In 2007, Tennessee represented the SEC Eastern Division in the annual conference championship game in Atlanta. Tennessee played with LSU for the first three quarters and had a chance of taking the conference title. The Volunteers ended up losing the game, 21-14, because of one primary theme—talent.
Coach Phil Fulmer has lost his edge in recruiting. It seems a lifetime ago since he reeled in top high school prospects like Peyton Manning, Peerless Price, Casey Clausen, and Jason Witten. Fulmer has said time again that the team is struggling because he hasn't been able to get big-name prospects from states like Florida, Texas, or California.
The last two recruiting seasons, Fulmer has had a chance to get the top quarterback in his respective class. These two talented passers are now starting for Notre Dame and Ohio State. Jimmy Clausen was gettable for Fulmer because Casey Clausen, Jimmy's brother, was a former Tennessee quarterback and graduate assistant at Tennessee. Fulmer had a chance at Terrelle Pryor too. But because David Cutcliffe bolted for Duke, Terrelle took Tennessee off of his list.
The last big-name recruit to commit to Tennessee was a young man who now leads the NCAA in interceptions. Eric Berry. He's a player that you have to gameplan against, which begs the question: If Fulmer could recruit like Pete Carrol or Urban Meyer, could Tennessee contend for titles year-in and year-out? I believe the answer is yes because he has done it with his teams in the '90s, which won a national championship and a couple of SEC titles.
I truly believe that Phil Fulmer can coach with the best of them. But if you play with a team full of Joe the Plummers, you will struggle to win seven games per year, no matter which conference you play in.
Now, if Fulmer loses to Alabama this weekend, and he will lose to Alabama, the team is likely to take a downward spiral along with Fulmer's career at Tennessee. It is a shame that a once-great program has to go through such difficult times just because a guy can't sweet talk a bunch of 18-year-olds.