UT Recruiting Prospectus

Monitoring Tennessee's 2006 football recruiting campaign is a lot like tracking dot.com stock in 2000. In other words, nobody's buying and it's sliding south at the rate of cyber speed.

That's not to say the sky is falling on UT's football program, although, admittedly, a bad recruiting season on top of the first losing season in 17 years and a flood of off-the-field troubles can't be comforting to Big Orange fans.

The good news is the Vols did stockpile a ton of talent from the No. 1 rated class of 2005, and have nearly completed the overhaul of an offensive coaching staff which should yield better production in 2006. In turn, an on-the-field rebound next fall will put the Vols in better position to put together a big-time class in 2007. But, for the time being, they're in full damage control.

Yesterday we took a look at the distance Florida and Georgia have opened in this season's recruiting race. Today we examine some other disturbing developments.

Before we do it's important to point out Tennessee stands a fair chance of signing a top 25 class, which isn't exactly a disaster. Also we must remain mindful that the most significant appraisal of any class can only come after it has graduated.

For instance: UT's Class of 2002 featured seven Parade All-Americans, yet in its fourth season the Vols finished 5-6. Only James Wilhoit and Rob Smith were still playing at season's end from that list of seven super prospects, while Heath Benedict, Brandon Jeffries, James Banks and Jonathan Mapu weren't even enroll at UT. Gerald Riggs' career came to a close at midseason. Other notables missing from that outstanding class include: Aaron Kirkland, Greg Jones, LaRon Harris and Ruben Mayes.

Ironically, it was lesser lights from the Class of 2002 like Parys Haralson, Omar Gaither, Jason Hall, Justin Harrell, Antwan Stewart, Marvin Mitchell and Jonathan Wade who developed into stars and starters. Mitchell and Stewart weren't even rated among the top 50 prospects in Virginia.

If there's a history lesson to be learned it's that each class has its good and bad surprises. It's hard enough evaluating players after four years of college much less four years of high school. So, theoretically, the Vols could be having a great recruiting season and we don't even know it. Still, if that's indeed the case, they're doing it while losing a ton of their preferred prospects to other SEC teams.

Here are some other concerns:

• UT has committed three four-star prospects so far, but none from out of state and only one who is not from east Tennessee. (Recall that JC Walter Fisher is from Nashville.) To recruit effectively out of state, which the Vols have traditionally done, you have to have a degree of success on the field sufficient to create a gravitational pull. A 5-6 season doesn't qualify, hence the atypical problems beyond the borders of the Volunteer State.

• A related point: if the Vols have yet to secure a single four-star commitment from out of state heading into the final month of the recruiting campaign, what chance do they have signing Mitch Mustain, the nation's top overall prospect?

• Backs Preston Brown and Craig Cooper, two of the top in-state prospects are likely headed out of state. Brown, of Antioch High School has committed to Oklahoma State. Cooper favors Ole Miss and Oklahoma State, although he is slated to visit UT on Jan. 13. Both players were offered by Tennessee.

• Speaking of Ole Miss, the Vols are attempting to dislodge two commitments and a pair of leans from the Rebels. Normally Mississippi and Tennessee don't even shop in the same store. Now it looks like UT is trying to take groceries from the Rebels' cart. That may say as much about the job Ed Orgeron's staff is doing as it does what Phil Fulmer's staff is doing, but either way it's not a positive.

• The Vols have seen two top targets eliminate them in recent days . Similarly, they have lost ground on No. 7 wide receiver Tim Hawthorne and No. 8 linebacker Marcus Ball.

• Tennessee hasn't committed any five-star prospects and, to this point, has only secured one visit from a five-star prospect during the critical January recruiting period.

Ultimately, football recruiting like football itself is a game of momentum. The Vols don't currently have any traction, but one major get could start a recruiting rally. We'll keep you posted.

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