If the Tennessee Vols are going to compete for an SEC East division title in the next few years, they’re going to need to recruit at a high level.

Josh Heupel did a good job during his first recruiting cycle as Tennessee’s head coach, signing the No. 15 class in the nation.

That’s impressive work considering the NCAA investigation cloud that’s been hanging over the program for the last year.

That No. 15 ranked class, however, was only the No. 7 ranked class in the SEC. Middle of the road in the conference, essentially.

The good news for the Vols is that recruiting should pick up significantly now that Heupel has proved he can have success at Tennessee.

Though one of the biggest reasons that UT should have recruiting success over the next few years actually has nothing to do with Heupel. It has to do with the incredible Tennessee fan base.

Yes, the same fan base that’s often ridiculed by national college football analysts.

Here’s why:

The Music City Bowl between Tennessee and Purdue was the most-watched non-NY6 bowl this year.

It was also the most-watched Music City Bowl since 2010 — which also included the Vols (the infamous overtime loss to North Carolina).

Tennessee football moves the needle — even though the program has been “down” for the last decade.

And in this new age of NIL deals, that’s something that UT can sell in recruiting.

Tennessee football players are going to be seen. They’re going to be talked about. Networks know at this point that Vol fans engage with content/tune into games more than most fan bases. Moving forward — especially after this past season — I wouldn’t be surprised to see more Tennessee games in marquee time slots.

Elite players want to play in big games — games that aren’t relegated to noon kickoff times on the SEC Network. They want to play in prime-time games that are talked about the next day.

The Vols played in a couple of games like that this season (the Ole Miss game, the Music City Bowl, the Alabama game, even the Kentucky game). And there will likely be many more in the program’s future.

If recruits want to be seen — then Tennessee should be one of the top programs on their list.

Featured image via Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports