The Tennessee Vols will be an improved football team in 2019, but they almost certainly won’t challenge Georgia (or maybe even Florida) for the SEC East division crown.

As we saw last season, the Vols still have a long way to go before they’re among the elite in the SEC.

But the program can get where Alabama and Georgia are right now — as long as Jeremy Pruitt follows a specific path that centers around his recruiting process/style.

For now, Pruitt isn’t going to beat out Alabama, Clemson, Georgia or other top tier schools for highly touted recruits who just want to win a national championship. If a five-star wide receiver wants to head to college, win a national championship and go pro in three years, then Tennessee probably isn’t the place for them at the moment.

I’m not saying Pruitt isn’t capable of getting the Vols to the College Football Playoff in three years (though I think that would be a bit of a stretch), but other programs are consistently reaching college football’s final four. Why would an elite recruit, aside from in-state players and recruits with connections to UT, commit to the Vols over a school that’s already competing for national titles?

That’s why Pruitt’s recruiting approach, at least for the next couple of years, needs to focus on building the best culture/atmosphere in the SEC.

And so far, I think that’s what he’s trying to do.

Three-star offensive lineman Robert Scott, 6-foot-6/295 lbs from Conway, AR, is a perfect example.

Scott, who received an offer from Tennessee in late April, recently told VolQuest that while everyone “would love to win” the most important thing for him is the atmosphere, saying “For me the biggest thing is can you see yourself playing with the players and it being a brotherhood. You can’t beat that.”

Now, I’m not saying that Pruitt needs to forego recruiting four-star and five-star players — he obviously needs to go after the best players in the country. But fans shouldn’t be mad if he swings and misses at those players. He’s basically challenging college football’s version of the night king and the army of the dead for those players. And while tight ends coach Brian Niedermeyer might be Tennessee’s version of Arya Stark, it’s still hard to see the Vols landing top talent over Nick Saban and Alabama.

But if Pruitt can create a “brotherhood” like atmosphere on Rocky Top, where every player has each other’s back no matter what, then some really good things can happen for the Vols.

This is the only way I see Pruitt having the type of success at Tennessee that fans have desired for the last 10-15 years.

There’s no doubting Pruitt’s football acumen — he’s one of the smartest coaches in the sport. But I think it’s a proven fact that the only way to win championships is to land the best players in the nation.

Essentially, I think Tennessee is going to have to go with a Dabo Swinney like approach with this rebuild. Swinney slowly built a special culture at Clemson and then win totals started approaching 10 or 11 a season. The Tigers then started landing better players and we saw Clemson develop into a powerhouse program.

The Vols need to follow that same path, which means fans need to be patient. If Tennessee wins seven games in 2019, nine games in 2020, and then perhaps 10 or 11 the next season, then Pruitt is on the path to turning UT into a great program once again.

It’s not going to happen overnight, but if Pruitt takes the right approach, Tennessee will absolutely be at the top of the college football world once again.

Featured image via Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
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