Will Slow Start Impact Recruiting?

If you're a Tennessee football fan and haven't asked our headline question of someone else or yourself, or heard it asked on radio talk shows, in coffee shops or chat rooms, then you're in a minute minority.

Outside of the almost rhetorical inquiry: what's wrong with the Vols? — that is the question of the moment. Of course, fans always wonder how issues both on and off the field are going to affect recruiting. It's only natural because recruiting is the future and people with a physical, emotional and financial investment in a team want to be reassured the future is bright.

However, the question is easier to ask than it is to answer. To begin with it's far to early to know how UT's recruiting might be impacted. There are still nine regular season games left and a lot, both good and bad, will happen.

Secondly, bad results on the field don't always equate to bad results in recruiting, Just as good results don't necessarily add up to solid gold recruiting campaigns since "playing time" is what most premiere prospects are looking for. If they see a team without glaring weaknesses many highly ranked prospects are incline to look elsewhere. Remember that one of UT's weakest recruiting seasons in the Phillip Fulmer Era took place after the Vols went undefeated and won the national championship in 1998. Conversely, the Vols had an exceptional recruiting year in 2003 coming off an 8-5 season.

In truth, there is as much spin in the world of recruiting as there is in the arena of politics. For instance: after signing the nation's No. 1 recruiting class in 2005 rival recruiters have been reminding prospects that playing opportunities will be limited at Tennessee. Now UT's staff can counter that argument by pointing out we still need help at a lot of positions and P.T. is plentiful.

Besides, Tennessee has a ton of tangibles to recruit to including the finest facilities and greatest fan base in the country. Coach Fulmer is a master of the art of persuasion, and as dedicated to the proposition of perseverance in the recruiting process as any head coach in the game. He maximizes UT's strengths while recruiting prospects and has ready retorts to rivals' rhetoric.

Now with all of that established it must be pointed out there can be a cause-and-effect correlation between on a team's record and recruiting success among the most elite prospects. These are the players that know they can play for any team and are looking for the best opportunity to win a national championship.

That argument may have helped turned No. 1 rated wide receiver Patrick Turner to USC after it appeared he was ready to commit to Tennessee last January. Only he knows for sure, but he was presented with that idea along with the contention that the Trojans had the personnel and offensive system in place to showcase his talent and better prepare him for a future in the NFL. By the way, he scored his first career touchdown Saturday night in USC's 70-17 victory over Arkansas.

As an elite in-state prospect who chose an out-of-state school, Turner is certainly the exception. However UT has to recruit most of its prospects out of state and when they go after elite prospects outside the borders of the Volunteer State their performance on the field can definitely be a factor. Fortunately, most prospects of that ilk will wait until later in the recruiting season to make their decision and there is still time for Tennessee to redeem itself.

In the short term Florida, being under a new head coach who is attempting to establish himself and his program, probably gets a boost by beating Tennessee on network television. In turn that could hurt UT with those prospects both programs are pursuing.

Still, Fulmer has a history of overcoming early setbacks and finishing strong in recruiting.

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