Vol fans often consider Tennessee to be one of the best jobs in the SEC and in the country. And history would tend to back that up as well. The Vols have a couple national titles in their history, and the schools’ 820 victories are the ninth-most in NCAA history. Tennessee’s 13 SEC titles are second only to Alabama in the conference.
But history doesn’t always reflect the present, and Tennessee’s recent past hasn’t been nearly as glorious as other decades.
Tennessee was a dreadful 40-47 overall from 2008-14, and they were an even more paltry 17-39 in SEC play during that stretch. Back-to-back 9-4 seasons in 2015 and 2016 have helped right the ship, but failing to win the SEC title in either of those years, especially last season, has frustrated fans and showed that the Vols still aren’t completely back to the pedestal they were before.
And it’s because of this that one national writer believes the Vols are no longer a premier job in the SEC.
Tom Fornelli is a name Vol fans have probably heard before. He’s previously said that Butch Jones is on the hottest seat in college football and ranked Jones outside the top 50 coaches in the Power Five. Fornelli’s opinions have often caused a stir among Vol fans, and he’s back at it again with his rankings of jobs in the SEC.
According to Fornelli, Tennessee is only the sixth-best job to have in the SEC. Fornelli doesn’t state if this ranking is from a historical perspective or just for 2017, but it’s implied he’s looking more short-term rather than long-term in his piece. Regardless, the ranking isn’t too flattering for Tennessee.
Fornelli compiled this list with a fairly straightforward formula. “What I’m trying to do in these rankings is view each job from a neutral point of view,” Fornelli writes. “I considered many different factors when trying to figure out which job is the ‘best.’ The tradition of a school was a factor, as was its amount of success, and how the school is positioned for future success.
“Throw in some recruiting — not only the recruiting base, but the level of difficulty involved in recruiting players to the school — expectations and the loyalty of the fan base, and I think I came to some pretty reasonable conclusions.”
Tennessee placed sixth, coming in behind Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Florida, and Auburn. Texas A&M ranked right behind the Vols at No. 7 on the list.
Here’s how Fornelli describes the Vols’ job:
“There are valid arguments for having Tennessee ranked No. 5 here. First of all, Tennessee is in the SEC East, which is an easier place to dwell than the SEC West right now. Of course, you still have to play Alabama every season, and things are cyclical, so you can’t rely on the East being “easier” forever. Another advantage is that Tennessee is the flagship school within the state. It has a huge fan base and a passionate one at that. Vols football is the most popular sport in the state, and I don’t see the Tennessee Titans, Nashville Predators or anybody else toppling it anytime soon. Where problems arise is in the area of recruiting. Unlike so many of its SEC counterparts, Tennessee isn’t located in a fertile recruiting ground. There’s talent within the state, sure, but not to the level we see in the states to the south.”
Fornelli is spot on about recruiting in the state of Tennessee, at least. While Tennessee is starting to produce more overall talent, it still doesn’t compare to the likes of Georgia and Florida. Tennessee has nine players rated as four-stars or higher in the 2018 class according to 247Sports. The state of Georgia, meanwhile, has 36 such players and Florida has even more with 55 players with a four-star rating or higher.
But sixth place in the 14-team SEC still seems a little low for a team with the pedigree and tradition Tennessee has. In-state recruiting shouldn’t knock down a team that greatly.
The Vols have fallen on hard times in the recent past, and they’ve disappointed enough even in the last few years that national media has soured on them. What once was viewed as a premier job in the SEC is now little better than a middle of the pack occupation in the conference to the national media. Well, to one writer, at least.