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Meet the SEC's Newest Recruiting Machine: Vanderbilt?

I've mentioned this a few times over this off season, but James Franklin made an immediate impact in Vanderbilt recruiting by flipping Virginia Beach dual-threat QB Lafonte Thourogood from reigning ACC champ Virginia Tech in a last-minute coup. Thourogood was only rated a three-star player by both Rivals and Scout, but he's from the state of Virginia and had been the Hokies' only quarterback commit in the class.

It's not often that Vandy makes waves in recruiting. Bobby Johnson's recruiting turned a corner with the post-bowl 2009 class, as he went from signing more two-star recruits than anything to more three-star recruits than anything:

Year Not Rated 2-star 3-star 4-star Total
2002 0 17 3 0 20
2003 0 18 3 1 22
2004 0 18 2 0 20
2005 1 22 2 0 25
2006 0 19 6 0 25
2007 0 8 5 1 14
2008 0 18 4 0 22
2009 0 5 13 0 18
2010 0 7 17 1 25
2011 0 6 15 0 21


Ratings referenced here and throughout are from Rivals unless otherwise noted.

Franklin kept that momentum going in 2011, again signing more three-star players than two-star players. What he's doing now for the 2012 class is even better.

Vanderbilt has 12 commitments for the upcoming National Signing Day. One of them hasn't been rated yet. The rest are all three-stars except for Brian Kimbrow, who is a four-star signee. Kimbrow is important for two reasons. First, he's the second highest-rated all-purpose back of the 2012 class. Vandy is never, ever in the running for guys rated that highly. Second, he's the top-rated player in all of Tennessee. For as long as Rivals has been giving out numerical ratings of players (since 2004), Vandy hasn't signed anyone above the eighth highest-rated player in the state.

Furthermore, Kimbrow and DE commit Caleb Azubike are two of the top ten players in Tennessee. If those two commitments stick through February, it will match the number of top ten Tennessee players that Vandy had signed from 2004-11. The state of Tennessee is not exactly a talent hotbed, but Franklin is making some serious hay there this year. He has four of the 31 players rated at least three stars in the state, good for 12.9%, and VU has never signed more than 14.3% since '04. There's plenty of room for more, as signing day is more than half a year away and the class is less than half full yet.

Kimbrow, Azubike, Cory Batey, and Jaydrick Declouet all committed together last Friday. When was the last time you heard of Vanderbilt having big recruiting days like that? Of course, you have to grade on a curve with Vandy. Nick Saban isn't shaking in his boots over Franklin just yet. Kimbrow is a legitimately eye-popping grab who did have an offer from Alabama, but the rest of these guys are merely three-star players. The guy that should be worried though is Derek Dooley, as a Vanderbilt that can pick off decent in-state guys is one that can hurt UT's depth.

We're a long way from NSD 2012, but it's worth watching to see what Franklin is able to do from here on out. Will he sign the first Vandy class without two-star recruits? Can he hold onto Kimbrow for seven months? Can he add any of Tennessee's four currently uncommitted four-star recruits? That these questions can even come to mind shows what a great job Franklin has done in his short time in Nashville. We'll see how many games he can win, but his recruiting so far has completely validated Vandy's choice of him for its head coach.