Can UT Overcome Slow Start?

In light of the Vols first losing season in 17 years and a 1-4 mark in 2005 against division foes, there is genuine reasons to believe that the competitive balance of the SEC East is shifting and Tennessee is no longer in the lead pack.

Such speculation is further underscored during a 2006 recruiting campaign in which Florida and Georgia rank No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in the nation with a cumulative total of five times the prospects that UT has committed to this point.

Only having 10 commitments — compared to 26 for Florida and 24 for Georgia isn't a problem in and of itself. For example: USC only has eight commitments and ranks No. 22 nationally, but three of those are five-star prospects and four are four-star prospects. Plus the Trojans are in excellent shape to pick up another dozen commitments that fall into the same categories.

The real problem is Tennessee has no five-star commitments and only three four-star commitments. Moreover, the Vols haven't gained a four-star commitment since JC defensive end Walter Fisher committed on Nov. 1. The last four Vol commitments have been from the type of three- and two-star commitments that would represent fallback choices in a typical Tennessee recruiting campaign.

In addition to a lack of momentum, the Vols aren't currently in good position to land a single five-star prospect in its Class of 2006. Jai Eugene recently eliminated Tennessee from his list of finalists while defensive end Deantwan Whitehead's scheduled visit for Jan. 20 now appears in jeopardy. No other five-star prospect has scheduled a visit to UT, although offensive lineman Clifton Geathers is a possibility. The Vols did get visits from five-star prospects Vidal Hazelton, Keiland Williams and Antonio Logan-El, but are long shots to land any of that talented trio.

Florida has landed a total of six five-star prospects and 11 four-star prospects, while Georgia has four five-star prospects and nine four-star prospects. UT is sitting with three four-star prospects and virtually no chance of getting a five-star prospect.

Beyond the balance of power in the East, Tennessee is also trailing most of the SEC's other schools as Florida, Georgia, LSU, Auburn, Alabama, Ole Miss and Kentucky are all rated ahead of UT. The Vols are likely to catch both Kentucky and Mississippi by virtue of their remaining scholarships alone, but still appear destined to a middle of the pack finish in the conference. That means it will become increasingly difficult for the Vols to beat the lower tier conference teams they are accustomed to dominating.

The margin for success in the SEC is paper thin and one mediocre class can have long-range ramifications. The Vols have had a difficult enough time winning with superior personnel. How will they fare with lesser talent?

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