Technically, No. 7 Oklahoma signed the fewest in-state prospects, landing just three of 19 players from the Sooner State, but there is a qualifier here. Oklahoma signed 11 of their 19 prospects from border state Texas which annually produces a king's ransom in gridiron gems. To underscore that point consider that No. 10 Texas signed all of its 21-prospect class from the Lone Star State. Overall, the Sooners dipped into just five states to get its allotment.
Conversely, Michigan signed players from 14 different states plus one from the District of Columbia, whereas, Tennessee signed players from 10 states, 11 states if you count Jesse Mahelone as being from Hawaii instead of the junior college he played at in Costa Mesa, Calif.
Compare that to Tennessee's principle contenders in the SEC that finished in the top 10. For instance: No. 6 Florida got 15 of its 23 total signees in the state. No. 7 and Georgia got 13 of its 20 total signees within its own state borders.
No. 2 LSU got half of it's 30 signees from Louisiana plus four from Texas, four from Florida, three from Mississippi and two each from California and Arkansas. No. 1 USC landed 13 of its 19 signees from California. No. 3 Miami got 13 of 18 signees from the Sunshine State while Florida signed 18 in-state prospects in its 26-member class.
Besides lacking in-state numbers to supply its Class of 2004, Tennessee wasn't able to make deep inroads into border states that have traditionally helped stock UT's coffers. The Vols got three prospects each from Georgia and South Carolina, but were shutout in Alabama, North Carolina and Kentucky. Not only did the Vols fail to sign a prospect from the great gridiron state of Texas they didn't even receive a visit. They had more visits from Florida prospects than usual but only signed Brent Schaeffer.
To assemble a top ten class comprised of 23 members, Tennessee had to range from south Florida to Portland, Oregon, from New Jersey to San Francisco, from Atlanta, Ga., to San Diego, Ca.
Being so spread out hinders the number of visits the coaches can make and there's a definite correlation between how far away from home you have to recruit and your odds of success. If you're recruiting extensively, or in the case of Texas almost exclusively in state, it makes it a lot easier to make a big impression. It's nothing for Texas' entire staff to show up on a prospect's doorstep, but Tennessee is lucky to get two coaches in the same airport much less in the same living room.
Traveling so far from home to find prospects has other drawbacks, as an out-of-state player is much more likely to get homesick or to lose focus especially as freshmen. Players that stay in their home state know their friends and family are watching and aware of even a hint of trouble. As a consequence, they're much more likely to avoid trouble both off the field and in the classroom. If a player at Georgia or Florida or Texas wants to quit the team, where do they go? — they're already home.
It's something to keep in mind when critiquing a coaching staff that is often credited with attracting talent but not developing or retaining it. It's hard to stay even when the playing field isn't level. Getting ahead is much tougher.