Commodores now a legitimate threat

DESTIN, Fla. -- These were the third SEC spring meetings that Vanderbilt coach James Franklin has attended, and it’s obvious that a few things have changed.

With the Commodores coming off their first nine-win season in nearly 100 years, he’s suddenly drawing a larger contingent of media members wanting to talk to him.

More specifically, their questions have changed.

No longer are people wondering if he can merely get the Commodores to respectability. The questions now are more: Can they become a fixture in the upper half of the league?

“Everybody always liked Vanderbilt because they weren’t a threat,” Franklin said. “It was like, ‘We love Vanderbilt. If my team’s not playing, I’m rooting for Vanderbilt. They’re good guys.’

“But when you do start to put a product out on the field that has a chance to beat anybody week in and week out and be competitive, it’s a completely different perspective. I’m not saying we’re going to go out and win every week, but we’re a threat to.”

Some of the Twitter exchanges between Franklin and his coaches with rival fans, especially some of the Tennessee fans, have been priceless. He has an edge about him that the Vanderbilt fans swear by. Rival fans are more inclined to swear at him.

That's just it, though. In the old days, would anybody have really cared what the Vanderbilt coach was saying?

“It’s completely different,” Franklin said. “For other people to argue that it’s not, that’s just not the case. They’ll try to say it’s because of our personality. That really has nothing to do with it. We’re just being aggressive and doing things that other people have been doing for a long time.”

Where Franklin has noticed the biggest difference on the recruiting trail over the last year or so is the way high school coaches now view Vanderbilt's program. It's obviously paying off. The Commodores are recruiting at a level under Franklin that they never came close to prior to his arrival. They finished 22nd nationally in ESPN's class rankings last year, and their 2014 class is currently ranked 24th.

“Most of (the high school coaches) would have loved to send their kids to Vanderbilt, but just weren’t comfortable with the competitive experience they were going to have on the football field,” Franklin said. “Now, they see the kids are coming back and having a great experience and they’re going to get a great education ... and they're going to win. That’s as important as anything.

“High school coaches are the most informed of all the people in the recruiting process, and those guys have been unbelievable.”