There is little doubt that the departure of dynamic head coach James Franklin to Penn State sidetracked Vanderbilt's recruiting efforts for this class a good bit.
That being said, the Commodores could not have made a better hire from a recruiting standpoint than the one they did -- Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason.
Sometimes plans to win big at one school parallel another. That was the case last offseason when Arkansas hired Bret Bielema to take over the Razorbacks. The recruiting blueprint at Wisconsin to win the Big Ten (and he did) is the same as the blueprint to win the Southeastern Conference at Arkansas. Both the Badgers and Razorbacks are located in states that produce some talent, but not enough talent to stock the roster annually with the players needed to win big, so the key is to work every angle in loaded talent pockets like South Florida and land your share.
And while this season's winless SEC record certainly wasn't what the new staff in Fayetteville had hoped for, the Razorbacks have more than their share of young, rising talent and continue to recruit well.
In Vanderbilt's case, Mason comes from Stanford, a program that has similar recruiting challenges and has won the Pac-12 and been in the hunt for national titles. Vanderbilt, like Stanford, has high academic standards and its student-athletes face a daunting academic program while in school there in addition to competing in one of the nation's toughest conferences (again, like the Cardinal does). Under Jim Harbaugh and now David Shaw, Stanford cast a wide net and took its national academic appeal across the country to stock the roster.
During the last four cycles (2011-14), Stanford's classes have broken down as follows:
While the Commodores under Franklin were skilled at being more competitive than ever at landing top in-state talent and while the talent level in Tennessee is certainly on the rise, let's face the fact that Vanderbilt is a national recruiting job. The Commodores, like Stanford, can take their academic appeal and scour the country for players. Having been in Palo Alto, Mason certainly can implement a similar plan.
The heavy lifting that has been put in at Stanford during the last seven years during the Harbaugh/Shaw era may not be required. Mason certainly is inheriting a better job than Harbaugh did. Vanderbilt has gone 9-4 the last two seasons and the roster is a solid. Also, “academic” schools are “in” these days. Northwestern and Duke both are successful, along with the Cardinal and Commodores.
So with the task not as daunting as perhaps it once was, Vanderbilt's outlook should continue to be positive.