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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.
“Which football unit has to play the most consistent to win out the season?” – Micah
Nathanael: It’s easy to target either line of scrimmage (the offensive line or defensive line), but let me posit a third option: The Vols’ quarterbacks. We saw earlier this season that poor quarterback play held Tennessee back from winning a game they should’ve (BYU) and knocked them out of contending in another game (Florida). The quarterback play also dashed any chances Tennessee had at making things interesting against Alabama. The offensive and defensive lines are important, absolutely. But if UT doesn’t get consistent quarterback play from whomever is at the position, then it could cost them.
Ben: Either the offensive line or the defensive line. I would definitively say the defensive line, but they haven’t necessarily played consistent at all this season. The offensive line has, however. Will Friend’s group has not only played consistent football this season, but they’ve gotten better as well. If Tennessee is going to win out this season, it’s going to be because the line of scrimmage played well.
“With the improvement of the QB play, does it change your opinion on who leaves vs. who stays for next year?” – @hesenij
Nathanael: Only slightly. I think Jarrett Guarantano is still gone after this season. I still maintain what I said a few weeks ago — even though Guarantano played exceptionally well against South Carolina — that it would probably be better for both him and UT if he transferred after the season. One game doesn’t change that a whole lot for me. Where I’ve changed slightly is in my thinking on JT Shrout. I could see him hanging around for next season even if he doesn’t win the starting job to begin the year. I think this season has shown him that he’s only an injury or two away from game action again next season, and unless Tennessee goes out and grabs another transfer this offseason, I think he’ll remain on campus for at least one more season. It wouldn’t shock me if he transferred, but I’m banking on him staying for now.
Ben: Not necessarily. I still believe Jarrett Guarantano leaves after the season, and depending on how fall camp goes next year, I could see J.T. Shrout potentially leaving as well. That’s if he doesn’t feel like he’s in a good position to play at the start of next season. The only situation I’m somewhat confident in is Brian Maurer, Harrison Bailey, and Kasim Hill all being in the quarterback room.
“Do you think we get the bottom of the barrel officiating crews because we’re not a ranked team playing in big games? Do they send their best to the biggest games?” – @RockyTop10EC
Nathanael: I don’t know, at this point, I’m under the impression that all SEC officials are bad. I don’t know if any one crew is significantly better than the other. It’s a top-to-bottom issue in my opinion.
Ben: I believe that’s probably the case. I may be completely wrong, but I don’t know why the SEC wouldn’t send its best officials to their best games.
“What do you think our final record would have to be to sway some big time recruits into thinking UT is trending upwards? Do you think 6-6 is good enough or 7 wins or bust?” – @roy__rogers__
Nathanael: I think you’d have to win out to have any chance of landing some of those big-time prospects. Some of them, such as Rakim Jarrett and Arik Gilbert, are probably lost causes no matter what happens this season. But I maintain that the Vols still have a foot in the door with prospects like Noah Sewell and Darnell Washington, and winning out and looking good doing so would give them an even better shot.
Ben: Unfortunately, I don’t believe Tennessee can finish with a good enough record this season to sway the big time recruits in this cycle. The Vols can thank their 1-4 start for that. Case in point is Rakim Jarrett, Arik Gilbert, and Darnell Washington. UT had a legitimate chance with all three, but following the start to the season, Tennessee lost all momentum.
“Does Trey Smith send his condolences to the poor souls that line up against him before or after the game?” – @BuckToTheNasty1
Nathanael: Trey Smith is a very nice guy off the field. But on the field? I don’t think you’ll hear him compared to Reggie White, the Minister of Defense. That’s not to say Smith is profane and nasty to opponents, but I don’t think he feels bad at all for what he does.
Ben: Neither. He does it during the game. Trey Smith is the type of player that talks great about the opponent before and after, but in between those lines, he’s talking funky.
“Who has a bigger year in basketball: Olivier Nkamhoua or Davonte Gaines?” – @htcook1999
Nathanael: This is easy for me. I think Nkamhoua has the best year this year for sure. Gaines has a lot of potential, but he’s not big enough to go out and have a huge impact. Nkamhoua needs to add some weight too, but he’s not nearly as scrawny as “Ticket” right now. Plus, the Vols have a bigger need for Nkamhoua since he’s more of a post player. Gaines will fit in well next season and as a junior, but in their freshmen seasons, I’m going with Olivier.
Ben: Olivier Nkamhoua. Tennessee’s coaching staff has been incredibly high on the freshman since he stepped foot on campus, to the point where he’s drawn similar comparisons to Grant Williams when Williams first stepped foot on campus. He’s athletic, strong, and is a very skilled offensive player. He also has length and strength to be good on the defensive end of the floor as well. Nothing against Davonte Gaines. I just believe Nkamhoua is going to have a really strong career with the Vols.
“Could it be possible that this year’s basketball team will be better than last year’s?” – @nposey23
Nathanael: Absolutely not. Not unless you define “better” as making a deeper NCAA Tournament run. That’s possible because they could just get hot at the right time. But in terms of getting to No. 1 in the country and tying a school record for most overall wins in a season? I would be completely stunned if that happened. The team we saw last year was one of the best teams in school history. This year’s team will be better than a lot think, in my opinion, but they aren’t touching that type of success.
Ben: I don’t believe so. They may make it further in the tournament, but I would be surprised if they did that in addition to having as much success in conference play. That doesn’t mean the team will be bad or anything, it’s just hard to get back to the No. 1 ranking of a team that lost players such as Grant Williams, Kyle Alexander, Admiral Schofield, and Jordan Bone.
“When is Uros going to be eligible? What does it take to get the NCAA to decide something (besides months of navel gazing)?” – @PeteHastings1
Nathanael: Tennessee felt like they were going to hear back on Friday of last week. Nothing. Then, they felt like they would know on Wednesday before the exhibition game. Again, nothing.
At this point, I’m not going to be surprised if it takes till after the season starts to hear back from the NCAA.
Ben: Who knows? It’s the NCAA. There’s never any telling with that bunch. Tennessee still feels optimistic, however.
“How’s Kellie and them Lady Vols looking? Do we have Pat v2 yet?” – Serena
Ben: Tennessee will never have another Pat Summit, but I believe Kellie Harper has the potential to be an elite coach. She’s demanding, has great basketball IQ, and relates to the players extremely well. This year’s team may not reflect the teams of the past because they lack talent, but they’ll play hard and should make the NCAA Tournament.