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Five things to watch for this weekend

10/20/2011

Tennessee vs. Alabama

While East Tennessee is overwhelmingly clad in orange, middle Tennessee can be a bit different. There's a significant number of Alabama fans in the mid-state area. As for West Tennessee, it is incredibly diversified from a college football fandom standpoint.

Alabama has done well recruiting in Tennessee, while the Vols have gone through the most volatile period in their history. The Crimson Tide has eight players from Tennessee on its roster, led by linebacker Dont'a Hightower and offensive lineman Barrett Jones. That's an incredible impact from a state that doesn't even produce very many top prospects in the first place.

Which makes Saturday's Tennessee-Alabama game all that much more significant. Derek Dooley's Vols have a chance to make a statement.

“That would be huge,” offensive lineman Andrew Jelks from Paris (Tenn.) Henry County said. “That would be really huge for them, going down there and beating Alabama, that would be great.”

Jelks is one of the many prospects who are trying their best to be patient with Tennessee's rebuilding process, one that has been beset this year by dismissals (safety Janzen Jackson and defensive tackle Montori Hughes) and injuries (quarterback Tyler Bray and receiver Janzen Jackson).

“I think they'll come out playing better,” Jelks said. “When you lose your top two offensive guys in Bray and Hunter, it's pretty tough to overcome, but they came out and played LSU tough. They just let it get away in the second half. I think they're going to go down to Alabama and be ready to go.”

Jelks, who is considering Tennessee along with Alabama, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, is still waiting for Dooley to have a signature win.

“It would mean a lot to me and other prospects to show that he can do it and not just think that he can do it,” Jelks said. “He could have that on his resume...It would show all the future prospects that it can be done at Tennessee.”

Carolina Meltdown?

Still more than a month from its Oct. 29 meeting with the NCAA's Committee on Infractions, North Carolina is doing all it can to hold together its class of 15 commitments with an interim coach at the helm.

The Tar Heels highest rated prospect, four-star tight end Justin Meredith, is admittedly shaken by the turmoil.

“I'm still committed to North Carolina because North Carolina is where I really want to go,” said the standout from Anderson (S.C.) T.L. Hanna. “That's why I committed there, but if the sanctions are pretty harsh, I might have to reconsider that.”

Actually, he already is.

Meredith visited Tennessee earlier this month and has already established Knoxville as his backup collegiate destination.

“If North Carolina doesn't work out, I'll go to Tennessee,” he said.

North Carolina coaches have told Meredith they are just expecting a two-year probation, to lose a couple of scholarships and no bowl ban. If that's the case, Meredith could deal with that. However, it could be much worse.

Timing is the key. North Carolina meets with the NCAA on Oct. 29. Meredith plans to enroll in college in January.

What if the NCAA hasn't ruled on the Tar Heels by that time?

“That's something that me and my family have discussed often,” Meredith said. “Honestly, I've been kind of confused about that.”

Of course, on the field, North Carolina has a chance to make a huge statement about its future if it could beat No. 7 Clemson on Saturday.

'Bama Bound

Athlete Cyrus Jones from Baltimore Gilman will take his official visit to Alabama this weekend. He is primarily considering Alabama, Auburn, Maryland, Virginia Tech and West Virginia.

The Crimson Tide and Auburn, where Jones will visit Nov. 25, offer something a bit unique from the rest of the four-star prospect's suitors: the ability to almost certainly compete for national championships.

Jones will have to eventually weigh that against the ties he has to Maryland, Virginia Tech and West Virginia. Maryland has proximity on its side. Jones' father played basketball at West Virginia and his good friend, Tavon Austin, is a star receiver there. Virginia Tech offers the comfort of playing alongside good friend J.C. Coleman, the athlete from Chesapeake (Va.) Oscar Smith that is committed to be a Hokie.

West Bound

Meredith isn't the only North Carolina commitment looking around. Quarterback Patton Robinette from Maryville (Tenn.) High will visit Stanford this weekend for an unofficial visit. The three-star quarterback has said he'll stick with North Carolina but the uncertainty in Chapel Hill seems to be causing uncertainty along the recruiting trail.

East Extras

Maryland gets some national exposure at Florida State on Saturday. Who knows what uniforms the Terps will don?... Duke has a chance to have a winning record this season if it can beat Wake Forest. That would sell well with prospects coupled with the stellar education... West Virginia could stamp themselves as the top team in the Big East, for whatever that's worth, with a win at Syracuse... Tailback Keith Marshall from Raleigh (N.C.) Millbrook is scheduled to take his official visit to Notre Dame.