By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports
The more Jeremy Pruitt’s 2021 recruiting class continues to grow in numbers of commits, the more the discussion increases on how the numbers will work and what the class will look like when it’s signed.
A big part of that discussion is decommitments. Some are initiated by the player. Others are initiated by the school.
Despite the recruiting dead period and the several month stay-at-home orders, recruits have been pledging to programs around the country in high volume, including the nation’s commitment leader, Tennessee, with 24. FBS commitment totals are currently more than double what they were at this point last year. Virtual recruiting has sped-up the process of football recruits deciding on their college futures for recruits.
“I think what you’re seeing with Tennessee and Jeremy Pruitt is a reflection of their turnaround this fall (2019,)” said ESPN recruiting and college football analyst Tom Luginbill to Josh Ward and me on Sports 180 on 99.1 The Sports Animal here in Knoxville about the hot run of recruiting for the Vols. “Finish strong and then move into the recruiting cycle, I just think it developed a ton of momentum for the Vols. This past fall, when it looked like things were falling off a cliff, for the most part, kids held firm. I think that’s a reflection of the coaching staff.”
Will those commits stick around college football, according to Luginbill?
“I think you’re going to see a huge spike in decommitments. There’s a lot that kids haven’t seen out there because they didn’t have coaches coming to their campus for spring football. They didn’t have the opportunity to attend junior days. They haven’t gone out there and been on the camp and combine circuit and had that information be relayed back to the college coaches for them to study it more. I still think there’s a lot of information to be unearthed on behalf of prospects. Not to say that everyone who commits now is suddenly going to decommit. I don’t think that’s the case at all. But, I do think, that when everything gets face-to-face again, you’re going to see some changes.”
Using the 247Sports decommitment database, here are the decommit numbers for Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee, and the entire SEC, the last two and a half years.
The starting point in this exercise is when coaches were named head coaches at their schools, including Jeremy Pruitt 30 months ago, when we had six coaching hires in the SEC. Only decommits that happened after those hires are counted. The rest of the schools were given a similar December 1, 2017 start point to count decoomits for close comparison. Decommits that returned to sign with that same school or are currently committed again are not counted. These numbers are obviously flexible moving forward.
Decommits the last 30 months, through May 31, 2020
Florida – 31 (Mullen – start date Nov. 26, 2017)
Tennessee – 30 (Pruitt – start date Dec. 7, 2017)
Mississippi St. – 27 (Moorhead/Leach – start date Nov. 28, 2017)
Arkansas – 26 (Morris/Pittman – start date Dec. 6, 2017)
Ole Miss – 26 (Luke/Kiffin – start date Nov. 26, 2017)
LSU – 22 (Orgeron)
Alabama – 19 (Saban)
Georgia – 17 (Smart)
Missouri – 16 (Odom/Drinkwitz)
Kentucky – 14 (Stoops)
Auburn – 12 (Malzahn)
South Carolina – 12 (Muschamp)
Texas A&M – 10 (Fisher – start date Dec. 1, 2017)
Vanderbilt – 5 (Mason)
For perspective, Clemson has had ONE decommitment since December 23, 2016. That happened April 21st this year. The Tigers program went 40 months without a decommitment. Tennessee and Florida have averaged one per month the last two-and-half years.
Here’s the breakdown for Tennessee, per class. Again, these are only players that decommited since Pruitt was named head coach at UT and do not include returning decommits.
Tennessee decommits by class under Pruitt
2018 Class: 12
2019 Class: 5
2020 Class: 12
2021 Class: 0
2022 Class: 0
2023 Class: 1
Total: 30 decommits
Tennessee, under Pruitt, has averaged 1 decommit per month during his tenure. That sounds like a lot and is second-most in the SEC, only behind Florida.
If that one-per-month pace holds, then the Vols should expect at least 6 more decommitments by the early signing period and 8 total by the February signing day. That would mean 1/3rd of the current class of 24 commits won’t sign with UT.
Luginbill spoke to one thing that could help UT hold on to the class.
“You have to show progress as a program. You have to get one or more wins than you had the year before. You have to go to a bigger bowl. People want to see progress. They want to see momentum. That’s going to carry weight in recruiting.”
Luginbill says teams like the Vols are going to have to continue to recruit the committed players.
“These guys (coaching staffs) are all going to have to re-recruit their class and maybe recruit their class harder than ever before once things open back up again. A guy’s a verbal commitment. That just means a guy’s a verbal commitment. If they want him, there’s going to have to recruit. They’re going to go after him. And, that’s why decommitments happen.”
Tom’s right. Many will stay, but many will move around the country. Verbal commits are simply reservations. Schools are subtlety, and other times directly, pressuring kids to grab a spot while they can. Then, either side can cancel that reservation at any time.
There are other factors that could lead to UT not seeing the once-a-month class departure trend. Kids may have a better connection with this staff as a group and the more solid ground under the program than in years prior.
For some though, the high decommit totals could be a good thing, considering all the highly rated prospects UT is involved with that are still on the board. There’s also the large amount of 3-star commitments that have drawn critique about the class that could be nudged to move on to make room for the 4 and 5-star players. Upgrading is a thing in major college football.
I’d expect some to be convinced to switch commitments by other schools, some will make their own decisions when they see other schools in person and some will be encouraged (in various ways) to look for an opportunity at a different school. It will likely be some of all of the above. How many will move on will be fascinating to watch.
Find more of my broadcasting work at VinceSports.net.