Tennessee Battles Attrition

Because there's no substitute for talent when it comes to building a successful college football program there is a tendency to believe if you recruit well the wins and BCS campaigns will follow.

Look at SEC programs like LSU and Florida which have won four national championships in the last 16 seasons and that theory holds together. Ditto for turnaround programs like Miami and USC which have collectively captured five national titles in the last 16 seasons. The Vols won their first national title in 47 years back in 1998 after putting together recruiting classes in 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997 that ranked tops in the nation for that four-year period.

Although this is generally the rule in college football but there are exceptions. An excellent case in point is Tennessee's infamous 2005 season during which it finished with a 5-6 record and the first year without qualifying for a bowl game in 17 seasons.

Leading up to the failed 2005 season the Vols had finished with the nation's No. 5 signing class in 2002, No. 7 in 2003, No. 9 in 2004 and No. 1 in 2005. That's an average ranking right between No. 5 and No. 6 nationally over a four-year period. That should translate to a top 10 finish if not top 5, but it didn't.

A closer examination of those classes demonstrates why what should have been the Vols finest hour ended in setbacks against Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Notre Dame and Vanderbilt.

Although there are normally a multitude of reasons for a season to catch the express train south, the most obvious reason for Tennessee's failure to reach expectations can be summed up in a single word — attrition.

Between 2002 and 2005 the Vols signed 13 five-star prospects, seven of those left the school before their eligibility was completed. A couple never played a down for UT. Tennessee also landed 20 top 100 players of which 13 (or 65 percent) left with eligibility remaining.

However the losses didn't stop there as key prospects that didn't have national recognition were also lost. Here is a list of some the players UT never got a chance to develop. Consider these names and calculated how much difference even a few of these players may have made to the Vols success.

2002: Brandon Jefferies (five-star All-American O-lineman and No. 2 ranked at his position), Mondre Dickerson (five star JUCO), Aaron Kirkland (All-American tight end ranked No. 2 at his position, Rob Smith (Parade All-American), Heath Benedict (Parade All-American), Greg Jones (Top 100 player), Leon Pinky (four JUCO tight end), James Banks (Parade All-American), LaRon Harris (All-State defensive tackle from Memphis Kingsbury). Also five-star Parade All-American had to serve a two-year church mission before completing his eligibility.

2003: Daniel Brooks (Consensus All-American, No. 7 ranked linebacker), Corey Campbell (four Texas All-State DB), Roshaun Fellows (All-State DB), Tony McDaniels (All-State DT), Zarnell Fitch (JUCO All-American), Brandon Johnson (JUCO DB), Bo Hardegree (QB switch to tennis, Robert Meachem.

2004: Albert Toeaina (Five-star JUCO All-American O-line), JaKouri Williams (No. 7 rated RB), Brent Schaeffer (four-star QB who later transferred to junior college in California before finishing his career at Ole Miss as a five-star signee), Ell Ash (New Jersey DT), Inky Johnson (Atlanta All-City DB), Jerod Mayo (All-SEC LB drafted by New England in 2008 NFL Draft), David Holbert (All-State FB), James Turner (All-State LB).

2005: LaMarcus Coker (Five-star tailback), Demetrice Morley (Five-Star DB, transferred back to UT this semester), Raymond Henderson (Parade All-American), Slick Shelley ( Four-Star U.S. Army All-American), Gerald Williams (Just qualified academically three years of trying), Malcolm Rawls (All-State O-lineman), Antonio Wordlow (N.C. All-State DB), Richard Kemp (Arkansas All-State DB).

The 2005 season was certainly the most disappointing in recent memory. Even the 1988 team that went 5-6 didn't have the high expectations the Vols did three years ago. So it's not surprising UT had its worst recruiting year under Phillip Fulmer in 2006, following the failed run in ‘05. The Vols were ranked No. 24 in 2006.

They rebounded in 2007 with Scout.com's No. 4 ranked class, but dropped to a historic low with the No. 35 ranking in 2007. For that three-year period, the Vols averaged a recruiting ranking of No. 21. Average 2005's No. 1 ranked class to that total and that average goes to No. 16 still are below 2005 levels. Furthermore, five of the players UT lost were defensive tackles, a position of serious need.

What we can learn from this scenario is that your season doesn't always reflect your success on the recruiting trail. Finally, the prospects you retain are more important than the prospects you sign.


Inside Tennessee Top Stories