Tennessee fans have been so busy tracking the comings and goings of assistant coaches, they might have missed out on the full college football experience.
That's not a bowl reference. I'm referring to the annual January passage of college juniors to the NFL.
For those who have been preoccupied with UT's turnover of assistant coaches, here's a complete accounting of UT players leaving early for the NFL: 0.
Tennessee fans shouldn't be so quick to breathe a sigh of relief. Outgoing juniors aren't necessarily cause for lament. Instead, they can serve as an endorsement of your program.
Look who had the most players turn pro early: Alabama and LSU, the two teams who played for the national championship. Each will lose three players.
Those departures have had such an adverse impact on LSU that it's the consensus early pick to win the 2012 national championship. In one preseason top-25 poll, LSU and Alabama are ranked one, two.
The perpetuation of talent isn't a new development at either school.
Alabama was so devastated by running back Mark Ingram's early-out that it was forced to play
Trent Richardson. Now, he's leaving early, too. So the Tide will have to make do with Eddie Lacy, its second-leading rusher in 2011, and 245-pound Jalston Fowler, who combined to average 7.0 yards per carry this past season.
One Jim Thorpe award winner (cornerback Patrick Peterson) went pro early, and LSU replaced him with another Jim Thorpe award winner (cornerback Morris Claiborne). Since Claiborne is leaving for the pros as a junior, the Tigers will have to scrape by with cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu, a Heisman Trophy finalist, and Tharold Simon, another future pro.
There's no better way to connect with a recruit than to convince him your program will prepare him for the NFL — so much the better if you can convince him it will take only three years.
Even Memphis can boast of an early draft entry, nose tackle Dontari Poe. New coach Justin Fuente would be foolish not promote that. He could make it as concise as a tweet: "If you want to go to a bowl, go somewhere else. If you want to go pro, come to Memphis."
He also could use it in negative in-state recruiting against UT. The tweet: "Early pro scoring: Memphis 1, Vols 0."
As second-year coach Derek Dooley upgrades Tennessee's talent level, this could change. Even next season, the Vols actually could have juniors inquiring about their NFL status. In the meantime, the Vols should consider a backup plan for down years. My recommendation: Persuade walk-ons to leave their mark on the program by turning pro early.
Each year, the program should have several junior walk-ons available for NFL duty. If no other UT juniors declare for the draft, the UT sports information office could announce the names of walk-ons going pro early and provide quotes as well.
Generic player quote: "I've enjoyed my time at Tennessee and am grateful to the program for preparing me to play at the next level. Thanks for a great three years, UT."
The player's name would then be added to the official list of early NFL entries published on the SEC web site. So what if readers would say, "Who's that?" The average college football fan would say the same about Dontari Poe.
The pro promotion also could do wonders for UT's walk-on program. What walk-on wouldn't be attracted to a school where he could go pro even if he couldn't play?