With the college football season coming to an end, it's time once again to shift the focus to recruiting.
Recruiting is the lifeblood of every college football program. A coach can be one of the best motivators, evaluators and play-callers in the game, but if he can't recruit well, none of that will likely matter.
Tennessee fans know this all too well.
Phillip Fulmer was a renowned recruiter for much of his 17-year tenure at Tennessee. When his recruiting abilities began to take a dip, the product on the field and the lack of production in the win column cost him his job.
Lane Kiffin came in, made a splash, and began re-stocking some of the talent that had been lacking. Kiffin nearly single-handedly destroyed some of the inroads he made at Tennessee when he left for USC following his only season at UT.
Derek Dooley inherited a program with severe problems in the numbers department. The credit for Dooley's first recruiting class in 2010, ranked No. 9 by Rivals.com, mainly went to Kiffin as the former coach assembled much of that class before leaving for USC three weeks before National Signing Day.
The 2011 class will be all Derek Dooley and staff. Here are some of the top targets going into the final few weeks before signing day.
Mike Bellamy could very well be just as unlikely as Kouandjio, but recent developments have cast considerable doubt on the Punta Gorda star's Clemson commitment.
Rumors have flown that Bellamy's commitment could be somewhat shaky since Clemson fired two assistants earlier this month.
Many recruiting analysts believe that Bellamy has been warming up to Tennessee for some time as Vols assistant coach Darin Hinshaw has been relentlessly recruiting the running back regardless of Bellamy's commitment to Clemson last June.
247sports: 4*, No. 2 All-Purpose Back, No. 38 overall prospect
Rivals: 5*, No. 2 RB, No. 14 overall prospect
Scout: 5*, No. 4 RB, No. 22 overall prospect
ESPN: 4*, No. 4 RB, No. 27 overall prospect
Jay Rome is reportedly about as possible as possible can get for the Vols. Most recruiting services have Tennessee in Rome's top three or four.
The 6'6", 240-pound tight end from Valdosta, Georgia, has offers from Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida State, in addition to Tennessee, a handful of ACC programs.
After saying goodbye to future NFL tight end Luke Stocker, the Vols are certainly in need of someone to fill his shoes. Rome would definitely be a part of that solution.
Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee are the consensus top three for Rome's services.
247sports: 4*, No. 2 TE, No. 20 overall prospect
Rivals: 4*, No. 3 TE, No. 45 overall prospect
Scout: 5*, No. 1 TE, No. 20 overall prospect
ESPN: 4*, No. 2 TE, No. 18 overall prospect
The No. 1 prospect in the state of Tennessee is offensive lineman Antonio Richardson. The 6'6", 300-pounder is high on the Vols list for obvious reasons.
Besides wanting to keep the state's best prospect from going to a rival, securing Richardson's services would go a long way in the continued rebuilding effort on Tennessee's offensive line.
As you will see below, the recruiting services are all over the place on Richardson's rating—a fact that verifies how inexact this science really is.
Richardson is also being pursued by Alabama, Florida, Auburn, Michigan, USC, Miami, Kentucky, Clemson, and Notre Dame.
247sports: 4*, No. 20 OT, No. 213 overall prospect
Rivals: 4*, No. 9 OT, No. 74 overall prospect
Scout: 4*, No. 19 OT, No. 196 overall prospect
ESPN: 4*, No. 5 OT, No. 35 overall prospect
Jeoffrey Pagan might just be a part of that unlikely possibilities group, but as of two weeks ago, the Vols were still in the picture.
Pagan recently told 247sports, however, that Clemson, Florida and Alabama were still on his list of official visits before signing day. The 6'3" defensive end injured his knee in November and underwent surgery to repair his ACL and PTL shortly thereafter.
The Orlando Sentinel reported at the time that the injury would keep the former Florida commit out of action for eight to 12 months.
247sports: 4*, No. 9 DE, No. 131 overall prospect
Rivals: 4*, No. 3 DE, No. 36 overall prospect
Scout: 4*, No. 14 DE, No. 115 overall prospect
ESPN: 4* No. 4 DE, No. 19 overall prospect
Gabe Wright, 6'3", 273-pound defensive tackle from Columbus, Georgia is scheduled to visit Tennessee on January 14th.
The Vols were short at defensive tackle all season long. If early playing time is a sticking point, the Vols probably have the upper hand on most of the other programs on Wright's list.
According to Rivals.com, Wright has Tennessee in his top four along with Alabama, Auburn and Clemson. Yet, when you look at 247sports, Tennessee is not even on the list.
247sports: 4*, No. 9 DT, No. 111 overall prospect
Rivals: 4*, No. 10 DT, No. 110 overall prospect
Scout: 4*, No. 7 DT, No. 81 overall prospect
ESPN: 4* No. 6 DT, No. 93 overall prospect
Just one week ago, highly touted recruit Jermauria Rasco from Shreveport, Louisiana, told Andrew Gribble of the Knoxville News Sentinel that it wasn't likely that he'd visit Tennessee in the next month.
Apparently, that little issue was not enough to eliminate Tennessee from his list, however.
So far, Rasco has made only one official visit—Florida State. According to Gribble, Tennessee assistant Terry Joseph has a close relationship with Rasco. That relationship could very well keep Tennessee in this race until National Signing Day.
247sports: 4*, No. 2 DE, No. 46 overall prospect
Rivals: 4*, No. 12 DE, No. 121 overall prospect
Scout: 4*, No. 2 DE, No. 28 overall prospect
ESPN: 4*, No. 15 DE, No. 139 overall prospect
Lamar Dawson, the No. 1 prospect in the state of Kentucky, is high on more than a few wish lists.
The 6'2", 230-pound linebacker with 4.6 speed in the 40-yard dash is coveted by Oregon, USC, Michigan, Tennessee, and Florida, just to name a few.
Dawson recently played in the US Army All-American Bowl. At that event he stated that he was getting ready to take official visits to Tennessee, Michigan and USC. Dawson has already taken official visits to Oregon and Kentucky.
247sports: 4*, No. 8 ILB, No. 133 overall prospect
Rivals: 4*, No. 3 ILB, No. 54 overall prospect
Scout: 4*, No. 6 ILB, No. 99 overall prospect
ESPN: 4*, No. 18 ILB, Not ranked in ESPNU Top 150
While it's probably a stretch to think Tennessee could end up with Kouandjio, that doesn't mean Vols fans can't hope.
Depending on which recruiting service you read, Kouandjio is either not interested in Tennessee at all or he's warming up to the idea of spending his next three to four years in Knoxville.
Considering the 12 other "interested" programs include the likes of Alabama, Florida and USC, Derek Dooley and staff probably have more than a little work to do to convince the 6'7", 322-pounder to be a part of the rebuilding effort at Tennessee.
247sports: 5*, No. 1 OL, No. 2 overall prospect
Rivals: 5*, No. 2 OL, No. 10 overall prospect
Scout: 5*, No. 1 OL, No. 5 overall prospect
ESPN: 5*, No. 2 OL, No. 6 overall prospect
As the video will attest, Hill is a dynamic playmaker with the speed to elude tackles and the size to break them.
The Baton Rouge product recommitted to LSU just two days ago after backing off his original commitment to the Tigers in December.
One would think that Hill's latest re-commitment would take him out of the running completely. But, as is the case with a lot of these kids, that is far from a given—especially with rumors swirling that LSU head coach Les Miles could be on the verge of taking the Michigan head-coaching job.
247sports: 4*, No. 4 RB, No. 41 overall prospect
Rivals: 4*, No. 21 RB, not ranked in Rivals top 100 nationally
Scout: 4*, No. 10 RB, No. 80 overall prospect
ESPN: 4*, No. 19 RB, not ranked in ESPN top 150 nationally
Rivals' No. 3 overall prospect Curtis Grant recently told ESPN that he had narrowed his choices down to four.
That final four did not include Tennessee.
It did include Florida, Ohio State, Virginia, and North Carolina.
Obviously, with less than a month remaining till signing day, it appears that Grant will not be including Tennessee among his visits. That doesn't necessarily mean that the Vols staff won't at least give it a shot.
247sports: 4*, No. 3 ILB, No. 50 overall prospect
Rivals: 5*, No. 1 ILB, No.3 overall prospect
Scout: 5*, No. 3 ILB, No. 19 overall prospect
ESPN: 4*, No. 3 ILB, No. 45 overall prospect