I was blessed to be chosen to represent the Bleacher Report at the Chick-Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta on New Year's Eve. It was a tremendous experience and one that I hope to duplicate many times in the future.
As I sat in the press box, observing the game, making notes, and collecting my thoughts on this series, I came to the realization that the wonderful win I hoped would precede my story was simply not going to happen.
Watching the Vols get manhandled in the second half was really not a part of my script for this story.
I originally intended on painting a nice, beautiful picture that would remind Volniacs of the last time Tennessee played Virginia Tech.
On Dec. 30, 1994, the Vols were coming off of a 7-4 season in which they lost to UCLA, demolished Georgia, and were stopped at the 10 yard line with seconds remaining in a loss to Alabama.
That team had a second year head coach and extremely young, raw talent.
The unranked Vols dismantled the No. 17 Hokies, 45-23 that night in Gainesville, FL at the Gator Bowl.
The freshmen on that '94 team would eventually go on to be one of the most talented classes in the school's history, winning 32 of 37 games from 1995-97. That class laid the groundwork for Tennessee's 13-0 national championship team in 1998.
Guys like Peyton Manning, Marcus Nash, Terry Fair, and Bill Duff were all freshmen on the 1994 squad.
With help from guys like Al Wilson, Leonard Little, and Peerless Price from the '95 class; Billy Ratliff and Spencer Riley from the '96 class; and Jamal Lewis and Cosey Coleman from the '97 class, the recruiting pipeline was in place for great success.
There's no doubt that recruiting is the life's blood of any proud, successful program, and it has to be flowing like blood coursing through the veins of your program.
After being on the receiving end of a blowout against Virginia Tech, head coach Lane Kiffin wasted no time pointing to that very fact in the post-game press conference.
"We've got a lot to figure out...but the best thing to figure out is to go get some more players," said Kiffin.
Way to break it down, Lane.
Is there really any doubt that Kiffin's success lies in kids that are 15, 16, and 17 years old right now? How much more hope lies in those kids than the one's already wearing orange? Apparently a lot.
This is a part of rebuilding. You take over a program that has seen a drastic drop in talent, take your lumps, recruit your head off, build a pipeline, and win a championship.
It happened at Georgia. It happened at Florida. It's happening at Alabama.
Will it happen at Tennessee?
According to Lane Kiffin: "We're going to build our roster and build our depth so that we don't have the same issues."
We all know that the young coach has never lacked in confidence, but what he said he told the seniors after the Georgia Dome debacle is even more evidence that he firmly believes this team will be special one day.
"I told them they'll be the same guys, when were playing in this same stadium for SEC Championships, standing on the sidelines remembering they helped us start this."
Lane Kiffin gets it; Lane Kiffin has a plan.
He understands that it takes having great players at least two-deep at every position to make a program successful.
Just ask Nick Saban and Urban Meyer. Those guys have tremendous talent three-deep at almost every position.
Kiffin knows where he wants to take this team, but it all comes down to how hard he and his assistants work at getting the players that will accomplish that feat.
The more I looked at that 1994 team the more I realized that that pipeline had been in place for a few years. The Vols were successful in the early '90s and the coaching change did little to disrupt that. The recipe and all the ingredients were available.
Lane Kiffin is basically working from scratch. The recipe is still the same, but the ingredients have become an even hotter commodity than they were 15 years ago.
Who knows, maybe there's an Al Wilson or a Trey Teague out there for the taking. Maybe there's a Marcus Nash or another Terry Fair out there just awaiting the initial phone call from the Vols staff. Maybe those guys are already on the team just waiting for their shot.
Either way, Kiffin's work is cut out for him. Working from scratch and rebuilding is something that even his predecessor, Phillip Fulmer, never had to do.
Judging by his statements and public persona, I have little reason to believe he's not up to the challenge.
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