Tennessee and head coach Butch Jones won’t win the mythical national recruiting title next week, but they sure made a push for it. And I think they deserve the runner-up spot, regardless of how the next few days finish out.
In the next week or so, Tennessee, LSU and Texas A&M will not only battle for the mythical runner-up spot in the SEC (behind Bama), they’re also battling for the mythical national runner-up spot.
But here’s why Tennessee deserves the trophy most, in my opinion: It had to do it from blue collar roots, in pulling-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps fashion. They have made Knoxville a destination again. LSU has two national titles in the past 10 years and three title appearances. It has a stable coaching situation and a load of kids heading to the NFL.
Texas A&M sits in a talent-rich state and the hated Longhorns are ripe for the beating right now. The Aggies had the most exciting player in college football for two years in Johnny Manziel, a win over the national champions (Alabama) in their first year in the SEC, and an unbelievable offense to sell recruits on (as well as early playing time for athletic defenders).
Meanwhile, Tennessee and Jones are coming off a 5-7 record, are located in a state that produces a lot less talent than most states in the southeast, and have had four different coaches in six seasons. The Vols were broken the past few years, and had fallen off their typical perch as a top 10 recruiting power. Instead of battling Alabama, Florida and USC for recruits, the Vols were battling Vanderbilt and middle-range ACC schools–sometimes losing those battles. Now they’re keeping in-state talent like Josh Malone, Todd Kelly and Jalen Hurd from leaving the state, and they’ve brought in some of the best junior college talent in the country. And a bunch of them are already signed, sealed and on campus attending classes.
Out of Tennessee’s group of 34 recruits (best in the BCS), 16 of them are four-star prospects or better.
This is a program back on the rise, and it’ll start that ascension with this signing class. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt is all of a sudden in shambles, Florida is struggling, Georgia hasn’t exactly been dominating, South Carolina is powerful but susceptible to head-scratching losses, and Kentucky is rebuilding but coming off a two-win season. There may be room to move up in the SEC East.
Tennessee is poised to bounce back well, and soon. While LSU and Texas A&M’s staffs have done a fantastic job of keeping their recruiting trains on the track, Tennessee had to start all over again and lay down the rail before anything rolled. This staff deserves that runner-up trophy.
Oh, and next Thursday after all the letters-of-intent have been signed … the 2015 class gets the spotlight. The Vols are all over it already, with seven commitments for 2015.
Somebody shine up a trophy and ship it up to Knoxville where it belongs.