In Tennessee, the Kentucky Wildcats will face yet another Southeastern Conference roster teeming with players who were highly ranked as recruits.
Last week’s opponent, Georgia, had 44 players who were five- or four-star recruits, according to the Rivals.com rankings. The Volunteers have 36 such players. (UK has 15).
Injuries have taken a toll on Tennessee this season, so not all of those star prospects have seen the field as much as they normally might. Just eight of the Vols’ projected starters this week are in the 4-5-star range, but the Cats will still line up against lots of talent Saturday afternoon.
Here’s a breakdown of where Tennessee’s players were ranked as recruits, with some comparisons to how they stack up — recruiting-wise — to UK’s roster (all rankings from Rivals.com):
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Tennessee has six five-star players, 30 four-star players, 36 three-star players and four two-star players on its roster.
By comparison: UK has one five-star recruit (true freshman offensive lineman Landon Young), 14 four-star recruits, 49 three-star recruits and 10 two-star recruits on its roster this season.
Tennessee’s projected starting lineup — based on this week’s depth chart — includes two five-star recruits (WR Josh Malone and DT Kyle Phillips), six four-star recruits and 14 three-star recruits.
By comparison: Among UK’s expected starters (going by last week’s lineup and this week’s outlook), the Cats have four four-star starters (TE C.J. Conrad, RB Boom Williams, WR Dorian Baker and safety Mike Edwards), 12 three-star starters, five two-star starters (including QB Stephen Johnson) and one starter who was not ranked in high school (LT Cole Mosier).
Tennessee starter Joshua Dobbs was the No. 20 pro-style quarterback and a three-star prospect in the recruiting class of 2013. The Georgia native had actually been committed to Arizona State for several months before flipping his pledge to the Vols on national signing day. Butch Jones had been Tennessee’s head coach for only about two months when that happened. Dobbs — now a senior — has started games in each of his four seasons in Knoxville, including all nine games this season and all 13 games last fall. He’s already the program’s all-time leader in career rushing yards by a QB (1,652) and rushing TDs by a QB (25), and should finish in the top five all-time in all of the major passing categories. Dobbs has thrown for 1,869 yards, 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this season.
Five-star RB departs
Jalen Hurd was a five-star recruit and the No. 5 running back nationally in the class of 2014. He was also Tennessee’s starter for almost all of his three seasons in Knoxville until dropping a bombshell announcement last week that he was leaving the program. Hurd had rushed for 2,638 yards and 20 touchdowns in 33 games before that. (He also caught 67 passes for six touchdowns as a Vol). In the first game of the post-Hurd era — a 55-0 victory over Tennessee Tech last week — the Vols started sophomore John Kelly at running back. Kelly — a former three-star recruit — ran seven times for 104 yards and one touchdown. Butch Jones did say Monday that junior Alvin Kamara — a five-star recruit from the 2015 class — could return to the field Saturday after missing the past few games with a knee injury.
Butch Jones, who was rumored to be at the top of the list during UK’s coaching search in 2012, brought immediate recruiting results when he took over the Vols after the 2012 season. His first two full recruiting classes at Tennessee were both ranked No. 5 nationally by Rivals.com. The Vols had the No. 15 class nationally in 2016 and are currently ranked No. 8 for the 2017 class, which already has 27 commitments — nine from four-star prospects.