In college football, recruiting drives everything. Coaches spend countless hours in the recruiting process, and landing big-time recruits brings as much of an off-field boost as anything for a football program. So it should come as no surprise that the seven different teams that have made the College Football Playoffs have, for the most part, been some of the most consistent teams in the nation in terms of recruiting.
But what may be surprising is that a team who had four losing seasons from 2010-13 is recruiting just as well as the teams making the playoffs. In fact, that team has recruited better than some of the playoff teams, especially over the last couple seasons.
The Vols, despite just now coming out of the darkest era in their program’s history, have been recruiting at a playoff-type level.
The seven different teams that have made the playoffs the last two years, Alabama (twice), Oregon, Florida State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Clemson, and Michigan State, have all had varying degrees of success in recruiting the last four years, but most have recruited at an elite level. Five of the seven teams have averaged a top-15 recruiting class over the last four recruiting cycles, and four of them have had at least one class in the top 10 in a given year.
Tennessee has done both of those as well, hauling in back-to-back top 10 classes while averaging a top-15 class over the last four years.
Here’s a breakdown of all seven playoff teams’ average class rankings from 2012-15 according to 247Sports’ class rankings:
Alabama: 1 (has had No. 1 class every year from 2012-15)
Ohio State: 4.3
Florida State: 5.3
Michigan State: 28.8
Michigan State is the clear outlier among the seven playoff teams, but on average the playoff teams are among the best and most consistent recruiting teams in the country. But the Vols have actually recruited just as well in that same span despite performing at a much lower level over the years.
The Vols’ four-year recruiting ranking average is the exact same as Clemson’s: 13.8. That’s the same Clemson team that played in the National Championship Game just a few weeks ago.
Tennessee started out in the 20’s in both 2012 and 2013 in Derek Dooley’s final year as head coach and in Butch Jones’ first year at the helm. But the last two years have seen an obvious uptick in the Vols’ recruiting, as the 2014 class finished 7th and the most recent class, the 2015 class, ended up No. 4. And that 2015 class finished ahead of five of the seven playoff teams’ 2015 classes.
It’s been impressive how well Butch Jones and his staff have been able to sell the Vols to recruits despite a very poor showing before taking over in 2013. But all that recruiting success has led to what will be one of the most talented rosters in college football in 2016, at least according to recruiting ratings.
And it’s even more reason why the hype train is off to a furious start for the Vols’ 2016 season.
Tennessee’s 2016 starting roster will be littered with former four and five-star recruits like Josh Dobbs, Jalen Hurd, Alvin Kamara, Josh Malone, Kahlil McKenzie, Shy Tuttle, Derek Barnett, Todd Kelly Jr., and Darrin Kirkland Jr. just to name a few. But just like the playoff teams, the Vols won’t just have highly-touted players as starters; even their back-ups will be players who were highly-rated out of high school.
The Vols finally proved in 2015 that they can compete with any team in the country. Tennessee had a fourth quarter lead against two playoff teams and against the eventual SEC East champions. But the 2015 Vols couldn’t finish the deal.
Now it’s time to prove in 2016 that the Vols aren’t just all hype and little substance. This talented roster needs to close out games and play as well as the teams they’ve been recruiting similarly to.