Recruiting Stakes High on Saturday

Ever since the Southeastern Conference expanded and divided, the Tennessee-Florida game has been the contest most likely to tilt the balance in the SEC East Division. It can also alter the outcome of each team's recruiting campaign which, in turn, directly impacts the showcase series.

The Vols and Gators go together like cats and dogs but they travel in the same circles on the recruiting trail, searching for difference makers. Two years ago UT's staff thought Chris Leak would its quarterback of the future but instead the North Carolina all-American landed in Gainesville. The Vols did sign a Parade All-American QB in James Banks, but not before the Gators made a huge push to wrestle him away. Last year both of those talented athletes were intregal in the contest with Banks' Hail Mary reception at the half making the difference.

Success in such match-ups is vital because when one team wins a recruiting battle over the other, it not only adds an important component but deprives its arch enemy of one.

Normally, the Vols are trying to leverage a couple of blue chip prospects from the peninsula formerly known as the Sunshine State. Yet, this year, in a rare reversal of roles the Vols are working to prevent a talent drain to the Swamp.

Florida is currently listed as a finalist for every five-star prospect in the state of Tennessee. In order, they are: running back LaMarcus Coker, wide receiver Patrick Turner, offensive lineman Michael Oher and linebacker Todd Cox. Likewise, Tennessee is a finalist for three five-star prospects from Florida in wide receiver Fred Rouse, linebacker Eugene Hayes and running back Maurice Wells. Furthermore, the Vols are also in the running for several highly regarded defensive backs in Florida like Pat Austin, Ray Herring and Gerrod Sinclair. Not surprisingly, the Gators are in the pursuit of that same DB trio.

It's much the same in other state the Vols are hunting for prospects. For instance: there's the nation's No. 2 offensive lineman Reginald Youngblood of Houston, Texas, No. 9 O-lineman Chris Scott of Lovejoy, Ga., and No. 12 OL Josh McNeil of Collins, Miss. It's the same way on the other side of line. No. 8 defensive tackle of Kade Weston of Little Silver, N.J. has the SEC rivals on his list of finalists as does No. 2 defensive end J.B. Paxson of Greenwood, Ind., No. 5 Justin Mincey of Folkston, Ga. and No. 11 DE Kyle Newell of Bethlehem, Pa.

No. 12 linebacker Jerome Hayes of Bayonne, N.J. has Tennessee and Florida among his six finalists, as does No. 25 linebacker Brandon Logan of Lexington, Ky. Four-star LB Andre Mathis of Erie, Pa., plans visit both the Gainesville and Knoxville campuses. UT and UF are also finalists for the nation's No. 7 safety Adam Meyers-White of Hamilton, Ohio.

Coaches from Tennessee and Florida fly to the same cities so often they could use one booking agent. On Saturday they will all be in Knoxville competing for the SEC East lead as well as that critical recruiting edge. Among other visitors to the game will be Patrick Turner and Todd Cox two in-state propects that are critical to UT's 2005 recruiting success.

Since Turner doesn't plan to make an official visit to Tennessee, the impressions he gets from this encounter could determine his future. The same could be said for the multitude of other mega stars who will tune in the watch the game on CBS.

All told there's a lot more than one game on the line Saturday at Neyland Stadium.

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