Examining Tennessee Football’s Last Decade of Recruiting

Examining Tennessee Football’s Last Decade of Recruiting
Fact Checked by Nate Hamilton

Tennessee football is coming off its best season since 2001, but things have not always run so smoothly in Knoxville recently.  The Volunteers are just 63-49 since 2014, with three different head coaches leading the program over that stretch.  Still, Tennessee is one of 14 schools to sign a top 25 class in each of the last 10 recruiting cycles.  This has made Tennessee sportsbooks bettors very happy.

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Comparing Tennessee to the other Top 20 Recruiting Teams of the Last Decade

BetTennessee.com investigated the Volunteers’ recruiting operations during this time by collecting data from the Class of 2014 through the Class of 2023 and analyzing how Tennessee fared in relation to other major college football teams.  

All information and rankings come from the 247Sports Composite and were manually verified by BetTennessee.com.  This is what they discovered:

SchoolAvg. HS Recruiting Rank 14'-23'% in-State comments 14'-23'total in-state blue chip recruits 14'-23'% in-state blue chip recruits signed 14'-23'% of in-state signees that were blue chips 14'-23'# of in-state 5-star recruits 14'-23'% of in-state 5-stars signed 14'-23'State Population at 2020 Census
Ohio State4.832.9%13640.4%73.3%966.7%11,799,448
Texas A&M9.865.0%53517.2%57.5%5127.5%29,145,505
Notre Dame12.16.2% 47 17.0% 57.1% 1 0% 6,785,528
Florida 12.959.4% 548 12.8% 52.6% 606.7%21,538,187
Florida State12.9 52.3% 548 12.6% 60.0% 6011.7%21,538,187
Tennessee13.626.4% 106 26.4% 43.1% 728.6%6,910,840
Oregon 14.3 6.8% 22 22.7% 31.3% 0 N/A 4,237,256
Penn State 14.626.4% 8638.4% 54.1% 742.9% 13,002,700
Michigan14.917.9% 83 33.7% 68.3% 6 33.3% 10,077,331
Miami15.965.3% 548 14.1% 53.8% 608.3%21,538,187
USC 19.7 60.6% 398 19.3% 62.6% 33 42.4% 39,538,223
Ole Miss22.831.7% 88 28.4% 34.7% 7 42.9% 2,961,279
UNC23.939.6% 140 26.4% 38.9% 728.6% 10,439,388

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Where Do the Chips Fall For Tennessee Recruiting?

On aggregate, Tennessee ranks as the 13th best recruiting program of the last ten years, with an average class finish of 13.6.  Unfortunately for the Volunteers, six of the schools ahead of them reside in the SEC and another two are set to join the league next summer when Texas and Oklahoma finally move from the Big 12.

Tennessee’s recruiting peaked at the beginning of the period examined, when Butch Jones hauled in the seventh best class in the country in 2014 and followed it up with the number four overall class in 2015.  However, these signings failed to translate into the desired on-field results and Jones was fired with two games left in the 2017 season with a record of only seven games over .500 during his tenure.

Since the Class of 2015, the Volunteers have yet to sign a class ranked higher than 10th (this year’s incoming freshmen class), but they have never finished worse than 22nd in the national recruiting rankings either (2021).  This has left the program in an awkward state where it perpetually possesses talent, but not quite to the same degree as certain conference rivals.

Of the 246 recruits signed by Tennessee over the last ten cycles, 109 rated as four- or five-star prospects before enrolling. That puts them at a blue-chip rate of 44.3% for the decade, just below the 50% threshold that the truly elite recruiting teams consistently clear.

Like many programs, Tennessee’s efforts to attract top players start with in-state recruiting.  But while the plurality of their prospects come from the Volunteer State, 12 of the other top 20 recruiting schools of the past decade signed in-state prospects at a higher rate than Tennessee.

The Volunteers have reeled in 65 recruits from Tennessee since 2014, accounting for 26.4% of their signees.  43.1% of these in-state recruits ranked as blue chippers, a mark commensurate with their overall blue-chip success, but exceeded by all but four other teams in the top 20.

However, when considering the volume of available in-state blue chippers, Tennessee’s ability to keep top locals home looks much better.  28 of the 106 four- and five-star prospects from Tennessee over the last ten years enrolled in Knoxville out of high school, meaning 26.4% of all blue-chip recruits from the state joined the Volunteers.  Only seven of the other top 20 recruiting programs signed a higher percentage of their state’s available blue chippers in the last decade. 

Tennessee has landed the top-rated recruit in the state five of the past ten years, while bringing in the state’s second ranked player four times over that span.  Furthermore, two of the seven five stars to come out of the state since 2014 signed with Tennessee out of high school (Kyle Phillips and Trey Smith), while a third (Cade Mays) later transferred in after two seasons at Georgia.

Despite the fact the state of Tennessee has produced more blue chippers than all but eight other states over the last ten cycles, the Volunteers also heavily take advantage of their proximity to other recruiting hotbeds.  Three of the eight states with more recent blue chip recruits border Tennessee (Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina), while an additional two border states rank among the top 15 recruiting states (Virginia and Mississippi). 

In particular, Tennessee has found success going into Georgia for prospects, which makes sense considering the Peach State provides around three and a half times the number of blue-chip recruits as Tennessee.  The Volunteers have signed 58 players from Georgia since 2014, just seven less than the number of in-state recruits the program landed.  Together, recruits from Tennessee and Georgia account for exactly half of the team’s commitments over the last decade, with 54.1% of the school’s blue chippers coming from the two states.

To fill out the remainder of the roster, Tennessee tends to cast a wide net, with no other state supplying more than ten percent of the team. Eight other states sent at least six recruits to the program, though all but one of these states border Tennessee or sit within the SEC footprint.

Overall, the Volunteers have signed recruits from 25 different states since 2014 as well as DC, Australia, Canada and England, with blue chippers coming to Knoxville from 21 of these jurisdictions (18 states plus DC, Canada and England).  Surprisingly, this includes a solid pipeline to California, where Tennessee has signed nine prospects from, seven of whom were considered blue chip recruits, including the Volunteers’ top two commits of the last decade, former defensive lineman Kahlil McKenzie and incoming freshman quarterback Nicholaus Iamaleava.

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Josh Markowitz is a freelance writer for BetTennessee.com. He is a lifelong sports fan who emphasizes basketball, football, baseball, and the scouting/evaluation process. A graduate of Elon University's School of Communications, Josh also has experience in television production.