Vols Rally in Recruiting

No Tennessee fan needs reminding that the Vols are coming off their first losing season in 17 years, or that the current recruiting campaign is generally regarded as disappointing. In truth, although 2005 clearly goes down as the worst in Phillip Fulmer's 13-year tenure as UT head coach, the current harvest of prospects is arguably his best.

Naturally, qualification for such an assertion is in order since it was only 363, or so, days ago that Fulmer put together the nation's No. 1 recruiting class — a feat he has accomplished two other times as head coach at UT. He typically signs top 10 classes, and is generally recognized as one of the top recruiting head coaches in the business.

As impressive as his track record is, none of those prior achievements came on the heels of a losing season or a major staff makeover. Gone in the purge was offensive coordinator Randy Sanders, offensive line coach Jimmy Ray Stephens and receivers coach Pat Washington. Not only did the Vols have to start all over with many prospects being recruited by bygone assistants, they had to do it shorthanded.

Fulmer & Co. has also had to deal with a public image tarnished by a string of off-the-field problems, a point referenced with regularity by rival recruiters along the blue chip trail. (All's fair in war and recruiting.)

It's easy to make a case that Tennessee's ailments were largely self-induced and, as head coach, Fulmer is primarily responsible for the aforementioned failures that have, in turn, increased the degree of difficulty as it relates to recruiting. Criticism comes with the territory, and so does credit, although they aren't always created equal.

Fulmer also deserves praise for UT's recovery in recruiting and its rise to No. 22 nationally just 48 hours before signing day. This achievement is even more remarkable for conditions far beyond Fulmer's authority which probably pose the biggest obstacle to the Vols recruiting aims each year.

Because such a low percentage of its prospects come from the Volunteer State, the Vols rarely enjoy a home-field advantage in recruiting. This year that disadvantage is greater than usual and, to this point, UT has only committed four prospects from within Tennessee's borders.

Compare that to the Vols' two principle opponents in the SEC East Division — Florida and Georgia. The Gators have committed 18 in-state prospects while the Bulldogs boast 15 prospects from Georgia. LSU, Mississippi and Alabama have 10 or more in-state commitments. Top 25 rated teams include: USC 10, California 14, UCLA 16, North Carolina 14. Ohio State 14 and Pittsburgh 14.

Then you have Texas, which true to its state slogan is like a ‘whole other country.' Texas has 23 commitments from the Lone Star State while Texas Tech has 26 and Texas A&M has 16. Then you have a program like Oklahoma that raids the border for 11 Texas prospects.

Conversely, Tennessee has to range far and wide for the prospects needed to build an SEC and national title contender. This predicament is underscored by its current class comprised of 23 players from 14 states including: Tennessee (4), Georgia (3), Kentucky, Alabama, Florida (3), Texas, Mississippi, Illinois, California (2), Virginia (2), Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa and Louisiana.

Only time will tell just how good UT's Class of 2006 really is, but compared to two months ago it's fair to say the Vols are in full recovery.

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