'Twas the Night Before...

Traditionally, National Signing Day's eve has been a midwinter's dream for Tennessee football fans who are used to nodding off at night while counting blue-chip prospects, but this year it is looking increasingly like a winter of discontent.

The parade of high-profile pigskin prospects to Tennessee on the first Wednesday in February has gone on like the mighty March of the Penguins over the last quarter-century — doggedly, inexorably, indeed almost instinctively — top prospects flocked to The Hill like it was an ancestral abode.

If you want to face the toughest competition, play before the biggest crowds feel unapproachable levels of passion, you want to play in the SEC. And if you're going to play in the SEC, why not play on the largest stage, wearing the most distinctive color in all of college football? (When you think of one more distinctive get back to me.)

Likewise, it's a natural fit for Big Orange fans who descend en masse on Knoxville every football Saturday in the fall to fete their gridiron heroes, to gaze upon the football stars, to wake up the echoes, bring down the thunder and sing good old Rocky Top to the top of their lungs.

That annual celebration of life more Orange will be renewed eight months from now, but the unbearable anticipation of next autumn's armored engagements could be tempered by tomorrow's recruiting results, which don't look promising by SEC standards. UT's current Class of 2008, which includes 16 commitments, is ranked No. 44 nationally by Scout.com and No. 10 in the SEC behind No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 Georgia, No. 5 LSU, No. 7 Florida, No. 19 Auburn, No. 28 Arkansas, No. 29 Mississippi, No. 35 Mississippi State and No. 37 South Carolina. Kentucky checks in at No. 53 and No. 72 Vanderbilt.

The Vols have no five-star prospects, no top 100 prospects, no Parade All-Americans, no U.S. Army All-Americans, no USA Today All-Americans. It has some solid prospects with projectable potential but no impact prospects the ilk of a Eric Berry, Gerald Jones or Brent Vinson.

Tennessee is still involved with a few four-star prospects and could close with a couple of big names, but that possibility seems less and less likely by the hour. No. 9 offensive tackle Antoine McClain, of Anniston, Ala., who UT was thought to lead for two weeks ago, could be headed out of state, however, Clemson and North Carolina appear more likely destinations.

The Vols also appeared to have the inside track for No. 16 defensive end Keith Wells before he opted for Ohio State two days ago. They are still involved with No. 21 DE Quinton Coples although most sources have him headed to North Carolina.

No. 21 defensive end E.J. Abrams-Ward, of Thomasville, N,C., is also expected to choose between Tennessee and North Carolina. He looks to be UT's last best chance to add a four-star prospect to go with No. 16 tight end Aaron Douglas of Maryville, who is the Vols only current four-star commitment.

On the plus side Tennessee is likely to land No. 35 offensive tackle Dallas Thomas, of Scotlandville, La., who is the teammate of UT commitment Herman Lathers. That's a nice addition anytime, but it's hardly the type of headliner that has managed to elude the Vols this year.

Running back Mark Ingram of Flint, Mich., was looking at UT, but chose Alabama today. There are a few other names, i.e. Jerrell Harris, Enrique Davis and Jeremy Lewis, the Vols could sign, although those seem to be more wishful thinking than realistic possibilities.

There might also be some fallback candidates the Vols would consider signing as they have in the past. Still hanging onto Steven Fowlkes and Marlon Walls, plus adding a couple of others to round out the class is probably the best they can hope for at this point.

They might close some ground on South Carolina and Mississippi State, but a top 30 class is all but out of the question. That will mean this is the lowest ranked signing class in the 16-year Fulmer era, exceeding the previous worst in 2006 which was ranked No. 24. A total of 12 of Fulmer's other signing classes were top ten

These are strange days on The Hill and an odd outing on the old recruiting trail for Phil.

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