When you think of great recruiting in college football, of course you think of the usual suspects: Texas, Florida, USC and so on and so forth. You no longer think of the Tennessee Volunteers.
Back in the 1990s, when Phillip Fulmer and the Vols were at the height of their college football power, Tennessee was a destination for both coaches and recruits. Complacency and bad hirings (one bad hiring, actually) have led the Big Orange to where it is now, which is the basement of the SEC in both playing and recruiting.
Right? Don't be so sure...
While the Vols may have trouble proving themselves on the field these next three weeks, the recruiting is far from bad. In fact, Tennessee has yet to pull in a class ranked lower than 13th since head coach Derek Dooley arrived, and you'll have to excuse me if I put more trust in the kind of players he's bringing in than the previous 13-month regime.
So, the Vols are bringing in high quality players (average team recruiting ranking of 11.3 since Dooley's arrival) and quality people. It doesn't matter how fast or how strong players are if they can't act right. Ask LaMarcus Coker, Bryce Brown and Nu'Keese Richardson.
The Anti-Dooley Faction is fast to point out that while the Vols are consistently ranked in the top 15 in national recruiting, Tennessee is often near the bottom in the SEC. That claim is both false and somewhat irrelevant.
Tennessee's Actual Recruiting Performance
First, Dooley has ranked second, third and second in the SEC East from 2010 to the current 2012 class. The main culprit is Florida, whose coaches take walks to visit their recruits. Tennessee has always, and will always have to for the foreseeable future, recruit harder than any other upper echelon SEC schools because of the dearth of in-state talent.
Dooley's classes have finished below Georgia only once and is currently a full eight spots higher than their southern foes in the rankings, according to Rivals. Winning the East is the first step, and Tennessee is getting there fast.
The Volunteers are Outdoing the Average
Second, let's assume that Tennessee was getting killed in recruiting right now. It'd be somewhat acceptable since Dooley's tenure has yielded a 9-12 record to date. The Vols are competing against Florida, LSU, Alabama and Auburn, winners of the last four BCS National Championships.
Excuse me for being blunt, but what the hell do you expect? Championships attract recruits, so the fact that Tennessee is behind in recruiting is completely understandable. It's a miracle that the Big Orange isn't farther behind.
The second tier SEC schools—Georgia, Arkansas, South Carolina and Tennessee—have been dominated by the Volunteers. The average ranking of the other three schools for the 2012 class is 22.7. The Vols are 12th.
Pardon the redundancy, but you have to remember that this 12th ranked class is also full of quality young men as deemed by Dooley, whose judge of character is questioned by no one, even the aforementioned Faction.
2012, 2013, 2014...
Tennessee is the fourth best out-of-state recruiter behind Alabama, Auburn and Oklahoma in the current 2012 class. The combined winning percentage of those three schools in 2011 is 81 percent. Tennessee's is 44 percent.
It's not 1998 anymore, Vol fans. It's 2011, but at the pace that Tennessee is on with recruiting, it surely could be again in the near future.