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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.
“What are the odds we win out in football this year?” – Daniel
Nathanael: I think both the ESPN FPI and TeamRankings.com give Tennessee a little better than a 33 percent chance of winning out this season. I think those odds are a little low, but I’m still hesitant in putting it over 50 percent. I feel extremely confident in saying the Vols will at least do enough to get bowl eligible, but the trip to Missouri still worries me. The Tigers are just a completely different team at home than they are on the road. That will be put to the test when they host Florida this weekend, though.
Ben: I’d say more likely than not. To put a numerical percentage on it, I’d give Tennessee a 65 percent of winning out. The Vols will definitely beat Vanderbilt the final game of the season, but the trip to Mizzou next Saturday is a little more tricky. I think the Vols beat the Tigers, but Kelly Bryant could present some problems. And Missouri is 5-0 at home.
“Odds that JG stays next year based off his recent performances?” – @CalWebb2
Nathanael: I think it’s a lot higher than it was three or four weeks ago. I’m still not convinced that it might not be better for him to go ahead and be a grad transfer elsewhere for next season and get a fresh start somewhere else, but maybe he sticks it out and stays at Tennessee for another season. I think a 50/50 shot is a fair estimation for it. His decision wouldn’t surprise me either way. The only thing that would surprise me would be if he decides not to return to college next season and tries to test the NFL waters. Barring that, I think he’s done enough to warrant returning to UT next season, but I also wouldn’t fault him one bit for wanting a clean slate for one more season somewhere else.
Ben: I’d say there’s a 50-50 chance that Jarrett Guarantano stays. Three weeks ago, I was convinced Guarantano would move on following the season. But with the way he’s become more comfortable in Jim Chaney’s offense as the season has progressed, and the way he’s performed, it’s growing into more of a fit. It may not be a popular opinion, but if Harrison Bailey isn’t ready to play next season, Guarantano may be the best option next season. If the coaching staff believes that will be the case, Tennessee should do everything in its power to get Guarantano to return.
“How much of a jumpstart does making a bowl game give us for next season by getting those extra practices in this season?” – Clay
Nathanael: I think it would be significant. Look at what happened with Tennessee’s young roster in 2014 and then into 2015. If that 2015 team had a decent head coach, they probably would’ve been 10-2 or maybe even 11-1 in the regular season. Getting to a bowl game in 2014 for the first time since 2011 was pivotal for guys like Josh Dobbs, Jalen Hurd, Derek Barnett, Josh Malone, and countless other freshmen and sophomores on that 2014 team. Getting 15 extra practices for Quavaris Crouch, Roman Harrison, Eric Gray, Ramel Keyton, Jaylen McCollough, and second-year players like Cedric Tillman, J.J. Peterson, and others would be massive.
Ben: It’s absolutely massive for this football team going into next season. One example of how important it is, is the wide receiver position. With Jauan Jennings, Marquez Callaway, and Tyler Byrd departing, 15 extra practices for guys like Ramel Keyton and Cedric Tillman would be huge. Those guys are going to be relied on heavily next season in addition to Brandon Johnson and DeAngelo Gibbs, so an extra month of practice would be huge for their development.
“Does the firing of Chad Morris help the Vols in stealing away the two defensive prospects from West high school in Knoxville or are those guys just trying to go somewhere other than UT?” – Ryan
Nathanael: Not with those two, no. The one player still committed to Arkansas who could be getting more attention from the Vols now, though, is four-star DE Blayne Toll. Some Arkansas decommits such as four-star wide receiver Ze’Vian Capers, four-star wide receiver Darin Turner from Memphis, and four-star offensive tackle Ty’kieast Crawford could also be more options.
Ben: No. Tennessee hasn’t shown any legitimate interest in them.
“What kind of recruiting class do you think we end up with in the 2020 cycle? (football) Do you see our class inside the top 10?” – @The_Klassens
Nathanael: The only way I see the Vols getting a top 10 class now is if they for sure land at least one five-star like Darnell Washington or Noah Sewell. Maybe flipping a Sav’ell Smalls or something. But outside of getting at least one five-star, I don’t think a top 10 class will happen. Tennessee could still get some highly-rated four-stars like Omari Thomas, Tyler Baron, Desmond Tisdol, and Len’Neth Whitehead, but I think it would take at least one five-star to propel them into the top 10. I think a top 15 class is definitely doable, though.
Ben: I think they’ll finish between 15-20. Maybe between 10-and-15 if everything goes absolutely perfect. Tennessee has a chance to finish with some very important prospects such as Tyler Baron, Omari Thomas, and Octavious Oxendine. They’re still fighting for Jay Hardy and Chris Morris as well. If they could land Darnell Washington, they’ll have a good chance to finish No. 10 or better, but aside from Washington, the Vols have fallen out of favor with most of the five-star targets they were after over the summer. Those are the guys that would have propelled Tennessee to a definite top-10 class.
“Basketball Recruiting.. What big man do you think we land after the incredible signees from yesterday’s 2020 class? We need someone to man the paint and this team will be unreal.” – Corey
Nathanael: The only big man target fore sure still an option for the Vols in the 2020 class as of right now is Dylan Cardwell. The 6-foot-10 center down in Georgia was high on the Vols at one point, but he may be pushing his signing back until the spring rather than during this current signing period. If so, that could be good news for Tennessee. Otherwise, the Vols may have to wait and see if anyone emerges in the spring as an option (which happens every year) or wait on the transfer market at the end of the season.
I will say, though, that regardless of what happens with his appeal this year, Tennessee will have Uros Plavsic on the active roster next year to pair with a senior John Fulkerson and a sophomore Olivier Nkamhoua, so it might not be as dire of a need as you think.
Ben: Hard to say because Tennessee was very determined to land multiple targets in the backcourt, and really only the true post player they were targeting was P.J. Hall, who ultimately committed to Clemson. Plus, most of the post targets they’re after aren’t in this year’s class. I think it’s a situation in which we’ll see some targets begin to emerge soon, or they’ll target the transfer market following the season.
If there’s a prep player to watch out for, it’s Dylan Cardwell. The 6-foot-10, 220 lbs. center is from McEachern High School in Powder Springs, Georgia. Cardwell was on campus for an official visit the weekend of Oct. 11, just before the season started, but is crystal balled to Georgia according to 247.
“What’s Pons’ upside? Will he average a double-double?” – @tjvol49
Nathanael: I don’t know that I feel comfortable saying he’ll average a double-double. That’s very difficult to do, but I could actually see John Fulkerson getting close to doing that this year just because he pulls down so many rebounds and can score around 8-12 points a game usually. As for Pons, though, I think it’s not unreasonable to expect him to average between 10-13 points a game and 6-8 rebounds a contest. That would be huge for this year’s team. As long as he keeps the confidence he has right now into SEC play and he doesn’t revert back to just trying to jack up threes, I think that’s possible. You also have to take into account that he’s an excellent defender and will block between 2-4 shots a night, too. His upside is immense thanks to his athleticism, but his problem was finding what he was comfortable doing on offense. It looks like he’s found that, though this is still very, very early in the season.
Ben: Yves Pons has great upside. He’s an athletic freak who looks more comfortable this season, and he really looks like’s developed his game into more than just being an athletic freak. May be a small sample size, but through three games (including the exhibition), he’s been the Vols third-best player. As far as averaging a double-double, I’d be surprised if he does simply because that’s hard to do. Not even Grant Williams or Admiral Schofield did that. I think at his best, he’s a 13.0 points per game and 8.0 rebounds type of player. Plus, he’s good for at least two blocks a game.
“The men’s Vols and Lady Vols basketball teams both seem to be trending up. Do you see either of them making a Final Four in the next 5 years? Both? Neither?” – Jeffrey
Nathanael: I absolutely think both of them will have the potential to make a Final Four run in the next five years, yes. Tennessee’s men’s team next year will definitely have the talent to do so, and the early returns on Kellie Harper as a head coach seem to be very promising in regards to her ability to get the most out of her players and to get them to play hard-nosed defense. But the NCAA Tournament doesn’t always reward the best teams; sometimes it rewards the teams that just happen to get hot at the right time and get the right match-ups in their regions. So I won’t say that either team will definitely make it to the Final Four, but they should have a couple teams that have the potential to do so in the next five years.
Ben: It’s hard to say they’ll definitively make the Final Four simply because the NCAA Tournament is a crap-shoot, and it’s the hardest postseason tournament to win in all of sports. But I can say the men’s team will most definitely have the talent to do so, and I believe Kellie Harper will get the Lady Vols back to a point to where they’ll have Final Four talent as well.