Kool-aid Chronicles

In terms of national and SEC rankings Tennessee's Class of 2008 falls decidedly short of Tennessee's lofty standards, but that may say more about Tennessee's standards than it does about Tennessee's class.

Knowing Tennessee fans' lofty expectations there will be a degree of wailing and gnashing of teeth, especially with Alabama putting together a No. 1 class followed by SEC upper crust Georgia, LSU and Florida at No. 4, No. 6 and No. 12, respectively.

Well, wail if you will. gnash if you must. But first just try to see the glass of orange Kool-aid half-full before going off halfcocked. Otherwise you might end up shooting yourself in the foot with sandal season and spring practice just around the corner.

As a public service to our loyal readers I have consumed the other half glass of orange Kool-aid, sat before the orange lava lamp, knocked back a couple packs of Pop Rocks, chased them with a four-pack of Red Bull and went into a deep altered state, during which, I discovered five facts that really make this class appear half-full instead of half-empty. And that's not half-bad, considering the Vols are ranked No. 35 nationally and No. 9 in the SEC by Scout.com.

FACT ONE: To begin with there's the typical Tennessee strong finish that netted the talented E.J. Abrams-Ward and Dallas Thomas while retaining commitments Steven Fowlkes and Marlon Walls that were threatened by Arkansas and Ole Miss, respectively. Odds are all three of these prospects will be productive players.

FACT TWO: Tennessee has the smallest signing class in the SEC in terms of numbers with 18, and Scout.com's ranking system is weighted toward quantity. For example: a pair of three-star prospects have more intrinsic value than one five-star stud. In terms of quality, UT's prospects average 2.94 stars each, and that's good for a respectable fifth in the conference behind the aforementioned big four and just ahead of Auburn.

FACT THREE: Two of Tennessee's allotment of 2008 scholarships are earmarked for a pair of proven veteran players Brandon Warren and Demetrice Morley. Warren is transferring to UT from Florida State after a stopover on the JC level during which he sat out his NCAA required one year. Warren was a four-star prospect in the Class of 2006 and a major contributor at tight end for the Seminoles as a true freshman. Morley was a five-star prospect and the nation's No. 1 ranked DB in UT's No. 1 ranked Class of 2005. He started 17 games for the Vols during his freshmen and sophomore seasons, leading UT in interceptions in 2006.

Two other scholarships go to former UT signees Gerald Williams (2005, 2006, 2007) and Stephaun Raines (2006). Williams played at San Francisco community college last fall, but it was his first time in game competition since his senior season of high school. Williams was a standout middle linebacker for the Rams, recording 133 tackles with 13.5 stops behind the line and three forced fumbles. He could be a monster in the middle of UT's defense this fall. Raines did a year at Coffeyville Community College where he redshirted and rehabilitated his academics. His 4.38 speed makes him the fastest prospect in this class and he could play at either wide receiver or the secondary despite the fact he hasn't played since his senior season at Dalton (Ga.) High.

Warren, Morley, Williams and Raines represent a ton of value on the field and virtually nothing in the rankings.

FACT FOUR: In a word — composition. Two categories in which this class scores high marks are academics and athleticism. That equates to low-risk versatility, which means players are more likely to stay and develop at a position that they can contribute. However in the name of fairness I must say there is a downside scenario in which a good athlete and solid student never masters a position or realizes his athletic potential while remaining on scholarship for five years. Helps your graduation rate, not so much your success rate. Fortunately, that's where coaching comes into play and as excited as Coach Fulmer is about this class, he's sure to get the best out of it.

FACT FIVE: Now that I'm coming down from the Red Bull, I guess there was no fact five. Just like there was no five-star prospect in UT's Class of 2008. But the prospects that are there had plenty of other big-time college options and they chose to sign with Tennessee. Despite the ugly losses, the coaching changes and the off-field problems they Volunteered. If that's not reason enough to like this group, it is plenty enough reason to give it a chance.

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