The 1998 national champion Tennessee Volunteers didn't lose a game. In the three seasons prior, they won 11, 10 and 11 games, respectively. Three seasons after the title, they went 11-2.
Rajion Neal was recruited to Tennessee out of the Atlanta area.
Back then, Tennessee was among college football's most consistent, most talked about, and most respected programs.
And its success recruiting in the state of Georgia played a crucial role in the school reaching that stature.
Then-coach Phillip Fulmer and his vaunted Vols not only won often on the field, they won big in the Peach State. Suffice it to say, the former had much to do with the latter. And vice versa.
That 1998 squad featured Georgia products such as offensive lineman Cosey Coleman, safety Deon Grant and running back Jamal Lewis. Coleman didn't allow a sack that entire season and was a first-team All-Southeastern Conference pick. Grant led the team with five interceptions, including a big one in an overtime win against Florida. Lewis missed a chunk of the year with a serious injury, yet still rushed for nearly 500 yards.
All three were members of the 1997 Vols recruiting class. All three became elite in orange and white. All three were recruited by then-Tennessee assistant Rodney Garner.
And, of course, all three made it to the NFL.
"They won a lot of recruiting battles back in the day," said recruiting writer Ryan Callahan of GoVols247. "They definitely wouldn't have won as many games if they hadn't."
Years later, one thing hasn't changed: Tennessee, which plays Georgia in Athens on Saturday (3:30 p.m./CBS), still must recruit well in Georgia to thrive. The primary reason for this is obvious; that is where one finds the largest concentration of talent within a reasonably close proximity to Knoxville, Tenn.
Cameron Sutton is one of two Georgia prospects committed to Tennessee for the 2013 class.
The Tennessee roster currently has 18 players from Georgia on it. That group includes cornerback Justin Coleman, offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James, linebacker A.J. Johnson, running back Rajion Neal and safety Brian Randolph. All are starters, though Randolph's season currently was cut short by a knee injury.
Through the years, the Vols have landed their share of marquee players from Georgia (safety Eric Berry, now in the NFL, is a name that will come to mind for many). One of their better hauls came in Feb. 2010 under current coach Derek Dooley. That year, Tennessee signed, among others, five-star receiver Da'Rick Rogers, James and Neal -- both four-star recruits -- from that state.
Since then, however, the amount of elite prospects landed from Georgia has dropped.
The 2011 class included seven Georgians, but only two with at least four stars (Johnson and Coleman).
In February, receiver Jason Croom was the only signee from Georgia with more than three stars in the 247Sports and 247Composite rankings. At No. 15 in the state, he was one of only two Vols signees in the top 50 in Georgia.
Presently, Tennessee has commits from two 2013 Georgia prospects -- three-star athlete Cameron Sutton and three-star outside linebacker Zach Barnes. Sutton is rated as the 44th-best prospect in Georgia; Barnes is No. 115.
The Vols remain in contention for defensive tackle Montravius Adams and safety Vonn Bell, both five-star prospects that would be monster pickups and much-needed recruiting wins. Tennessee is among Bell's leaders; Adams is more of a longshot, it seems. Ironically, Bell, who attends Ridgeland (Ga.), actually lives just across the Georgia state line in Tennessee.
"I think it's an uphill battle right now [in Georgia]," 247Sports national analyst Gerry Hamilton said. "Florida really ascended under Urban Meyer and then you have Nick Saban at Alabama and what they've done. Even Auburn won a national title with Cam Newton from Georgia. I just think kids identify more with other programs than Tennessee right now."
Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley and his staff work the state of Georgia hard. There's just a lot more quality competition for players in the Peach State than there used to be.
The best way for the Vols to change that?
"It's a winning business," Hamilton said. "At the end of the day, if you win games you'll recruit at a higher level. You become more prevalent in kids' minds. It's all about wins and losses. The rest is window dressing. The other thing is having some player that kids can identify with. A kid they talk about. If (Vols receiver) Cordarrelle Patterson continues to have a big year and goes in the first round, that's a person the kids would be able to identify the program with. Wins and having players kids look up to is big."
Since 2008, the Vols are only 26-28, which probably isn't helping. They haven't produced a 10-win season since 2007 and haven't won the SEC title since 1998. Meanwhile, Alabama, Florida and LSU have two national championships each and Auburn one since the Vols last won it all.
A turnaround in the Peach State is a must because this a time when the program's recruiting there arguably is as important as it has ever been. In their heyday, the Vols recruited more at a national level than they do today.
Last February, the 2012 high school graduating class in Georgia produced more than 150 FBS signees and was fourth best among all states. By comparison, the state of Tennessee had 42. The remaining states that border Tennessee also came up far short of Georgia in producing talent. In fact, Alabama was next best with just over 90.
It's worth noting a good portion of the top prospects in Tennessee -- as they usually do -- came from the greater-Memphis area. While the Vols have done well in Memphis through the years, it hasn't been easy. The city's location adds a interesting dynamic to that state's recruiting landscape. That's because Memphis is closer to Ole Miss (90 minutes), Mississippi State (three hours), Vanderbilt (three and a half hours), Alabama (four hours) and Arkansas (five hours) than it is to Knoxville (six hours.).
For the Vols, it is more convenient to dig into Georgia, which isn't just closer but has more talent from year to year.
"It's much easier to look at kids three hours away in Atlanta than six hours away in Memphis," Callahan said. "This will tell you all you need to know: Tennessee has got three and sometimes four guys that recruit [Georgia]. With Atlanta being three hours away and loaded with talent, they need to recruit that area and be a presence. When you look at the radius around Knoxville, there's a lot of talent within four or five hours, but no area is more loaded than north Georgia."
And in Georgia, there are plenty of good players to go around.
SEC programs signed 64 players from the state earlier this year. South Carolina led the way with 12 Peach State products, with Georgia next at 11. Coming off its national championship weeks before national signing day, Alabama inked eight from Georgia -- one more than it signed from the state of Alabama. Tennessee grabbed four Georgia high schoolers, seventh most in the league.
"It's one of the best states at producing talent in the country," Hamilton said. "And there's only two big instate schools. That makes it attractive to schools. That gives them a chance to come in and get really good players. It's a battle ground for a lot of SEC programs. The state of Georgia is huge for Tennessee."