A two-month frenzy for coach Butch Jones and his new University of Tennessee coaching staff is hours away from its culmination.
It has been an impressive tour of hard work, positive vibes and little sleep that has yielded commitments from a few star players, a recommitment from another and a late-push on some of the nation's top stars that proved too late to result in Tennessee commitments. But for every major disappointment such as five-star defensive end Carl Lawson's decision to stick with Auburn or Derrick Green leaving the Vols as his bridesmaid while committing to Michigan, there have been triumphs.
Four-star wide receiver Ryan Jenkins -- a Tennessee legacy -- eschewed playing with his brother at Clemson to commit to Tennessee. Then, the Vols secured the nation's second-ranked wide receiver MarQuez North, pulling him out of his home state of North Carolina. Not to be overlooked was UT holding off overtures from national champion Alabama and red-hot Ole Miss to keep Memphis defensive end Jason Carr in the fold.
Dylan Wiesman turned down an offer from Ohio State to come to Knoxville. Jones withstood a flurry for Cameron Sutton to keep him in orange. He beat the JUCO ranks for cornerback Riyahd Jones. He flipped Malik Foreman from Vanderbilt in what could end up being the steal of the class. He got Lemond Johnson to flip from Auburn and hung onto quarterback Riley Ferguson and wide receiver Paul Harris when others came calling.
Of course, UT lost major commitments at positions of need such as offensive tackle Dan Skipper, linebacker DeVondre Campbell and defensive tackle Ben Bradley, but Jones has taken a recruiting class mired in the low 40s in the rankings after Derek Dooley was fired and has it on the cusp of being respectable.
We'll talk more about where the Vols met needs and where they fell far short when the National Signing Day smoke clears, but that isn't for here. This is where we look ahead to what's on tap tomorrow on Rocky Top Talk, as we keep you in front of all the action with a comprehensive recruiting story stream including a live blog where you can express yourself, immediate reaction to prospect decisions and full stories about each individual player who commits to the Vols.
Oh well, onto the predictions. It should go without saying that I have no inside information on any of these kids' decisions, and I'm just going to base my picks on the things I've read ... and in certain cases, no logic whatsoever. Here's what we're looking toward tomorrow (all times Eastern):
- VONN BELL 5-11, 180 defensive back Ridgeland (HS) in Rossville, Ga. five stars: ANNOUNCEMENT 10:05 a.m. ESPNU ... It's been a crazy few weeks of speculation surrounding the biggest prize left on Tennessee's target list. Bell is set to choose between Tennessee, Alabama and Ohio State -- all of which have been predicted to be Bell's leader at one time or another. Though it's always unwise to rule Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide out of a recruiting race, it appears the Crimson Tide have other players they're focusing more on, and the Buckeyes and Vols may have moved slightly ahead of Bama. As quiet as Bell has been during the process, it's difficult to get a read on him. He grew up a UT fan and has given Jones and Co. a legit shot to recruit him. I think that bodes well that it has appeared that Bell has kept the Vols in the mix until the end regardless of coach or program situation. He's the anchor we need to help stabilize this program and the perception pivot point that will dictate whether many fans consider Jones' first half-class as being a success or not. I'm leaning toward Bell choosing Tennessee, but I'm not totally convinced. I'll be uneasy until he signs on the dotted line. PREDICTION: Tennessee.
- JOHNATHAN FORD 6-0, 195 running back New Hope (HS) in New Hope, Ala. four stars: ANNOUNCEMENT 1 p.m. ... "Rudy" appeared down the stretch to be UT's best hope at signing an elite back. But as has been the case in the past few years -- and on a couple of the Vols' top targets late in this recruiting cycle -- the only school that could have offered him that would have been real difficult to turn down did. Auburn swept in with a late offer for Ford, and he visited them two weeks ago. There were even rumors that Ford visited the Plains unofficially again last weekend. The former Vanderbilt commit won't be choosing the Commodores, and he'll announce at his high school his college destination. The Vols have an outside shot here, but Ford's lifelong love of the Tigers and in-state pressure will be too much here, I'm afraid. PREDICTION: Auburn.
- DAVIN BELLAMY 6-4, 234 defensive end/outside linebacker Chamblee Charter (HS) Atlanta. four stars ... Haven't been able to hammer out an announcement time for Bellamy yet, but we'll keep searching. The former Florida State commitment left his pledge with the Seminoles when the mass coaching exodus hit Tallahassee. UT made a late surge and was thought immediately following his visit to Knoxville to be the favorites to land him. But UGA really ramped up its recruitment of Bellamy, he visited Athens and his love for the Bulldogs has since withstood an eventful trip to Oregon. While the Vols may have an outside shot at Bellamy due to the questions surrounding UGA DC Todd Grantham's potential departure to Philadelphia to be defensive coordinator of the Eagles, the defensive end continues to say UGA leads. That isn't good news for the Vols. PREDICTION: Georgia.
- JOSHUA DOBBS 6-3, 190 quarterback Alpharetta (HS) Alpharetta, Ga. four stars ... Dobbs isn't really the type to set an announcement time, and he may even make his final decision today. We'll keep you posted. The nation's No. 10-ranked pro-style quarterback who can also run a little has been committed to Arizona State for months. But Jones and Co. made Dobbs a priority when they came onto the scene in Knoxville and UT has his engineering major. He visited Knoxville a couple weeks back, and he too has been extremely quiet about the process. Though he's never flipped from the Sun Devils, there is a quiet confidence from Knoxville surrounding his pending commitment. While Dobbs appears the type of kid who doesn't back off a commitment reluctantly, I'm going to go out on a limb and say he elects to stay closer to home. This, too, is a blind guess. PREDICTION: Tennessee.
- TYLER BOYD 6-3, 180 wide receiver Clairton (HS), Clairton, Penn. four stars ... Again, there isn't a documented signing time for Boyd, who is committed to Pittsburgh. The Vols got him to visit this past weekend, and he simply gushed about Knoxville. The big concern for UT fans is that his mother -- who is very influential in this process and basically forbade her son to go to West Virginia -- didn't make the trip. The prevailing thought here is Boyd will stay home and play for Pitt, but there was at least some growing buzz surrounding the wide receiver and the Vols on Monday night, so it's definitely worth watching. Still, if I was a betting man, I'd pick the Panthers over UT and West Virginia. PREDICTION: Pitt.
- E.J. LEVENBERRY 6-3, 227 inside linebacker C.D. Hylton (HS), Dale City, Va. four stars ... Levenberry visited Knoxville this past weekend, and he has been quiet since. The Florida State commitment is desperately needed by the Vols and Seminoles as both teams look for linebackers in this class. Most of the rumors swirling around Levenberry say that the family kind of wants him to go to UT but EJ himself has too strong a relationship with the Seminoles. I'm not so sure I buy into that. The vast majority of experts are picking him to stick with FSU, but I always have to pick a sleeper, and I'll roll with this one. PREDICTION: Tennessee.
TREY JOHNSON 6-2, 220 outside linebacker Central Gwinnett (HS) Lawrenceville, Ga. four stars ... The Ohio State commitment really shouldn't be expected to sign with anybody other than the Buckeyes. There have been rumors swirling that Urban Meyer wasn't happy with his pledge secretly visiting Knoxville two weekends ago, especially considering how strong his relationship is with UT coach Tommy Thigpen, who recruited him to his previous college destination of Auburn. Still, the Buckeyes need linebackers, and Johnson appears destined to give them a star at the spot. PREDICTION: Ohio State.
- JAYLEN MILLER 6-2, 260 defensive end Gaffney (HS), Gaffney, S.C. three stars ... Miller has visited Knoxville twice over the past month since receiving a UT offer, and he seems destined to pick the Vols on NSD. He has a great film and is a relentless pass rusher who plays at a high school that has produced a lot of Division I talent. Though Miller isn't necessarily considered an "elite" prospect, he is a bit of a tweener who is quick enough to play off the edge and has the body to play inside as well. A couple of ACC schools -- NC State and Maryland -- are still in the picture here, but UT looks like the choice. PREDICTION: Tennessee.
- MALIK BROWN 6-3, 253 defensive end Dwyer (HS) West Palm Beach, Fla. three stars ... It's a little bit of a concern when a Florida kid committed to Syracuse visits Knoxville and doesn't commit while he's there -- I'm not joking. Brown -- who is from Curt Maggitt's old high school -- visited Knoxville over the weekend and now will decide to either become a Vol, stick with frigid Syracuse or hang tight at home and play for Willie Taggert at South Florida. Brown is very raw but also incredibly athletic, and he would be a player who UT could develop over the course of time who may become a good SEC player. He certainly has the frame. While he has been tweeting things about the difficult decision that awaits him, I believe it will be tough to turn down the SEC in the end. PREDICTION: Tennessee.
That would be a pretty solid finish for UT, and while it may be a little bit ambitious, I choose to psyche myself out heading into the craziest football day of the year. Do I really believe Levenberry is going to give Tennessee a signing day surprise? Eh, no, but I like to have a super surprise sleeper in my picks. Is it possible there is another under-the-wraps player out there we simply haven't heard about? Yeah, of course. Also, last year, the Vols signed three-star linebacker Kenny Bynum and four-star defensive end Omari Phillips after National Signing Day, so there's that possibility out there, too.
One thing is certain -- even if none of my picks are: You need to hang out at Rocky Top Talk tomorrow. We'll have comprehensive coverage all day long. Hopefully, it won't be a dark day. My bottom line feelings: If we get Bell and Miller, everything else is gravy. I have limited expectations this year, and I think Bell is the centerpiece the class needs and Miller meets a major need. Guess we'll see.
Until then, keep hitting the refresh button.