(Photo via Tennessee Athletics)
Managing editor Nathanael Rutherford and staff writer Ben McKee answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.
“Odds Vols play a full season of football?” – @tjvol49
Nathanael: Unless it’s moved to the spring, I think the odds of a full 12-game college football season and decreasing day by day. You already have the Big Ten moving to a conference-only schedule if the season is played in the fall, and the ACC is expected to do the same. The SEC will reportedly discuss doing the same, which would shorten the season to either eight or 10 games.
I’m not betting on a full regular season happening this year. Not unless they make it doable in the spring semester.
Ben: I personally don’t believe Tennessee will play a full football season in 2020. I voiced this opinion on The Swain Event on Wednesday that it was my belief that college commissioners would implement a schedule where only conference games would be played. I believe that simply because the people making the decisions are going to try to squeeze in a season solely so that they can make as much money as possible off of TV deals. A day after I voiced that opinion, three major conferences announced that they were moving forward with a conference-only schedule or would likely do so. I imagine the SEC will follow suit rather quickly.
“If they had a spring football season.. do they turn around in 2 months and play 2021 season in fall?” – Stevie
Nathanael: I think that’s the biggest question you have to ask about holding football in the spring. I know the TSSAA specifically — and other high school sports organizations — have talked about doing that, but that’s also their biggest concern. The wear and tear on “amateur” bodies in that situation would be very rough. It would be one thing to do it in the NFL, where the players are being fairly compensated for the work they put in. It’s another to ask collegiate student-athletes or high school athletes to do it.
“Rumors that Jeremy Banks is back. Is this true and if it is where does he fit into the rotation?” – Evan
Nathanael: From what I can tell, Banks isn’t officially back with the team right now. His name has shown up on the online student database for UT, and he appears to be an active student. But unless he’s on campus and going through workouts and stuff with the team — which he isn’t, from what I’ve been told — then he’s not officially back yet. I do, however, think it’s just a matter of time before he’s officially brought back in and given a roster spot again.
Ben: Banks will officially be back in August when camp begins. Well, technically late July. But he’ll slide in as the second team inside linebacker. Henry To’o To’o and Quavaris Crouch will be the starters to open camp, and Banks and J.J. Peterson will be the backups.
“Terrence Lewis recent tweet said ”Thinking.” Are we still in a good spot to keep him? Does a Mondon commit make it the best LB class in UT History?” – Matt
Nathanael: If there’s one commit in Tennessee’s 2021 class I’d worry most about not sticking around between now and signing day, it would be Lewis. The five-star can go just about anywhere he wants, and he’ll continue to listen to schools. With that being said, I think it’s easy to look too much into tweets from recruits. It’s easy to forget that these are still 16 or 17-year-old kids who are used to getting a lot of attention and crave that type of attention (usually). Not everything they tweet should be taken at face value, nor is it always a cryptic message that has something to do with their recruitment.
As for your second question: If Tennessee lands five-star Smael Mondon to go along with Lewis and four-star Aaron Willis, you would be hard-pressed to find a better linebacker haul in the 2021 cycle. I’d hold off on saying it would be the best in UT history, but I’m having a hard time thinking of a better haul in one single class off the top of my head.
Ben: Who the heck knows about Terrence Lewis’ tweet. That’s a battle that Tennessee will have to continue to win until National Signing Day. But his tweet could have been about anything. It could have been about his recruitment, a girl he likes, or what he wants to eat for dinner. All indications are that the Vols are still okay in that department.
As for the linebacker class, it would definitely be the best in the country with Lewis, Mondon, and Aaron Willis on board. I would imagine it’s the best in program history as well from a recruiting rankings standpoint. But I’d wait and see how they produce on the football field before I label them as the best in school history.
“What is the timeframe for commitment on Diego Pounds? I know he is viewed highly by the staff and there is mutual interest. Is this a reflection of waiting on Mims?” – @hesenij
Nathanael: I’m not sure on a time frame for Pounds, but like you said, Tennessee’s staff really likes him, and he seems to very much be interested in UT. Don’t let his three-star rating fool you, either; I personally think he’s due for a four-star bump, and he holds legitimate offers from schools like Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Florida, Penn State, and Michigan among others. Pounds holding off on making an announcement could be a reflection of Amarius Mims’ decision, but I also think Tennessee would take Pounds even if they do somehow land Mims.
Ben: I don’t believe Tennessee is telling Pounds to hold off on his commitment because of Mims for two reasons. One, I don’t believe Mims is coming to Tennessee. That’s a Georgia and Alabama battle. Two, Jeremy Pruitt has really grown on Pounds over the last couple of months. Tennessee really likes him. Pounds is still just weighing his options.
“Class of 2021 could be absolutely amazing for Coach Barnes. Who is likely to come to Knoxville? Guess your class of 4 and say why.” – @volalum007
Nathanael: To me, it all hinges on what five-star point guard Kennedy Chandler does and when he does it. If he commits to Tennessee — which looks at least somewhat likely at this point — then he could be the first of many highly-rated dominoes to fall UT’s way. Should the Vols land Chandler, you have to feel they have a much better shot at pulling five-star power forward Paolo Banchero from the west coast, and I think Tennessee is already in a decent spot with five-star Jabari Smith, too. Five-stars Harrison Ingram and Charles Bediako aren’t outside the realm of possibility, but I don’t feel quite as good about those two. Four-star guard Jahmai Mashack, who recently got an offer from UT and spoke with me about that, is definitely an option, too. I think there’s a lot of mutual interest there.
If Tennessee doesn’t land Chandler, then that doesn’t exclude them from getting other five-stars. I just think it would make it tougher to pull others, though, like I said above, I think UT is in a good spot with Jabari Smith regardless of what Chandler does.
Ben: I believe Tennessee lands Kennedy Chandler as of the beginning of July. After that, I truly don’t know, but I do believe he will be the domino that allows other dominos to fall. Banchero and Chandler have expressed plenty of interest in playing together, and if that happens in Knoxville, it would come to fruition because Chandler hopped on board. If not Banchero, I do believe Tennessee lands another big-time recruit, whether that be Ingram, Smith, etc. The possibility of playing with arguably the best point guard in the country will be too much to pass up for the elite prospects that the Vols are positioned well with.