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July 17, 2012HOOVER, Ala. -- Most 6-7 seasons don't turn heads in the Southeastern Conference. In a league that has produced the last six national champions, a trip to the Liberty Bowl doesn't usually create any noise.
Unless it happens at Vanderbilt, that is.
"There's a buzz about Vanderbilt football that there hasn't been for a long time," head coach James Franklin said.
A year ago, Franklin accidentally wandered out of the hotel at SEC Media Day. No one recognized him and thought to stop him.
On Tuesday, he strode confident to the center of the stage in a black suit and gold tie. He gripped both sides of the podium. And he talked about Vanderbilt's future, not its past.
The Commodores only went 2-6 in conference play in 2011, but they had won just one conference game in two years combined before that. Of their seven losses on the season, five were by a touchdown or less.
"Last year, we thought we could do some nice things," Franklin said. "This year, the team believes we're going to do some really good things."
That confidence has rubbed off on his players. The change came shortly after Franklin arrived, senior quarterback Jordan Rodgers said. It didn't take long last season for that feeling to extend outside the program.
"He's done a great job of not just changing the overall atmosphere not just around the football program, but in the fan base and even how we recruit," running back Zac Stacy said. "There are some three-star and four-star players who are seeing the progress that we're making."
Vanderbilt finished with the No. 29-ranked recruiting class in 2012, and is currently ranked No. 17 among Rivals' 2013 team recruiting rankings.
Franklin says he sells recruits not on a chance to play in the NFL, but on the academic foundation Vanderbilt offers. That, coupled with the city of Nashville and the program's momentum, has helped him secure commitments from a trio of four-star players in the class of 2013.
"I think we spend a lot of time as adults focused on the past and history," Franklin said. "That's not important to (recruits). They want to know what the future holds and who's going to care about them and put them in positions so they can be successful for the next 50 years of their life, not the next four."
If Franklin has his way, the next four years will be quite different, though. Vanderbilt's record and recruiting are just the beginning of his changes. There are new facilities on the way, and hope for even more wins.
Just 18 months after arriving at Vanderbilt, Franklin's players sound very different than they had in previous years.
"I think we were all a little shell shocked when Franklin first came in," Rodgers said. "We hadn't had anything like that before. We hadn't had someone that confident, that enthusiastic, that charismatic come in here and say 'Here's what we're going to do and here's how we're going to do it.'"
There have been physical changes, Rodgers said. The players' bodies are different and the way they carry themselves has changed. But the biggest changes, not surprisingly, have been mental. The Commodores' preparation is different, and their mindset has changed completely.
"We're not going to be the kind of team that people are going to glance over on the schedule," Rodgers said. "We have a goal in mind and we're working for it. We have an improved confidence from Coach Franklin rubbing off on us, being enthusiastic, having confidence in us and pushing us to be better players."
The 2011 season might have been a step forward for the program, but Franklin isn't content to stop there. Rodgers said the Commodores' sub-.500 record last year wasn't acceptable, and plans on things being different this year. Franklin is expecting changes as well.
"When you play Vanderbilt, you better be ready to play from the beginning of the game to the end," Franklin said. "That's whoever it is. I think that's one of the biggest changes that you're going to see is how we're going to compete, how we're going to play the game."