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Tennessee Football Recruiting: Losing to South Carolina just keeps hurting

Tennessee’s loss against South Carolina is like that kick in the gut that keeps on kicking.

Let’s not go down the path that so many UT fans despise, that the Vols would have been in the College Football Playoff had it not been for a 63-38 loss to the Gamecocks in October. That’s the glaringly obvious pain that Tennessee’s fanbase must continue to endure. However, there’s more.

Tennessee’s loss to South Carolina seemingly lit a fire under the Gamecocks, where were 6-4 before facing the Vols last season. With a win against the Vols under his belt, South Carolina coach Shane Beamer’s team responded with a 31-30 win against Clemson and a Gator Bowl bid, which South Carolina lost 45-38 to Notre Dame. It was one of the most impressive turnarounds in college football last season, it’s now impacting recruiting and it all started when the Vols had dysfunction issues in the days leading up to the Columbia Collapse. Now, South Carolina’s win over Tennessee is paying recruiting dividends.

The Gamecocks gained three recent commitments that vaulted their recruiting ranking to No. 5 in the nation. Four-star safety Kelvin Hunter from Florence, S.C., four-star cornerback Braydon Lee and three-star offensive tackle Mike Williams from Upper Marlboro, Md., committed to South Carolina this week. That haul, along with four-star offensive tackle Joshua Thompson from Dillon, S.C., who committed to South Carolina earlier this month, gives the Gamecocks 10 commitments for the 2024 class, which ranks behind only Georgia and LSU in the SEC. Clearly, this is not what many had envisioned for South Carolina before the Vols stumbled through Williams-Bryce Stadium last year. If the Gamecocks needed a wake-up call, the Vols provided the alarm.

South Carolina didn’t directly beat Tennessee for any of their recent commitments. The Vols had not shown strong interest in any of the aforementioned pledges. However, it’s just a matter of time until South Carolina beats Tennessee for a highly coveted prospect if things don’t change course.

It’s probably too late for the Vols to do much in this recruiting cycle. South Carolina will likely continue to ride its wave of optimism throughout the summer. That’s not great for the Vols, who would like to have more success in the Carolinas and are selling a similar product, which is a young, up-and-coming coach with an exciting offense and the chance to build a winner.

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The saving grace for Tennessee coach Josh Heupel and his coaching staff is that the Vols will have a chance to separate themselves from South Carolina at home this season when the Vols host the Gamecocks on Sept. 30 in Neyland Stadium. 

That game might not receive the same widespread interest that other Tennessee games will garner. However, taking control of that series is vital for Heupel and the Vols. If Tennessee can’t gain any separation against South Carolina, then how can they hope to make up ground on Georgia in the SEC East? Moreover, if the Vols can’t beat South Carolina on the field, how can the Vols beat them in recruiting? Sure, Tennessee might win a commit or two from South Carolina, but that’s not sustainable without results in the fall.

Beamer was once a graduate assistant coach at Tennessee. If he still knows the address, he should send UT a “thank you” card. Beamer was on the verge of being on the hot seat last season. Now, he looks like one of the best young coaches in college football.

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