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Should the Vols be concerned about Colorado’s Deion Sanders’ poaching?

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It was just a matter of time until Deion Sanders provided a stumbling block for Tennessee. In fact, the Vols should consider Colorado’s poaching a compliment.

Sanders, who is entering his first season as the Buffalo’s head coach, won over a talented player when Amari McNeill decided to transfer from Tennessee to Colorado. After all, the former three-star defensive tackle from Suwanee, Ga., was going to play this season and be a factor for the Vols. However, the Vols have enough players at that position, which is a statement that wouldn’t have rung true over recent years. Defensive tackle should be a position of strength for Tennessee. Yes, you may need to read that again, but it’s true, even without McNeill.

Let’s be clear: this is not a situation in which McNeill was prompted to leave. He was in good standing with the team and his decision to enter the transfer portal was a bit surprising, per sources close to the situation. However, it’s clear that McNeill would not have been a starter, would have to compete for a solid back-up role and needed to develop further. So, one of the most talked about programs in college football snatched a good – but not great – player. Is there anything Tennessee coach Josh Heupel could have done to prevent losing McNeill other than promise him playing time? Probably not.

It’s easy to say that McNeill couldn’t cut it since he wasn’t a projected starter. However, that’s a bit naive. People leave jobs all the time for better opportunities. It’s not as if McNeill thought football was just too hard and quit. He decided to leave Tennessee because he thought a change would improve his future. However, it was looking pretty good in Knoxville. McNeill played in a handful of games for the Vols last season, including the Orange Bowl against Clemson. Just a sophomore, he would have been a regular contributor for the Vols this season had he stayed at Tennessee. 

The ability to freely transfer is often combined along with NIL as significant changes in college football. However, the latter doesn’t even compare to the transfer rules. The new transfer rules will have a bigger impact on college football than any payment made to a player in the future.

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There have been a few dynasties that would have likely been disrupted, if not derailed, by the loose transfer rules. How many times has Alabama reloaded with players they developed in its system that  became every bit as good as the players before the them? This list is endless. Georgia seems to be replicating that, but is it even possible with the current transfer rules? That seems very unlikely. Depth is the victim of the NCAA’s transfer rules.

For the record, Tennessee has won the transfer game even while losing McNeill. Perhaps you’ve heard of last year’s starting quarterback, Hendon Hooker, or this year’s starting quarterback, Joe Milton. Both were transfers. The Vols also addressed their needs more than adequately in the latest transfer cycle in which the Vols brought in a whopping eight transfers and, so far, the reviews have been excellent.

Take a look at Colorado’s list of transfers and it’s easy to see that the Vols are in good company. Colorado has taken players from Alabama, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Michigan, Kentucky and Florida State. There is a strong SEC/southern feel to that list, which isn’t surprising. Sanders is from Florida and played college football for the Seminoles. This isn’t the last time that the Vols have battled Sanders for a player and it won’t be the last despite the fact that Boulder is two time zones away. In fact, Sanders tried to pry away one of the Vols’ highest-rated commitments in December. And that’s just the one we heard about.

Coaching in college football has never been more difficult. Coaches used to always remind the media that each team is different year-to-year, often to lower expectations after a successful season. However, that’s never been more true than it is now. 

Tennessee may lose another quality player to the transfer portal. They’ll bring in eight this season. At least six are projected to be starters or standouts. Tennessee never wants to lose a player, but the Vols can live with that ratio.

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