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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.
“Do you think that Tennessee is ranked going into next season?” – @Sambone18
Nathanael: I think it’s an interesting thing to look at for next year. If the Vols win their bowl game against Indiana (which I think they will), they’ll be 8-5 this season and will be returning a lot of young production for next year. Granted, UT loses a lot of senior production off this year’s team, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see Tennessee sneak in as the No. 22 or 23 team in the preseason polls next year.
Ben: Yes, because they’ll be an eight-win football team following the bowl game. That same eight-win team, while losing a ton of production, returns several players along the line of scrimmage and their starting quarterback. Plus, several players return at other positions as well.
“Do we have a realistic shot at getting Tate Ratledge with the departure of Sam Pittman?” – @roy__rogers__
Nathanael: The Vols have a realistic shot, but the question is just how realistic is it? Right now, I’d put it at pretty minimal, but if Ratledge can be convinced not to sign next week during the early signing period, then things get a lot more interesting.
Ben: I doubt it. Especially if Ratledge ends up visiting Georgia this weekend.
“Does Sam Pittman leaving mean that UT can sway some UGA commits to the Vols? Is Kirby in trouble now that the architect of his O-line is gone and he has an almost identical record as Richt? Does this radically reshape the a East or is it just wishful thinking?” – Andrew
Nathanael: The only UGA commit I see potentially flipping from them to Tennessee would be Ratledge, and I don’t think the possibility of that happening is very high. As for Kirby Smart and the reshaping of the East, I think it’s all just wishful thinking. I do think Smart has to look himself in the mirror and make some changes this offseason, and I think hiring Matt Luke as OL coach is only a stop gag. I would be stunned if Luke is with UGA beyond the 2020 season. But for now, I still think UGA and Florida are the top two teams in the East, and that won’t change for another couple years. UF could overtake Georgia, but that doesn’t mean a seismic shift, really.
Ben: No to Tennessee being able to sway some Georgia commits. The only ones that would be swayed would be the linemen, and one has already flipped to Florida, while the other one — Tate Ratledge — doesn’t appear poised to flip. I don’t believe Kirby Smart is in trouble per se, but Sam Pittman is a huge loss for the Bulldogs program. Smart hired as good of a replacement as he could, however, in former Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke. Most of the sentiment from Tennessee fans is wishful thinking.
“What surprise pick ups or losses do you expect during early signing period?” – Evan
Nathanael: The big surprises for the Vols would be if five-star TE Darnell Washington signs with UT (which I don’t think should be considered a huge surprise, honestly) and if Tate Ratledge is convinced not to sign next week. On the other end, I would watch out for four-star safety commit Mordecai McDaniel. Florida is coming hard for him. Four-star Jimmy Calloway isn’t supposed to be signing in the early period, but he’ll be one to watch between now and February, too.
Ben: Honestly, I don’t think Tennessee will receive any surprises during the early signing period. The only surprise that could happen would be if Darnell Washington decided to sign early and chose the Vols.
“If Tennessee beats Memphis, is the win cheapened because Wiseman and Quinones didn’t play?” – Mark
Nathanael: I don’t know if I would say it would cheapen it, but it would definitely be used against Tennessee in seeding on Selection Sunday. The selection committee would take into account that the Vols beat Memphis without two of their better players, so the quality win wouldn’t be quite as high quality as it would look on paper if Memphis is, say, a four or five-loss team come March. It works the same way if UT loses, too. It would be viewed as a worse loss than normal because the Vols couldn’t beat the Tigers without two of their better players.
Ben: No, because Memphis still has more talent than Tennessee even without James Wiseman and Lester Quinones playing. At least according to the recruiting rankings and NBA Draft boards. Plus, it’s Memphis. Beating the Tigers and particularly Penny Hardaway after the way he acted last season will always feel sweet.
“Is Santiago Vescovi going to able to play in January? He has some hurdles to clear such as SAT…ect.” – Larry
Nathanael: He should be, yes. By all accounts, his SAT score should check out and be good enough to get him enrolled in January. The staff seems to really, really like Vescovi, and I think he’s going to have a bigger role in the offense than people are assuming. Even if he’s only playing 5-10 minutes a game, that’s 5-10 extra minutes of rest for Lamonte Turner or 5-10 extra minutes where Turner can play more off-ball rather than as the main ball handler. Tennessee needs another ball handler come SEC play, and right now Josiah-Jordan James isn’t developing quite how you’d like as a point guard. James is looking really good in other areas, but his offense and his PG skills just aren’t quite there yet.
Ben: The SAT will determine whether Santiago Vescovi can enroll for the spring semester. If he is cleared, I’ll be interested to see how much Vescovi plays, if at all. With Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner graduating following the season, this is more of a move for Vescovi to be accustomed to the program before Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson arrive.