nashville. Now you throw in the fact that we've had a winning season, and we know what it takes to go to a bowl game and win it. I think it's an outstanding product to sell."
Sell it he has, not only to the players he's recruiting, but to the players he's coaching. For the first time ever, Vanderbilt seems to go into marquee SEC matchups expecting to win.
"It's more competitive than it's ever been," center Brad Vierling says. "We've been conditioning really hard this offseason. We're in the best shape this team has ever been in."
Johnson may just be one of the most underrated coaches in the country. While some analysts seem to think Vanderbilt can't be a consistent competitor in the SEC, Johnson has no such belief.
"The key thing is to maintain our momentum and make sure that we're doing everything we can to give our guys a chance to win game," he said.
Vanderbilt will look to do just that starting on Aug. 7, when the Commodores hit the field to begin fall practice. Johnson won't be content to let his team be satisfied with their accomplishments from a year ago.
The Commodores will be looking to accomplish a feat in the 2009 season that has never been done in school history: win back-to-back bowl games.
With Johnson at the helm and the returning talent the Commodores have, they're in great shape to do just that.
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