Vols Encounter the Unexpected

Put this one under the file reserved for such utter oddities as: man bites dog, husband leaves wife for older woman and the IRS rides to the rescue.

Sure,Tennessee has its annual battle against Vanderbilt on the football field, but the Vols and Dores rarely cross paths, much less swords, on the recruiting trail. That's not the case this year as some real competition is shaping up between the age-old rivals.

Is this a case of reversal of fortune, and part of the falllout from UT's first losing season in 17 years, which included the first defeat against Vanderbilt in 23 years?

Well there is certainly some leverage gained by way of that upset victory in Knoxville. At the very least recruiters from Vanderbilt can make a case they are on equal footing in terms production. Plus, having former Vandy quarterback Jay Cutler taken in the first round of the NFL Draft is a selling point to prospects aiming for a future in pro football.

However, the greatest factor in the Commdores' favor is the uncommon level of in-state talent available this year as compared to others. That translates to not only more SEC caliber prospects, but more players capable of meeting Vanderbilt's stricter academic standards.

The Vols have yet to lose a prospect to Vanderbilt, but several high-profile prospects are considering offers from both schools. Among those are: Knoxville Catholic High School DB/RB Harrison Smith, Hendersonville's John Paul II High School wide receiver Golden Tate, Alcoa wideout Kyrus Lanxter and Columbia Central High School linebacker Isaiah Smith.

Smith, 6-foot-1.5, 220 pounds with a reported time of 4.44 in the 40, lists Vanderbilt and Tennessee as his co-favorties despite the fact only the Vols have extended an offer to this point.

"I thought Vanderbilt would be the first to offer," he told Don Yates of VandyMania.com. "I guess they'll offer pretty soon."

Later, in a separate interview, Smith referred to Vandy's "academics" and "being a team on the rise" as the reasons for his interests in the Commodores.

Smith garnered both All-Region and All-State honors as a junior after catching 20 passes for 310 yards and three TDs, and recording 60 tackles, including 10 for losses with five sacks. His other favorites are Alabama, Auburn, Louisville and Mississippi State.

In another deviation from the usual, Tennessee is facing some serious competition for football talent, particularly in the western portion of the state, from Ole Miss. The Rebels, under second-year head coach Ed Orgeron, who signed a top 20 class in 2006 and is positioning Mississippi for another great class in 2007.

It's strange football times in Tennessee.

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