A year ago at this time, the Tennessee Vols were running out of room in their 2021 recruiting class.
The Vols were on a recruiting hot streak last spring. At one point, Tennessee had one of the top five recruiting classes in the nation (though looking back, it appears that hot streak was the result of some shady recruiting practices).
Fast forward to spring 2021 and the Vols have yet to land a 2022 commit.
With only nine months until the early signing period, is this a cause for concern?
In a “normal” year, I’d say absolutely.
But nothing has been normal about the last 12 months, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. And nothing has been impacted in college football quite like recruiting.
Recruiting visits were shut down last March. The recruiting dead period currently runs through May 31. That means prospective recruits haven’t been able to meet with coaches in person, see football facilities, or meet with current players/other recruits. That’s an extremely important part of the recruiting process. It’s tough for a player to make a decision without those visits/interactions.
Tennessee isn’t the only program dealing with the recruiting fallout of the pandemic. Vanderbilt doesn’t have any players committed either. South Carolina only has one player committed. Kentucky has just two commits.
Even the top programs in the SEC are feeling the impact of the pandemic in recruiting. Alabama and Florida are faring better on the recruiting trail than most programs in the SEC, but each program still only has five players committed.
Recruiting right now is even tougher for the Vols thanks to a new coaching staff that wasn’t hired until late January. When you combine all of the recruiting obstacles Tennessee is facing, it’s clear they have the toughest uphill battle in the conference.
But there’s no reason to panic. Visits will hopefully be allowed to resume this summer. Those visits, combined with the work that new Vols head coach Josh Heupel is putting on on the virtual recruiting trail (his mega Zoom calls have been a big hit with recruits), will eventually pay off for Tennessee.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Vols land a flurry of commits this summer.
And once the season starts, and recruits see Heupel’s offense, we should see recruiting pick up even more for the Vols.
Tennessee doesn’t have to land a top 10 recruiting class this cycle to be successful. As long as the Vols have a class ranked somewhere around No. 25, they’ll be fine. Heupel has proved at previous stops that he doesn’t need elite talent to be successful.
Now, obviously, the Vols will need that elite talent to eventually get back to the top of the college football world. But landing top 25 classes is fine for now, as the program works its way back to respectability.
The 2022 class will eventually come together for Tennessee. Fans, and the coaching staff, just have to be patient.
Featured image via James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports/Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports