They're not just the smart kids anymore: Vanderbilt is a legitimate threat in the SEC East recruiting world.
You don't have to know a lot about the recruiting infrastructure of the SEC to know that Vanderbilt typically isn't competing for top recruits: in 2011, the last class primarily recruited without Franklin, the 'Dores were No. 70 in Rivals' rankings and didn't land a single four-star recruit. The year before that, No. 61. Before that, No. 71, No. 90, and so on. Those weren't just poor rankings for an SEC team; they were poor for any FBS team.
Last year, they landed the No. 29 class in the nation, per Rivals. And this year might be better: Vanderbilt has turned in a top-20 class, according to some services, boosted by the Signing Day announcement by four-star receiver Jordan Cunningham. As Vandy blog Anchor of Gold wrote, it's reason for "irrational excitement":
The biggest difference of all of the differences since Coach James Franklin has gotten to Vandy is the recruiting. Literally the lowest rated guys in the last two classes would have been near the top of many historic Vandy classes ... This class could very easily surpass last year's class as probably the greatest recruiting class we've ever had.
It's genuinely impressive what Franklin has been able to do: the majority of the team's recruits come from SEC country, with seven of the class' 23 players coming from Georgia. And they're beating out Tennessee for in-state players: Vandy went into talent-rich Memphis and came out with four players, including wide receivers Latevius Rayford and Gerald Perry.
Unfortunately, Signing Day wasn't all sunshine and rainbows for the 'Dores, as they lost out on four-star running back Johnathan Ford to Auburn. With Zac Stacy leaving Nashville, Ford could have been in line for playing time early in his career. Losing out on one player doesn't break a class, and the Vanderbilt should be able to carry on without Ford's services. However, with only one running back in their 2013 class, the Commodores are putting themselves in a potentially difficult situation when it comes to depth at that position.
Bud Elliott’s grade
B. Vanderbilt brought in a big, strong class by Vanderbilt standards. Four four-stars and 22 three-stars isn't great, but the class is better than Kentucky and Missouri, and comparable to that of Tennessee. Vanderbilt is not going to challenge for an SEC title, but this class helps to assure that Vandy will consistently contend for bowl games in the coming years.
Top three players
Bowden is a hyperactive athlete who moves well on a stocky frame. At a shade over 6'0, he's a bit undersized for a middle linebacker, but he fits the mold that has been left behind in 2012 by one of the team's best defenders in recent years. Chris Marve, a four-year starter who captained this team from the middle spot, stood barely 6-feet-tall but was also the key piece in a defense that kept the 'Dores competitive even in down years.
A four-star dual threat quarterback, McCrary just enrolled in Nashville this January. At 6'4, 200 pounds, he has a good frame for a passer and could get in the mix to replace Jordan Rodgers.
Getting big bodies who qualify academically has always been tough for Vandy and they definitely got it this year in Jay Woods, a highly touted three-star from Georgia.
Top three rival classes
Tennessee had a pretty similar class to Vandy's in its first year under Butch Jones. Wake Forest had a decent class, by Wake standards. The smarties at Stanford had a small class, but that's rarely an on-field rivalry. Overall, despite a strong showing, for Vandy, it's awfully tough to compete with the big boys in the SEC.
Biggest National Signing Day drama
Notes from SB Nation blogs
As of 12:15 CST, the Commodores have landed 24 big commitments from players from all over the country. Franklin is set to break his own school record for the most four-star recruits landed in a single year, and this talented crop of players should be a key ingredient as Vanderbilt pushes towards a SEC Championship. The day isn't over yet, either. Four-star linebacker Zach Cunningham, an ESPN 300 player and key piece to the 'Dores recruiting class, is set to make his announcement at 2PM central time. His signing could be the piece that pushes Vandy into the top 20 and sends James Franklin and his staff down to Lonnie's to sing Mark Morrison all night long over an endless buffet of Yuengling-filled buckets.
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