Because it's never too early to begin the hand-wringing over college football recruiting, events of the last week have sent Big Orange fans inching closer to the cliff's edge.
When Memphis East's Brian Kimbrow committed to Vanderbilt, it was an unmistakable shot across the bow of the University of Tennessee by new Commodores coach James Franklin. Kimbrow, a 5-foot-9, 165-pound running back, is the state's top overall prospect and the nation's second-rated all-purpose back according to Rivals.com.
He had offers from at least 24 other schools, including Tennessee, Notre Dame and Auburn, but when he and two three-star rated players from Nashville announced their intentions to sign with Vandy, Kimbrow first put on a UT hat, then took it off with a smile, saying, "It doesn't fit."
He later admitted that move was a jab at "a lot of UT fans and people at UT."
Kimbrow is the Commodores' first commitment from a Rivals top 100 since the list began circulating in 2002.
The combination of coaching turnover, potential NCAA penalties and embarrassing on-field performances has reduced UT to not only losing out on the best of what few SEC-caliber prospects the state turns out, but having those players believe perennial punching bag Vanderbilt offers a brighter future. And having to hear those prep players mock the program on their way to choosing the Commodores, who have had just two winning seasons in the past 30 years.
As of this morning, Franklin already has put together a list of 12 commitments, 11 of which are at least three-star recruits, while UT has three total commitments, including one that isn't rated by Rivals. Long considered one of the top young head coaches in waiting, the 38-year old Franklin, who was Maryland's offensive coordinator, is the first minority head coach in program history.
Among Vandy's collection is Baylor offensive lineman Barrett Gouger (6-5, 280), who said the combination of the uncertainty surrounding UT and Franklin's enthusiasm led him to commit in the spring. He said those factors also helped Kimbrow choose Vandy.
"Coach Franklin is just so energetic and he makes you believe that we're not just going to be playing for bowl games, but we'll be playing for championships," Gouger said. "There's such a comfortable family atmosphere at Vanderbilt now.
"When you go up there, all the coaches greet you and ask personal questions and seem genuinely interested in your life."
Gouger added that he and other Commodores commitments are currently working on Henry County's Andrew Jelks, a 6-6, 265-pound offensive lineman rated a four-star by Rivals with a 4.0 grade point average. Jelks is expected to pick between UT and Vanderbilt in the next few weeks.
"There are a few of us talking to him and working on selling him on the idea of joining us," Gouger said. "I definitely think the tide is turning around, and when you consider the academics, what a great city Nashville is and the fact that you can play early in the SEC, it's a no-brainer when you're picking between Vanderbilt and Tennessee right now."