Vols On Right Track?

Deep in the midst of a long, hot summer, it's refreshing to think of a clear, cold winter's day when the Class of 2007 comes to fruition, the labors of Tennessee's coaching staff are rewarded and the hopes of Big Orange football fans are renewed.

Such a scenario is the norm on The Hill where Phil & Friends have had their share of huge hauls over the years. Of course, last year was atypical for the Vols on the field as well as on National Signing Day.

Still most programs would love to have a No. 20 ranked class of signees, even though its the lowest rated UT has had since Fulmer became head coach in 1992. Of course, an even greater majority would like to have a crowd of 100,000-plus at every home game.

Point being: There is a predictable parallel between the advantages a program has and the expectations its fan base has. In other words, the greater the advantages, the greater the expectations.

That's what makes the 2006 football season and 2007 recruiting campaign so critical to Coach Fulmer and his staff. This crisis condition is compounded by the fact that there's an entire generation of Tennessee fans that have never suffered anything approaching sustained mediocrity, and they aren't likely to remain patient, particularly if the Vols drop to the middle of the SEC pecking order.

Because we are through the looking glass and dealing with the unfamiliar, there is a high degree of trepidation about the upcoming football season and the ongoing recruiting effort. Clearly, the Vols have made some reaches in terms of prospects to this point, but much of that is more attributable to the unusually high number of in-state prospects at their disposal, than it is some type of stampede mentality. Expect the stock of these players to rise during their senior seasons.

Otherwise, Tennessee is well positioned with a number of other in-state standouts that should further strengthen its Class of 2007. Chief among these are Knoxville Catholic safety Harrison Smith, and Huntingdon linebacker Chris Donald, who has inexplicably dropped to a three-star ranking in the most recent Scout.com ratings. The Vols are in good shape with both prospects — although Notre Dame remains a threat with each — and commitments could come through in matter of weeks or days.

The Fighting Irish are also a contender for Alcoa defensive end Rae Sykes. After losing Brandon Warren to Florida State last year, Sykes is a prospect the Vols need to land. LSU and FSU are serious contenders for his services.

Once Tennessee secures its home base it can expand its national efforts. As a rule, the higher a prospect is ranked the longer he will wait to announce his decision. That gives the Vols time to focus on the players they most want while meeting more of their needs in home territory.

Ultimately, the key to how good UT's signing class is will be determined by how good its football season is. The Vols have a lot of questions to answer in the minds of both their fans and prospects.

Generally speaking, if a high-ranked prospect decides to leave his home state, he wants to have a chance to compete for championships.

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