In the immediate wake of the 2021 Early Signing Period, Tennessee fans were ecstatic about their signees. The Volunteers clocked in the 15th ranked recruiting class, with seven blue chip players and 20 signees overall.
The recruiting still isn’t over. However, it does transition into a very different field. From here on out, Tennessee will likely only pursue transfers.
The transfer portal has had an undeniably huge impact on college football, for better for worse. College coaches are now required to at least look into pursuing transfers for every single class they sign. Tennessee is no different, and they are pursuing a few more as we speak.
It also means that Tennessee will have to be diligent with their roster management. We all know that Tennessee entered the 2021 season without a full 85 scholarships. But despite the extra space, Tennessee (and other teams) can only sign 25 players in a cycle. The only wiggle room is for early enrollees who can have their scholarship back-counted towards the prior class. Even then, it’s not that much wiggle room. Tennessee will need to do serious legwork to make room for who they’re going after.
No one expects Tennessee’s 2022 class to be a transfer heavy group. But they need some instant impact guys at defensive end, linebacker, and cornerback. So how many spots do they actually have?
Here’s what I have been able to gather.
Tennessee is very close to the 85 scholarship limit after the Early Signing Period
According to the 247Sports scholarship chart, Tennessee had 76 players on scholarship by the end of the 2021 season. The limit is 85.
The NCAA allowed all players to have an extra year of eligibility, due to the COVID pandemic. If you were heading into your final year of eligibility in 2020, you were allowed to play another year in 2021. You cannot return for 2022. According to KnoxNews, the list of Tennessee players who cannot return for 2022 is this:
Velus Jones Jr.
LaTrell Bumphus (Could redshirt, but not likely)
Aubrey Solomon (Could redshirt, but not likely)
That’s nine players who will not return no matter what.
Now, we get to the players who have eligibility left, but will instead choose to head out. Alontae Taylor is the only one so far to declare that he’s heading to the NFL draft. There are 14 other Tennessee players who can make a decision in the next couple of months.
So that’s 10 total players who will be “off the books” next season. That leaves Tennessee with 66 scholarships allotted. Tennessee just signed 20 recruits in the 2022 class. That means they currently have 86 players on scholarship, needing just one more spot to open up to meet the limit.
But what about transfers?
This is where it gets convoluted.
The NCAA instituted another rule relating to transfers. Now, schools are allowed to sign seven transfers who do not count against the 25 signee cap. This helps them “replace” players who transferred out of their program. According to The Athletic, it comes with a catch.
Schools will only be allowed to replace players who enter the portal after either the end of the institution’s fall term or Dec. 15, 2021, whichever is earlier, a source told The Athletic. Schools will only be allowed to replace players who are academically eligible at their new school.
This would mean Tennessee actually has zero transfer spots right now. All of their transfers so far—Harrison Bailey, Morven Joseph, Tiyon Evans, Brian Maurer—did it before the fall term was over.
The only way Tennessee could take transfers now without having it count against the 25 is if more players transferred out in the coming months. Which is likely going to happen. But it also means that Tennessee will be very hard pressed to sign nearly 32 players, which is what some schools are supposedly planning on. Tennessee still has five spots left in their 2022 class, and their high school recruiting is basically over.
An interesting tidbit
In an odd twist, Tennessee’s lack of depth may have helped them heading into the 2022 cycle.
When the NCAA instituted the extra year of eligibility, they gave it to all players—not just seniors. That would seem like a decent rule. But in typical NCAA fashion, they gave teams no leeway with the 85 scholarship cap after 2020. That has resulted in some schools being totally screwed when it came to this year’s recruiting classes. NC State is a prime example: They could only sign 12 recruits in their class because of the roster cap. If your roster was skewed towards underclassmen, you will have a nightmare moving forward with the scholarship allotment, since so many have an extra year of eligibility.
At this juncture in time, I am expecting Tennessee to sign 3-4 transfers. It’s only fair to assume that they will have a handful of players transfer out of the program soon. Every team will experience similar events. In Tennessee’s case, it’s not determined yet if those expected transfers will give them more scholarship room. Even if they don’t, Tennessee still has room in the regular 2022 class. There is still a possibility that Tennessee sees a greater-than-expected number of transfers out, which could give them up to 5-6 spots.
As a very quick side note—there is a chance some of the numbers in here are slightly off. That’s because teams can often put players on scholarship who were originally preferred walk-ons. They rarely announce it, and you often don’t know unless you ask a player/coach about it. So in the 247Sports scholarship chart for instance, some of the walk-ons could very well have received a scholarship, meaning the 76 number is off.