Touted class puts pressure on Fulmer

Tennessee fans love to see stars next to the names of future Vols. They love the five-star and four-star recruits. They love the thought of finding the next Herschel Walker or Dale Carter or Jamal Lewis or Percey Harvin. Or, the next Peyton Manning.

Tennessee fans, moreso than media, put stock in recruiting rankings. I've always contended recruiting is important, but recruiting rankings are a crap shoot.

But Tennessee had a consensus No. 3 class in 2007 and the top-rated class in 2005. Many fans believe that should translate to the BCS rankings as well.

With that as a backdrop, this question was posed: Is the 2007 class more likely to put more pressure on Phillip Fulmer or more likely to put the Vols back into the top 10?

You already know my thoughts on the fans' mindset.

So what about a return to the top 10? That's territory Tennessee hasn't enjoyed in the final rankings since 2001.

If Tennessee gets immediate help at receiver and in the secondary, the Vols can win the SEC. That would put them back in the top 10.

But knowing how fans get pumped about recruits, I think the 2007 class puts more pressure on Fulmer to deliver. Fans would say he has enough talent. Fans would say he's lost his touch. Fans would say he can't win unless he out-talents opponents.

If Fulmer doesn't finish in the top 10 this season, that likely would mean the Vols don't win the SEC.

It would also put more heat on Fulmer to deliver in 2008.

STUDENT ALLOTMENT MIGHT BE REDUCED

When Tennessee refurbishes Thompson-Boling Arena with luxury suites, attendance will be reduced from 24,535 to more than 22,000.

For a team that drew more than 20,000 in six games last year and will exceed 22,000 in three or four games this season, the reduction presents an interesting situation for athletic director Mike Hamilton.

Students, beware.

In Buzz Peterson's last season, student attendance averaged 575.

In Bruce Pearls' first season, student attendance averaged 1,800.

Thus far this year, the student attendance average is about 1,800 with big home games remaining against Kentucky, Alabama and Florida.

Students get about 5,000 seats in TBA. The largest student crowd last year was 4,800 for Georgia. The Kentucky game was third on the student-turnout list.

This year, the largest student count was 3,800 for the Memphis game. That should be surpassed Tuesday night against Kentucky.

Don't be surprised if Hamilton proposes cutting the student seating by 1,000 or 2,000 to make room for more non-students.

COULD VOLS MAKE DANCE AT 7-9?

Since expansion in 1992, only one men's SEC basketball team has finished with a losing record in conference play and made the NCAA Tournament.

Alabama turned the trick in 2003, after going 7-9 in SEC play.

Tennessee could be the second.

I'm convinced the Vols will make the Big Dance at 7-9 in the SEC with 19 overall victories. A win in the SEC tournament would get UT to 20 wins, which would clinch a berth. But I think seven SEC wins and 19 overall will do the trick, in part because I believe the NCAA Selection Committee will take into consideration the Vols were 1-3 with star guard Chris Lofton.

I also think wins over Memphis, Texas and Oklahoma State will carry weight.

Former Tennessee coach Don DeVoe isn't so sure. In fact, he doesn't think it's a slam dunk the Vols will be a bid at 8-8.

If UT goes 8-8, 20-11 overall, the Vols will be no worse than a No. 8 seed. They could be as high as a No. 6 seed, considering UT's current RPI is in the top 20.

If the Vols could be as high as a six seed at 8-8 in SEC play, wouldn't they make the field at 7-9?

Because I believe UT would be no worse than an eight seed – probably higher – at 8-8 in the SEC, I believe UT would make the field at 7-9 as a 10 or 11 seed.

But we'll never know. Why? Because the way Tennessee is playing at home, they could beat anyone in the nation, including top-ranked Florida.

I see UT closing with a 4-2 record in the SEC – losing to Florida and at Arkansas -- for 9-7 overall. That would erase all doubt.

DYKES LIKES LOFTON

ESPN color analyst Jimmy Dykes thinks Lofton should be in the conversation for national player of the year.

``Lofton is the best contested jump shooter in college basketball,'' Dykes said of the SEC's leading scorer.

Dykes' leading candidate for player of the year is freshman Kevin Durant of Texas. He also said he would take Durant over Ohio State's Greg Oden with the first pick of the NBA draft.

Dykes also said the NCAA Selection Committee will factor in that Lofton missed four games because the committee ``has basketball guys.''


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