A day of drama that pushed Tennessee and USC back into the spotlight — this time for all the right reasons.
A whirlwind fortnight of accusations and investigations, of poaching recruits and turning commitments, and the next thing you know, national signing day finishes with USC and Tennessee in the top 10 rankings and no one worse for the wear.
OK, almost no one.
"It was a crazy couple of weeks," USC coach Lane Kiffin said.
The craziness concluded with a hectic day full of surprises. Among the highlights:
"These last three days in this process," said UT coach Derek Dooley, "are the worst three days of the year."
And somehow, Dooley and Kiffin made it all work. Considering the mess both walked into in mid-January, the turnaround is stunning.
When Pete Carroll left USC for the NFL, a potential top-three recruiting class was rocked — with many key players teetering — before USC hired Kiffin away from Tennessee.
When Kiffin left UT after one season, after pledging to build the Vols into the USC of the SEC, it not only crushed Tennessee, it left a critical recruiting class scrambling for answers.
Dooley was hired on Jan.15, and had all of one day to convince eight mid-term enrollees, including potential starting quarterback Matt Simms, to stick with their commitment and sign with the Vols. He then had to address a fractured program (and the remainder of the recruiting class) falling apart because of a coaching search that included too many public rejections — and one seemingly odd hire.
Dooley wasn't Tennessee's first choice, nor the second or even third. You could argue that he was, more than anything, the panic choice. And now look: If this remarkable recruiting recovery is an indicator of things to come on the field, maybe Tennessee found the right guy.
It's way too early and recruiting rankings are notoriously overblown, but you have to start somewhere. And considering where the Vols were three short weeks ago, what Dooley and his staff accomplished is staggering.
"It's shocking because of name recognition," said Sporting News recruiting expert Brian McLaughlin. "How many of those big (recruits) knew of Derek Dooley at Louisiana Tech?"
That's where Kiffin, the mouth formerly of the South, had the advantage. Love him or hate him, Kiffin quickly is proving he can recruit as well as any coach in the nation. In his only two national signing days as a coach — each time at an extreme disadvantage because of coaching change — he landed a top-three player.
Last year, it was tailback Bryce Brown at Tennessee, and this year Henderson. One can only imagine how well Kiffin would recruit if he, you know, decided to stay at a school longer than it takes me to brush the beautiful, flowing locks on my cue ball.
When Kiffin arrived in Los Angeles, the nation's best wideout, Kyle Prater, had delayed his early enrollment and was considering visiting other schools. Less than a week later, he was enrolled at USC.
When Dooley arrived in Knoxville, it took all of three days for him to get his first big commitment: elite safety Eddrick Loften backed away from Oklahoma to join the Vols, and kicked off nearly three weeks of traveling and selling and securing a class that could be the beginning of something big.
"Don't get too excited about these rankings," Dooley said.
You're better off getting excited about the future.
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|6. LSU||Auburn||Florida St.||Auburn||Oklahoma|
|9. Tennessee||Penn St.||Tennessee||Penn St.||Tennessee|
|10. Florida St.||Florida St.||UCLA||Florida St.||Penn St.|