Tennessee's talent is more in line with Georgia and Auburn and South Carolina and Alabama and Arkansas. There's probably not a touchdown's worth of difference in those six schools.
That's means coaching and breaks likely will determine the outcome when those teams play.
But Tennessee has had a top 10 recruiting class four of the past five years, you say? Tennessee has signed a bundle of high school All-Americans from California to Wisconsin, you say?
Yea, and Ryan Leaf is almost as good as Peyton Manning. And Ken O'Brien must have been better than Dan Marino because he was picked higher in the NFL draft.
Nevermind the recruiting rankings. They're like the NFL draft – full of busts. They're like preseason polls – sometimes right, a lot of times wrong.
As I've always said: Recruiting is important, recruiting ranking are not.
Yes, Florida, Southern Cal and Texas have turned highly rated recruiting classes into national championships this decade. But when Nebraska had 33 consecutive nine-win seasons, rarely were those classes ranked in the top 10. And for years, Miami was winning national championships with three-star players.
You think Rutgers and South Florida have loaded up with top 10 classes lately?
There's much more to recruiting than rankings. You've got to evaluate. You've got to develop. You've got to fit players into your scheme.
We decided to take a look at UT's last five recruiting classes – 2002 to 2006 – and gauge the overall success.
In 2002, Tennessee signed five five-star players: James Banks, Mondre Dickerson, Brandon Jeffries, J.T. Mapu and Gerald Riggs. None played at a five-star level. Riggs gained over 1,000 yards in 2004 but he was not a great back. Banks had All-SEC potential but was dismissed from school for a variety of reasons. Dickerson was decent. Mapu was overrated. Jeffries was a bust. He's the player UT took instead of Marcus McNeil, who signed with Auburn, became an All-American, a first-round draft choice and an NFL Pro Bowl player.
UT signed 16 four-star players: Jason Allen, Heath Benedict, Cody Douglas, Omar Gaither, Chris Hannon, Parys Haralson, Justin Harrell, LaRon Harris, Greg Jones, Aaron Kirkland, David Ligon, Ruben Mayes, Rob Smith, Jonathan Wade, James Wilhoit and Gibril Wilson.
Allen, Gaither, Haralson, Harrell, Smith, Wade, Wilhoit and Wilson were good to All-SEC players. Douglas, Hannon and Ligon were average.
Benedict, Harris, Jones, Kirkland and Mayes were busts. All five left the program before completing their eligibility.
Two three-star players, Marvin Mitchell and Antwan Stewart, became starters. Jason Hall, a two-star, was a starter and better than advertised. Leon Pinky, a two-star from the junior college ranks, was a bust.
Bottom line: Eleven were good players (above average starter), five were average and nine left the program.
In 2003, the Vols signed 22 players. One had five stars: Robert Meachem. Seven had four stars: Daniel Brooks, Steven Jones, Turk McBride, Arron Sears, Bret Smith, Jayson Swain and Eric Young. Brooks and Jones were busts.
Eleven were three stars: Corey Campbell, Britton Colquitt, Brad Cottam, Roshaun Fellows, Zarnell Fitch, Jared Hostetter, Brandon Johnson, Tony McDaniel, Jarod Parrish, John Poe. The good: Colquitt. The average: Cottam. The underachievers: Campbell, Fellows, Fitch, Hostetter, Johnson, McDaniel, Parrish, Poe.
The two stars: Antonio Gaines, Bill Frimes, Bo Hardegree.
Bottom line: Eight were good players, five were average, nine didn't make it.
In 2004, UT signed two five-star players: Jesse Mahelona and Albert Toeaina. One was a star, one a bust. The Vols signed seven four-star players: Erik Ainge, Robert Ayers, Jon Hefney, David Holbert, Jerod Mayo, Xavier Mitchell, Brent Schaeffer. Ainge, Hefney, Mayo and Mitchell have been good players. Ayers has a chance to be good. Holbert and Schaeffer were busts.
The three stars: Ell Ash, Sinclair Cannon, Ramon Foster, Cam Mayo, Anthony Parker, Antonio Reynolds, JaKouri Williams. Only Foster and Parker have been good players. The two stars: Chris Brown, Inky Johnson, Ryan Karl, James Turner, Ellix Wilson. Brown and Karl have been multiyear starters. Johnson would have been a star if not for an injury. Turner has transferred to Carson Newman. Wilson is a non starter.
Bottom line: Seven good players, eight average players (Ayers and Foster could become good), eight didn't make it.
In 2005, the Vols had a top-ranked class, according to Scout.com. They signed one five-star player: Demetrius Morley. He started but flunked out of school. They signed 15 four-star players: Demonte Bolden, Wes Brown, LaMarcus Coker, Todd Cox, Jonathan Crompton, Montario Hardesty, Raymond Henderson, Andre Mathis, Rico McCoy, Josh McNeil, Adam Myers-White, Malcolm Rawls, Chris Scott, Slick Shelley, Lucas Taylor and Gerald Williams. The good: Bolden, Coker, McCoy, McNeil, Taylor. The unproven: Brown, Crompton, Hardesty, Myers-White, Mathis, Scott. The busts: Cox, Henderson, Rawls, Shelley. Williams has yet to qualify academically.
The three-stars: Josh Briscoe, Jeff Cottam, Marsalous Johnson, Ricardo Kemp, Darius Myers, Vlad Richard, Austin Rogers, Antonio Wardlow, Dan Williams. The good: Briscoe, Johnson, Rogers. Potential to be good: Cottam, Kemp, Richard, Wardlow, Williams. Bust: Myers.
Bottom line: Five good players, nine potentially good players, three average players and six busts.
While it is way too early to grade the 2006 class, of the 21 signees, six never got in school or have already left, three have started at least one game – kicker Chad Cunningham, kicker Daniel Lincoln and guard Jacques McClendon – and several show the potential to be solid players: Dorian Davis, Walter Fisher, Qunitin Hancock, Ramone Johnson, Luke Stocker.
Over the past five seasons, Tennessee has signed over 100 players. Thirty have proven to be really good players, 42 have been average (though some could improve) and 40 either transferred, quit or were dismissed.
Thus, more players were busts than turned out to be good players.
That kind of percentage will lead to mediocre results on the field.
UT has had more busts than stars in last 5yrs
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