"How do you say that? How do you know that?" he said during a Wednesday evening news conference previewing ex-Vol Peyton Manning's upcoming Super Bowl appearance. "It (success at the college level) depends on his adjustment and his injuries and his teammates."
Fulmer refers to recruiting as a "crap shoot," and with good reason. He has seen enough five-star prospects flop and enough two-star prospects flourish to know that there are no guarantees. He realizes that a pretty good SEC all-star team could be assembled with guys who were rated borderline prospects coming out of high school.
"It would be fun to try," he said. "It would be fun to look at."
Still, recruiting ratings have some merit. The fact is, more five-star prospects succeed than fail at the college level. And more two-star prospects fail than succeed.
"That's not to say a five-star guy's not going to be a great player," Fulmer conceded. "But we've all seen those guys not make it and we've all seen the guy from the small town nobody's heard about become a great football player."
That's why the Vol coach pays no attention to the number of stars following a prospect's name, no matter how reputable the recruiting service might be.
"We're going to make decisions independently," Fulmer said. "I didn't know anything about where our guys (2007 commitments) were rated until the other day somebody handed me a (recap) of everybody in the league. I said: ‘Well, that's pretty good. We've got some guys that everybody else thinks is pretty good.' I HOPE they're good."
Although he says he doesn't listen to talk radio or peruse Internet sites, Fulmer knows there is pressure on him to sign high-profile prospects and to pass on low-profile prospects. He insists he is oblivious to this pressure.
"Whether he's a five-star or a one-star, you'd pass on him if you didn't think he was going to make it," the coach said.
Because recruiting coverage has become a booming business, every in-home visit, every "lean" and every commitment/decommitment is big news these days. That may not make Fulmer's task more difficult but it certainly makes it more visible. He understands that every move he makes on the recruiting front will be analyzed by somebody somewhere.
"It can be a pain in the butt a little bit," he said, grinning softly. "But I don't listen to talk radio or pay attention to ‘em. I get plenty of information from the media that hang around here sometimes."
By all accounts, Tennessee is having an outstanding recruiting year. The key, as always, is how the Vols finish: Do they get a ‘name' player or two down the stretch? Do they keep all of their key commitments or lose a few on Signing Day? As always, the perception of UT's finish will be a hot topic for weeks.
"EVERYTHING in this day and age is about perception," Fulmer said. "We try to deal in realities: Did you fill your needs? How much can a two-star or three-star guy develop? All those things.
"At the end of the day we'll hear ‘They finished well' or ‘They didn't.' That'll be the talk on the Internet for two or three days, and somebody will give you grief about it. But the truth of it at the end of the day is ‘Did you fill your needs?' and ‘Does it help you win games the next year?'"