In 2014, Derek Mason had to keep several plates spinning as he rushed to repair the recruiting class James Franklin left behind. That left the Commodores with a few major prospects - Nifae Lealao, Dallas Rivers, and Wade Freebeck, to name a few - and some lesser-known players who still found a way to make an impact as true freshmen. While the jury is still out on the future of these young athletes, Mason's ability to keep Vandy's momentum moving forward on the recruiting trail was a high point in a season that otherwise failed to breach sea level.
The young head coach had a full year to get his 2015 class together, and the early returns show that the extra time paid off. Three of the four major recruiting services have the Commodores rated as one of the top 50 programs in the nation. ESPN, Rivals.com, and 247Sports all have Vanderbilt rated higher than programs like Pittsburgh, Kansas State, Iowa, and Minnesota despite only pulling in 18 recruits this winter. Mason's success in bringing players like Kyle Shurmur, Josh Smith, Donovan Sheffield, and Caleb Peart to Dudley Field will help assuage concerns over his ability to manage an SEC program going forward.
Now that the dust has settled on National Signing Day, let's take a look at where the experts believe Vandy's small-but-potent Class of 2015 ranks among all FBS programs. Rivals.com has the Commodores ranked 47th in the nation. That's ahead of several Big 5 conference teams like Michigan, Kansas State, Iowa, and Pittsburgh:
ESPN was slightly more generous. The ranked the Commodores 44th overall, but still last in the SEC.
247sports fell in the middle, placing Vandy 46th. The 'Dores actually had a higher average recruit rating than the four teams ahead of them, but Derek Mason's relatively small class ultimately hurt them in the rankings. UPDATE: The previous version of this article used 247's composite rankings. Vanderbilt actually placed 42nd in 247's exclusive rankings.
Scout.com, on the other hand, had very little love for Mason's work in 2015. They only considered one Vandy recruit as a four-star prospect and pegged Kyle Shurmur - a player ESPN ranked 110th - as only the 88th-best quarterback in his graduating class. While the team's average recruit rating was strong enough for a top 50 spot, the 'Dores were once again stung by only adding 18 players to an already stuffed roster.
Vanderbilt, Duke, and Michigan were all hampered by the same problem - they had quality pledges on National Signing Day, but not enough to compete with programs that inked 25+ athletes. They also had to deal with stringent academic standards on campus. Here's how the 2015 recruiting rankings break down if you single out the 13 FBS programs that are also rated among the top 30 college and universities in U.S. News and World Report's annual rankings.
|Nerd School Recruiting Rankings (Top 30 in US News Rankings)|
Derek Mason brought a solid haul of high school athletes to help restock his cupboard at Vanderbilt. Top 50 recruiting classes are a luxury that was unheard of as recently as 2008. Still, Mason has to be annoyed when he sees his former employer Stanford - a school with a similarly solid academic reputation - in a different tier when it comes to almost every aspect of college football. Bringing in the players that fit his system is a good way to start closing that gap. Winning football games is the only way to finish it.