Tennessee’s 2-5 start has at least clarified its recruiting message. The message is a four-letter word: “Help!”
Don’t underestimate the power of that. Programs tout their tradition, facilities, commitment to success and commitment to putting their players in the NFL. But playing time sometimes tops all of that.
Most big-time college football prospects aren’t accustomed to losing.
They’re even less accustomed to waiting. And their pulses don’t quicken when a coach tells them they could fill a vital role on special teams as a true freshman.
They think of themselves as the next Julio Jones or Marcus Lattimore. They imagine themselves in a prominent role from the outset.
All they want is an opportunity.
UT offers that opportunity, and the recruits don’t have to hear it from the head coach. They only have to observe.
The Vols aren’t competitive in the SEC, and they’re already playing freshmen in double-digit numbers every game. What more enticement do you need?
You might be wondering: If losing is such an attraction, why isn’t Vanderbilt assembling a top-10 recruiting class?
My theory has its limitations. Losing alone isn’t enough. You also need a fan base that doesn’t avoid its team as though it’s inflicted with a contagious disease.
Despite entering Saturday’s game as a double-digit underdog with a 2-4 record, the Vols drew a crowd of 102,455 against Alabama. That’s almost as noticeable to recruits as the playing opportunities.
Just because UT is playing like Vanderbilt, that doesn’t make it Vanderbilt. The Vols still have rabid fan support, a wealth of tradition, and head-turning facilities. Recruits are more apt to view the program as being down, rather than down and out.
Forget all the lost games and coaches the last few years. The Vols still have landed highly ranked recruiting classes. And with a strong finish, first-year head coach Derek Dooley could do just as well next February.
UT also has a positive selling point from a personnel perspective: its offensive line. How’s that for a turnabout?
Last spring, an offensive line with no returning starters and scant experience was regarded as the team’s most obvious weakness. Only months later, the offensive line is regarded as the foundation for a more promising future.
In the 41-10 loss to Alabama, UT’s offensive line — with the exception of senior guard Jarrod Shaw — was comprised of freshmen and sophomores. Four freshmen now have starting experience. As valuable as experience is in the offensive line, it’s even more of an asset when the experience has been acquired playing alongside one another.
If you are a running back or quarterback recruit in search of immediate playing time, wouldn’t you prefer the playing time came behind an experienced offensive line? I doubt Auburn’s pursuit of junior college quarterback Cameron Newton was hindered by its talented, experienced offensive line.
Newton provides another recruiting reminder. If you want to win championships, it’s not enough to stack one good recruiting class on top of another in the SEC. You also need a great player or two.
Look at Auburn with Newton. Look at Florida without Tim Tebow.
Alabama could have beaten the Vols without Jones and running back Trent Richardson. But it wouldn’t have beaten them with laughable ease.
Great players can save a good team on a bad day. They also can expedite the rebuilding process for a good program going through a bad time.
You don’t sign those players unless you have something to offer. And the best recruits don’t need to tour UT’s state-of-the-art facilities or study its proud football tradition to know the Vols have something to offer.
All they needed to see was the second half of the Alabama game.
John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org