Orange Alert

You wouldn't have to be a recruiting guru to know UT's success rests with its ability to identify and sign out-of-state talent. Unfortunately the same can't be said about the Vols' primary competition for SEC dominance.

Georgia, Florida, Alabama and South Carolina are opponents Tennessee plays every season, and each program has a distinct advantage in terms of having larger in-state recruiting bases. The same can be said about rotating league foes Mississippi, Mississippi State, Auburn and LSU.

Kentucky and Arkansas are in a similar situation as the Vols but only have to compete with one Division I school for in-state prospects instead of the three— Vanderbilt, Memphis, MTSU — that UT goes up against. Note that both Vanderbilt and Memphis are in located in larger cities that traditionally produced more prospects than Knoxville, and maintain some degree of parity if not superiority.

As the Tigers and Dores have improved under Bobby Johnson and Tommy West the competition has stiffened. Plus a losing 2005 campaign didn't help widen the status gap UT has perpetually maintained in the Volunteer State. Make no mistake, the Vols still get the lion's share of in-state talent, but the task is now taller as is the time commitment.

Time is really the relativity factor in recruiting that is often discounted when calculating the difficulty of pursuing prospects from other states. Although most recruiting is done via phone, mail and the ubiquitous text message, there are school and in-home visits that are part of the process. The further a prospect is from campus the closer the recruiter has to become to him and his family and it takes time to establish those type of relationships.

You can do everything the right way and still lose a player to distance. It's not unusual for a prospect to commit to a school only to change his mind on a long, lonely flight home. The Vols lost a quarterback from California and an offensive lineman from Hawaii in recent years in just such a manner.

Ironically, the quarterback (Richard Kovalcheck of San Diego), who signed with Arizona, eventually transferred to Vanderbilt. However Tennessee didn't come away empty handed as UT OC Randy Sanders discovered running back Adrian Foster while scouting the west coast QB, and the Vols signed him the following year.

Tennessee's coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for ranging so far to acquire talent over the years, but the Vols have largely made their recruiting living by raiding border states of prized prospects, while making intermittent forays into the fertile regions of Texas, Florida, Louisiana and Ohio. Typically Michigan and Tennessee lead all D-I powers with the most states represented in their signing classes. That they are able to consistently cobble together high caliber recruiting classes is testimony to their coaches' skills as salesmen along with the first rated facilities they offer and the national prominence they enjoy.

The success of Tennessee's cherry picking approach is largely dependent on fielding strong teams that are highly ranked and title competitive. The further the Vols get from their last SEC and national championship (1998) the harder it gets to sign blue chip talent.

UT's location near so many southern states has helped it overcome the championship drought as it has been able to take advantage of struggling programs in South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama over the years. That might not be so easy to duplicate now.

Steve Spurrier has traction and is creating his unique brand of excitement in Columbia. Butch Davis is bringing optimism to North Carolina as well as a rep for being a resourceful recruiter. Nick Saban is expected to turn Alabama around like he did LSU and the school he left behind is on a par with any program in the country. He is sure to battle his successor, Les Miles, for talent in Louisiana and Mississippi. Arkansas is coming off a 10-4 season which includes an SEC West title and a victory over Tennessee. Behind solid recruiting and even better coaching Louisville has become a top ten power while Rich Brooks has revived hopes in Lexington.

The up tick in fortunes for these programs doesn't merely mean it will more difficult to pull football talent from their respective states, it means they will challenge the Vols in Tennessee. All things considered that makes UT's 2007 season even more important than last season, which was critical.

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