Tennessee has the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation according to Rivals.com and the No. 2 class according to 247Sports.com and Butch Jones hasn’t even coached a game yet as the head coach of the Volunteers. What Jones has accomplished thus far on the recruiting trail—even though it’s early—is nothing short of remarkable.
The last time Tennessee has had a recruiting class ranked this high on national signing day was in 2002 when the Vols had the No. 2 ranked class, according to both of the aforementioned recruiting websites. However, Tennessee, was coming off of an 11-2 season and were three years removed from a 13-0 season that resulted in the first ever BCS Championship when that class was assembled.
The team that Jones has inherited from the over-matched and underwhelming Derek Dooley is coming off of a three-year run with a 16-21 record and a scant five SEC wins, including a disastrous 2-14 record the last two seasons that resulted in his dismissal. Selling this year’s batch of recruits on bringing back the once-proud Tennessee program is appealing for players such as Jalen Hurd, Todd Kelly, D’Andre Payne and the Vols’ latest recruit Joe Henderson.
Their addition to “Volnation” has the fan base excited that the Volunteers will once again be near the top of the SEC East. However, after looking back at the 2002 crop of talent, a highly ranked class does not ensure SEC championships, BCS bowl games or an NFL future.
The four years following the best recruiting class in the new millennium resulted in a 33-17 record with a 21-11 mark in conference, two eastern division crowns and a 2-2 record in bowl games. None of the bowl games were BCS bowls and none of the eastern titles resulted in wins in the SEC Championship Game.
The biggest thing I took away from the 2002 class, which included the likes of James Banks, Gerald Riggs, Jr, Parys Haralson, Justin Harrell and Jason Allen is that they only went 5-6 in their fourth year on campus. This class also included five-star recruits Jonathan Mapu, Brandon Jeffries and Mondre Dickerson who failed to leave a legacy in Knoxville.
That’s enough of the negativity, and I’m sure that the majority of Tennessee fans would sign up for the resume of that class quicker than a hummingbird’s heartbeat if they could after only 28 wins in the last five seasons.
My hope is that this provides some perspective for the fans elated with the momentum Jones and his staff have built on the recruiting trail, and also shows that not all of these recruits are destined for All-American careers and spots in the first round of the NFL draft.
It is also my hope that Tennessee continues their assault on the recruiting trail because the SEC is better with the Volunteers as a dominant program. Tennessee is No. 1 at something and that should be celebrated. A couple more of these recruiting classes like the one taking shape and Tennessee could be there once again—in the AP poll.