After watching the University of Tennessee football team suffer through a 2-6 portion of their schedule against one nationally ranked power after another, it’s easy to see where the problem is. The Vols simply don’t have enough talent to compete against the Alabamas, Georgias, Auburns and Missouris on their schedule. Granted Tennessee did upset South Carolina and should have beaten Georgia, but since that thrilling upset of the Gamecocks on Oct. 19, the Big Orange has lost three in a row by a combined score of 131-36.
Seven of their last eight opponents have been ranked, most of them in the top 10. Vol Network analyst Tim Priest pointed out that Tennessee has enough talent to win a game or two, every now and then against good competition, but over a period of time, the superior talent in the SEC will wear them down, and that’s exactly what has happened.
UT Head Coach Butch Jones is trying to do something about this big talent gap. According to recruiting service Rivals.com, Tennessee is ranked second nationally as of today. The Vols have a total of thirty commitments, including one five-star prospect and sixteen four star athletes. The only school in the nation ranked ahead of the Vols right now is, you guessed it, Alabama.
Coach Jones said when he took the job in Knoxville, he was going to start with the best prospects in the Volunteer state, and fan out from there. So far, he’s done just that. Of the Vols 30 commitments, six of them are Tennesseans. They include running back Jalen Hurd from Hendersonville Beech High School, who is listed as the state’s top prospect. Hurd, who is also rated number four among running backs nationally, has a great combination of size and speed. He is a 6’ 3” 230 beast who can be a punishing back. In addition to Hurd, the Vols have also gotten a commitment from safety Rashan Gaulden from Nashville's Independence High School. Gaulden is also rated as one of the best cover guys in the nation, and could step in and help a secondary that appears to be a bit slow.
It’s a long time until National Signing Day in February; that’s when the verbal commitments will become official. As good as Tennessee’s recruiting has been so far for the class of 2014, it could get even better. The only down side though is this important fact: while Tennessee is doing very well, so are many other SEC schools. Of the top 10 teams listed, five are SEC teams. In the top 25, a total of 10 SEC teams are ranked.
Alabama only gets stronger and stronger. Head Coach Nick Saban, who has won three of the last four national recruiting battles, is number one once again. Ironically, Alabama has also won three of the last four BCS Championships, so talent really does translate into titles.
Most Tennessee fans know that our home state is rather weak when it comes to high school football talent. Coach Phillip Fulmer was a master at recruiting on a national level, but he also seemed to get the best prospects inside the Tennessee borders. Derek Dooley and Lane Kiffen failed to do that, but Butch Jones stated from the very beginning, that was the way the UT program would roll under his watch.
So, the tide will turn eventually for the Volunteers. They already have the facilities in place to compete with any other program in the country. Now all we need is talent, and Coach Butch Jones is doing a great job at putting that in place.
Randy Smith has been covering sports in Tennessee for the last 43 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has continued his broadcasting career as a free-lance play-by-play announcer. He is also an author and is a media concepts teacher at Brainerd High School in Chattanooga. He is also the Head Softball Coach at Brainerd. Randy Smith's career has included a 17-year stint as scoreboard host and pre-game talk show host on the widely regarded "Vol Network". He has also done play by play of more than 500 college football, basketball, baseball and softball games on ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports, CSS and Tennessee Pay Per View telecasts. He was selected as "Tennessee's Best Sports Talk Show Host" in 1998 by the Associated Press. He has won other major awards including, "Best Sports Story" in Tennessee and his "Friday Night Football" shows on WRCB-TV twice won "Best Sports Talk Show In Tennessee" awards. He has also been the host of "Inside Lee University Basketball" on CSS for the past 11 years. He was the first television broadcaster to ever be elected to the "Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame", in 2003. Randy and his wife, Shelia, reside in Hixson. They have two married children (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith). They also have three grandchildren (Coleman, Boone, and DellaMae).