Vanderbilt's high academic standards have been a point of pride and frustration for its football fans over the years.
Sure, it's nice to compete in the SEC, and the added onus of being a top-20 school makes any and all achievements that much more impressive.
But after last year's breakout, bowl-winning season, moral victories no longer became acceptable.
When Georgia Tech ambushed Vandy in the second half Saturday night with four consecutive touchdowns to win 56-31, officially making a second consecutive bowl trip impossible, we had to start looking at the future.
The big question is, what will this trainwreck of a season do for recruiting?
The 2-7 Commodores are very likely going to finish 2-10 or 3-9 at best. This isn't pessimism; this is realism with top-ranked Florida, and no slouches in Kentucky and Tennessee, on tap the next three weeks.
And Vanderbilt will continue to lag behind other elite academic schools in recruiting. Look at Stanford, a school comparable to Vanderbilt in its status as a tough university competing in a tough football conference.
Both have high academic standards that they are proud of, and the trick recruiting-wise has always been trying to bring in top talents that can not only handle themselves in the classroom as well as they can on the field, but also lure these potential stars away from bigger, glitzier programs.
The Cardinal, in particular, have been impressive. The team has the 11th-best recruiting class in the entire nation (two spots ahead of Southern California) and the best in its conference, the Pac-10.
The Commodores signed perhaps their best recruiting class ever last year, yet it did not even approach Stanford standards. Vanderbilt did not have a single four-star recruit in the class.
They've done better lately. The class they signed for 2009 was their best in recent memory and it's already paid off huge dividends.
Freshman Warren Norman tied an SEC record with his third kickoff touchdown return of the season, and fellow freshman Zac Stacy had a dazzling 62-yard touchdown run, the kinds of big plays that the Commodores have been in desperate need of all season.
It wasn't enough, not by a long shot, but it was welcome to see this kind of production by two players a year removed from high school.
How can Vanderbilt take the next step into the elite?
Stunning observation of the day: A 2-7 record, with a horrific 2-10 mark looking larger and larger in the window, sure won't help matters.
All the progress made by the program with last year's bowl win may have gone down the tubes as the Commodores keep losing. They've lost five in a row, their longest streak in four years, and just can't put together four quarters of good football.
Recruits won't be, and shouldn't be, impressed.
Stanford, on the other hand, shocked No. 1 USC in 2007, but hasn't been to a bowl game since 2001. The difference is the Cardinal seems committed to building a winning program. At 5-3 this season, despite having a brutal four-game schedule on the docket to close the season, they seem to getting there.
Vanderbilt seems to be getting away from it.
The Commodores need to prove to the talent around the southeast that they truly care about being a successful program. If they're settling for bowl appearances four times a century, you can scarcely blame young stars for wanting to go to places where moral victories aren't even part of the vocabulary.