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Heat Check: A look at Tennessee’s Momentum on the Recruiting Trail

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Turns out that Jeremy Pruitt might be pretty good at this recruiting thing.

NCAA Football: Charlotte at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The weekend of the Missouri game has turned into a bit of a recruiting spectacle for Tennessee. At least two 5-stars, three 4-stars, and multiple commits are descending on Knoxville for a game with bowl berth implications. If nothing else, the atmosphere should be thrilling.

We thought we would update some of the happenings in recruiting and give a breakdown of where Tennessee stands at the moment. This will probably be the last big one before December, where Early Signing Day 2019 lays. Thanks to two wins over AP Top-25 teams, Tennessee has begun to show what the future might hold, and some high-profile recruits are starting to take notice.

Who’s Slipping?

The ebb and flow of recruiting means that some players lose interest while others enter the picture. Much of this article is dedicated to those still considered options and those who are new to the board entirely. We’ll start with the players who are off the radar or otherwise considered very unlikely.

4-star defensive end Bill Norton remains committed to Georgia and does not have visit plans to Tennessee.

4-star defensive end Charles Moore is firm to Mississippi State. Very little chatter about him and Tennessee.

4-star cornerback Maurice Hampton is one of those recruits who always seems to have something pop up that interferes with visit plans. He is out of the picture.

4-star wide receiver Jalen Curry is still uncommitted. The staff has probably moved on from him.

Silent Commits?

In general, silent commits are overstated in the recruiting world. A lot of players get tagged as silent pledges, when in reality they’re not as solid as the label “commit” would imply. Sometimes it is just made up out of thin air.

That being said, Tennessee is very confident that at least one highly rated player is heading their way. That would be 5-star tackle Darnell Wright, who many regard as a near Tennessee lock. Alabama is not completely out of the running yet, but Tennessee has all the momentum in this battle. Tennessee now holds the majority of predictions on 247Sports and Alabama’s focus on 5-star tackle Evan Neal would seem to indicate that they think Wright is trending away.

There is a strong chance that Wright is on campus again before the season ends.

Flip Watch

Two names in particular are listed as potentials flips to Tennessee. The first is the more well known of the two: 4-star running back Eric Gray. The standout from Memphis has dominated in his senior season and is being heavily pursued by both Tennessee and Ole Miss despite being currently committed to Michigan.

The difficulty in flipping a commit should not be lost on anyone. Yet given where Gray has visited recently and what each school is pitching him on, it is hard to see him staying committed to the Wolverines. Tennessee is in a great position for his final signature.

Where it gets very interesting is 5-star linebacker Owen Pappoe. Two months ago, I wrote this about him:

I’ll come right out and say that Pappoe is the player least likely to join the class. He’s been firmly committed to Auburn since the beginning of May, despite attempts by in-state power Georgia and SEC opponent LSU. He’s the highest rated player in Auburn’s class and they will do everything in their power to keep him...All it takes is one unexpectedly bad year from Auburn and one unexpectedly good year from Tennessee to completely shift the battle.

Well, guess what has happened since then? Tennessee has improved as a team and Auburn barely regained control of the car after almost veering into a ditch. The once highly ranked Tigers are expected to finish at 7-5, while the Volunteers might stun some observers and make a bowl game.

Pappoe visited Knoxville in early November and is in regular contact with the staff. 247Sports has seen most of the recent crystal ball projections go to Tennessee, which indicates that Auburn is not nearly as secure with Pappoe as previously thought. I do not think he is a silent commit, but Tennessee has made this a 50/50 battle.

New Faces?

The big news for the upcoming Missouri weekend is the large group of Georgia commits heading into Knoxville. 5-star defensive end Nolan Smith, 5-star defensive tackle Travon Walker, and 4-star linebacker Trezmen Marshall headline a star studded group. The full list of visitors will be considerably larger by gametime, but those are the three that made waves.

Some fans are worried that this group is coming to take advantage of Tennessee’s hospitality and try to sway certain recruits to Georgia.

It is very unlikely that they (1) are actually doing that and (2) would not get caught doing it. There is largely no downside to the visits, because even if there is no shot that they flip to Tennessee, it could still make an impression. That good experience would be relayed back to coaches in the state and can benefit down the road with underclassmen. Either way: If Tennessee realizes that they are trying to recruit guys to Athens, the staff will promptly send them home.

Now on to the actual players.

Nolan Smith is almost guaranteed to go to either Alabama or Georgia. Nothing to get excited over.

Travon Walker is an elite talent at a position where Georgia is somewhat thin, so he will be signing with them.

Trezmen Marshall is actually pretty interesting. He has never been 100 percent committed to the Bulldogs, and he has shown interest in a couple of nearby programs. He already used an official visit to Tennessee to October, and the fact that he is once again back in Knoxville tells me that he likes what he has witnessed. I will stick my neck out and say that I think Tennessee has a good shot at flipping him in the end.

Early Signing Day is fast approaching while Tennessee wraps up its 2018 season. Consider this: If someone told you that Tennessee would beat two teams ranked at the time of their game, what do you think the recruiting outlook would be?

Turns out that it would look a lot like this. The Volunteers are doing very well to close out the year and even outsiders are starting to notice. National recruiting writers are starting to pick up on how good Jeremy Pruitt’s recruiting can be when he puts results on the field. Anyone who followed him at Florida State, Georgia, or Alabama already knew it of course.

Now Tennessee can enjoy the same hot streak.