Tennessee Vols fans probably don’t know how to feel after watching the Georgia Bulldogs beat the Alabama Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff championship game on Monday night.
On one hand, Alabama lost. And there’s no doubt that Tennessee fans always love seeing Alabama, one of their top rivals, lose.
But that meant Georgia won. That’s not ideal either. Especially when it meant the Bulldogs ended their 41-year title drought (so much for all those 1980 jokes).
While most UT fans are unhappy with the outcome (another Alabama championship would’ve been much easier to digest), there are two things I think the Vols can take away from Georgia’s championship game win.
1. It’s going to take the Vols at least 5 years to even sniff the College Football Playoff
College football champions aren’t built overnight.
Nor are they built in a year or two.
It takes years of building a roster through recruiting and establishing a strong culture to win a national championship. And Georgia head coach Kirby Smart is proof of that.
The Bulldogs were on steady ground when Smart took over in 2016. Mark Richt led the program to nine wins in 2015 and 10 wins in 2014. It was far from a rebuild.
Yet it still took Smart six years to reach the pinnacle of college football.
Dabo Swinney at Clemson is a similar story. It took Swinney eight years to win a national championship with the Tigers. Eight years of solid seasons but just coming up short (Dabo’s situation at Clemson was probably close to Heupel’s situation at Tennessee).
It takes remarkable consistency to win a college football championship. One slip up and your championship hopes are over.
Depth is one of the most important ingredients to a championship team — something that takes years to build.
Vols offensive coordinator Alex Golesh recently remarked (during an appearance on The Nation) that Georgia’s second-string defense this season was just as talented as their first-team defense. That’s the type of depth needed to win a championship.
Tennessee is years away from having that kind of depth. And they won’t be College Football Playoff contenders until they have Georgia-like depth.
If the Vols keep progressing under Heupel, we should expect some 9, 10, or 11 win seasons. Maybe some upsets against Alabama or Georgia. But it’ll be a while — even if things go great for Tennessee over the next few years — before we see a team with College Football Playoff potential.
2. It’s all about recruiting
Heupel has an offensive scheme that works in the SEC. Tennessee’s up-tempo approach puts pressure on opposing defenses. We even saw Alabama go with an up-tempo approach at times in the College Football Playoff against Cincinnati and Georgia.
While Heupel’s scheme will have the Vols in some games they probably shouldn’t be in, it’s still no substitute for elite talent.
Georgia’s last five recruiting classes were all ranked at least No. 4 in the nation.
Tennessee’s recruiting classes during that same time frame were ranked No.17, No. 21, No. 13, No. 11, and No. 22.
That’s a pretty big talent gap (also worth noting that a large majority of that No. 11 ranked class left UT via the transfer portal).
And you can’t outcoach elite talent.
Kirby Smart: “There’s no coach out there that you can out-coach recruiting. No coaching is going to out-coach players. Anybody will tell you our defense is good because we have good players.”
— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) October 30, 2021
The good news for Tennessee is that they can close the gap a little faster than they could’ve in the past thanks to the transfer portal.
(By the way, don’t get too discouraged that UT hasn’t landed a litany of players from the transfer portal this offseason. Most of their additions last year came after National Signing Day in February. There’s still plenty of time.)
Of course, the bad news is that the teams at the top — specifically Alabama and Georgia — show no signs of slowing down on the recruiting trail.
Ultimately, it’s going to take Heupel some time. Tennessee isn’t going to turn into a championship program with the snap of a finger. Even if the Vols go out and sign a top-five class next year, it’s still going to take several years to build the depth needed to compete for a championship.
Fans just need to be patient and enjoy the journey. Tennessee is trending in the right direction.
Featured image via Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK/Robert Scheer / USA TODAY NETWORK