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Georgia photo by Tony Walsh / Georgia football coach Kirby Smart, shown before last weekend's win at Georgia Tech, would like to be recruiting right now but is happier preparing for this Saturday's SEC championship game against Alabama.

This is one of the more unique weeks in Southeastern Conference football recruiting, as coaching staffs of 12 of the 14 teams can hit the road in their quest for the stars of tomorrow.

The two exceptions are hardly drawing sympathy, as Alabama and Georgia are preparing for Saturday afternoon's SEC championship game in Atlanta. While Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban and Bulldogs counterpart Kirby Smart aren't blanketing the country with in-home visits, they are more than reassured by the amount of eyeballs that will be fixated on a game involving top-three teams in the latest College Football Playoff rankings.

"The magnitude and coverage and exposure that we'll get — those same coaches and those same teams will be seeing the same players that we're recruiting," Smart said earlier this week, "and they'll all be watching this game, I can assure you of that. The best advertisement you can have is to go out and play well."

Saturday will mark the 30th SEC championship game and the 26th straight to sell out. The last time Alabama and Georgia vied for the league crown took place in 2018, when the Tide's 35-28 comeback victory was viewed by 17.5 million people, making it the most-watched and highest-rated college game — postseason excluded — on any network in seven years.

How can Eli Drinkwitz, Bryan Harsin or Shane Beamer sitting on your couch compare to that?

"I think it goes both ways," Saban said. "I think the magnitude of the game helps your exposure, and that is something that is significant in recruiting, but relationships are significant in recruiting, too, and we both have to postpone those things for a week.

"I don't know if that's significant or not. It probably depends on the player."

It's hard to find a more consistently dominant aspect to sports at any level than what Alabama and Georgia achieve in recruiting. Either the Tide or the Bulldogs have finished atop the 247Sports.com national team rankings for 11 straight years, and Georgia and Alabama rank 1-2 in this current cycle that has the early signing period in two weeks.

Alabama finished with the nation's No. 1 signing class from 2011-17, with the Tide and Bulldogs splitting the past four cycles.

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AP photo by Wade Payne / Tennessee wide receiver Velus Jones Jr., shown during a home win against South Carolina on Oct. 9, decided in early January to use a sixth year of eligibility to play a second season with the Vols.

Tennessee football's official Twitter account shared a video Wednesday of senior cornerback Alontae Taylor surprising sixth-year senior receiver Velus Jones Jr. with an invitation to the Reese's Senior Bowl on Feb. 5, 2022. Taylor received his invitation last week.

"This is a dream come true for me for real," Jones said in the video. "I grew up in Mobile, Alabama, and have been going to the Senior Bowl since I can remember. I would get gloves after the games because I looked up to those players. They were like superheroes.

"For me to be in this position is crazy. I could shed a tear right now. I'm coming home."

Jones amassed 52 receptions for 722 yards (13.9 per catch) and six touchdowns during the regular season, ranking second on the team to Cedric Tillman. He has been fantastic as the primary return specialist, leading the nation in punt returns with a 16.0-yard average and ranking 12th in kickoff returns with a 28.1-yard clip.

Taylor announced Wednesday night via Twitter that he would be forgoing Tennessee's undetermined bowl game to focus on the Senior Bowl and the upcoming NFL draft.

 

Pasquali's Pix

Oregon vs. Utah: This Pac-12 championship game is a rematch of a 38-7 Utes rout less than two weeks ago. Utes 31, Ducks 24.

Cincinnati vs. Houston: The Bearcats have CFP history within their reach given that no Group of Five program has ever received an invite. Bearcats 34, Cougars 19.

Baylor vs. Oklahoma State: Has anybody in college football quietly had a better few days than Cowboys coach Mike Gundy? Cowboys 38, Bears 31.

Alabama vs. Georgia: Seeing the Tide as touchdown underdogs looks like a misprint, but the reality is their running backs may be decimated behind a line that has been erratic down the stretch. Bulldogs 26, Tide 17.

Pittsburgh vs. Wake Forest: If you're up for saving some coin, there were $24 tickets for the ACC title game Wednesday afternoon on StubHub, while the cheapest for the SEC championship were $350. This does, however, have the potential to be the wildest game of the weekend. Panthers 35, Demon Deacons 30.

Iowa vs. Michigan: Amid a week of 10-year, $95 million contracts, it was nice to see where Jim Harbaugh is donating his incentive bonuses — such as $500,000 for winning the Big Ten East and $200,000 for earning a New Year's Six bowl — to Michigan athletic department staffers who had their salaries cut last year due to the pandemic. Wolverines 33, Hawkeyes 26.

USC at California: In the only FBS game this season to get postponed by COVID-19, the Trojans will mercifully end their fifth losing season in the last 60 years but the second in their last four. Bears 30, Trojans 21.

Last week:

Winners — 17

Coaching bombshells — 8

Pasquali is 240-85 overall (73.8%) this season.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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