Even though the Volunteers are listed as one of three "favorites" on 5-star safety Vonn Bell's 247Sports interest list, it's hard not to consider Tennessee the outlier. The other two options for Bell are Alabama and Ohio State.
The good news for Tennessee is that Bell grew up as a Volunteers fan, so they do possess what would be considered a "nostalgic advantage" with him. He's also scheduled to take his final visit to Tennessee, and that's often times the most important visit in the recruiting process because that allows a school like Tennessee to make the final and lasting impression with a recruit.
There's no doubting the fact that the Volunteers are firmly in the running for Bell's commitment. That said, there's also no doubting the fact that Butch Jones and his staff have their work cut out for them recruiting against Nick Saban and Urban Meyer for one of the country's best recruits.
Let's give credit where credit is due. Jones may not (yet) be on Saban or Meyer's level, but he and his staff are making a good impression with Bell, at least according to Bell's coach Mark Mariakis via Greg Ostendorf of ESPN.com:
On Monday, new Volunteers’ head coach Butch Jones made his in-home visit with Bell, and he brought the entire defensive coaching staff with him.
“I think it was important for them to do that,” Mariakis said. “Mr. Bell said they talked more about Tennessee, their new philosophy and what they were bringing to the table more so than they talked about Vonn’s role in that. I think they’ll get to that this weekend when he takes an official visit.
“Mr. Bell said that he was impressed and pleasantly surprised about what they were talking about, and that they were looking forward to the official visit this weekend.”
Will Tennessee be able to gain the edge for Bell's commitment during this final visit? The Volunteers have no choice but to try and pull out all the stops, but unfortunately, even that may not be enough.
Alabama seems to have made a pretty significant impression with Bell. Here's what Coach Mariakis had to report about the safety's recent official visit to Alabama, per Ostendorf:
"He said it went wonderful,” Mariakis said. “They rolled the red carpet out like they do for all those kids. They had a great time doing things on campus and also at Coach Saban’s house. I think he said they went to Coach Saban’s house twice -- one evening for dinner and then the next morning for breakfast -- and just had a great time.
They kind of saw Coach Saban in a different light, off campus, and just had a good talk. They had all the questions answered that they had. His quote was, ‘It was just Alabama. It was good. No wonder they win national championships every year because everything is laid out and they have a plan for everything.'"
The simple truth of the matter is that Alabama and Ohio State offer Bell something that Tennessee can't, and that's a legitimate chance to compete for the national championship. Alabama being a contender is a given, but at this point it's safe to call the Buckeyes a real challenger as well—especially considering Meyer's 12-0 season in his first year as head coach at Ohio State.
Jones will bring a new energy and direction to Tennessee, but realistically, the Volunteers are two-to-three years away from being able to even compete with the best teams in the SEC on a consistent basis—let alone win a championship.
Nostalgia is a strong feeling, but it's most likely not stronger than the anticipation of playing for a contending program in college football. Bell is talented enough to make a strong impact anywhere that he goes as a safety. He has a lot to offer, so he'd be smart to pick a program that has a lot to offer him in return.
This recruiting race will eventually come down to Alabama and Ohio State, and it seems like the Crimson Tide may have gained a slight unofficial edge because of this recent official visit.
Tennessee can certainly make things interesting this weekend, but at this point, it feels like Bell's commitment is Alabama's to lose.
Unfortunately for Tennessee and Ohio State, Saban and the Crimson Tide haven't been known to lose much as of late.