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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.
“How do you expect the new coaching additions to fare on the recruiting side of things? What state ties do they specialize in?” – Cameron
Nathanael: I have the utmost faith in Jay Graham’s ability as a recruiter and developer of running backs, and I fully expect the Vols to get some stud running backs with him on staff. He has strong ties to North Carolina, too, which is a huge area of emphasis for UT in the 2021 cycle. As for the two other outside hires — Jimmy Brumbaugh and Shelton Felton — I think both are intriguing options as recruiters. From what I’ve been able to find, Brumbaugh isn’t an ace recruiter, but he should be an upgrade in that department over Tracy Rocker. He has connections in a lot of areas, but primarily his ties to the south will help UT. As for Felton, he’s easily the biggest question mark, but he has very strong ties to Georgia thanks to his years coaching at both Crisp County High School and Colquitt County High School.
Ben: I honestly have no idea how they’ll fare because we don’t have a great sample size of them recruiting at this level in the SEC. Brian Niedermeyer and Joe Osovet will recruit well, but I don’t consider them for this question because they’re not new additions. I believe Jimmy Brumbaugh will recruit well because he’s young, has ties to multiple areas of the country, and is hungry to prove himself. Shelton Felton is the one I’m cautiously optimistic about simply because this is his first big time coaching job. I believe he’ll recruit well through thanks to his youthfulness and ability to relate to recruits.
“What are the side effects of bringing in all the new young coaches?” – @BuckToTheNasty1
Nathanael: With Graham and Brumbuah, I think those two will be just fine. They’re the perfect blend of somewhat young and experienced, and both have strong track records at other schools. As for Brian Niedermeyer, Joe Osovet, and Shelton Felton, I think the negative side effects would be that they don’t have much experience. I do have the most faith in Niedermeyer, though, because prior to coming to UT he had almost exclusively worked on the defensive side of the ball. I think moving him to ILBs makes a lot of sense, and we all know how good of a recruiter he is. Osovet is a great offensive mind, but I’ll be curious what he can do as a position coach. I’m not worried about him as a recruiter honestly; I think Osovet has the right attitude to recruit well, and he’s very determined and hungry. Felton has worked under Pruitt before, so he knows the standard Pruitt holds his staff to. His inexperience is worrisome, but I think there’s a great deal of potential there. The positive side effects will be more money freed up for the future for this staff or to give Pruitt a raise in the future as well.
Ben: Inexperience — particularly with Joe Osovet and Felton. I’m confident Niedermeyer and Brumbaugh will be good for the Vols. As for Osovet, I feel good about his ability to be an on-field coach, but how will he do in recruiting? Signs point to him holding his weight, but he still has to prove it because he hasn’t done it to this magnitude. Same for Felton, who is extremely inexperienced at this level both on the recruiting trail and on the field.
“Is it realistic to expect the Vols to have a chance at the SEC East in Pruitt’s 3rd year? And do you think if we get good QB play out of Bailey it puts us over that level we haven’t been able to reach since the days of Fulmer?” – @A_K_Adams
Nathanael: I definitely think it’s realistic to expect the Vols to have a chance. I’m not predicting them to win the East, but a third place finish isn’t out of the question at all, and an upset over either Florida or Georgia is doable. I’m not super confident in either of those happening, but Tennessee has the talent and is just a good/great quarterback away from making some noise. Competing in the East should be the expectation for 2020. Winning it? That’s a different story.
As for your second question: I don’t care if it’s Bailey or Guarantano or Maurer or whomever; if the Vols get good quarterback play from anyone at that position this season, they’re going to surprise people as long as the other units can stay healthy. I’m not putting all my eggs in the Bailey basket in 2020, especially considering he’ll be a true freshman, but his future really excites me.
Ben: Absolutely. The expectation in 2020 should not be to outright win the SEC East, but it should absolutely be to compete for a trip to Atlanta. Tennessee is good quarterback play away from arguably being the best team in the East. Georgia has to replace a lot on offense, and Florida has to replace a lot on defense, while the Vols return quite a bit of production outside of the wide receiver position.
I expect for Jarrett Guarantano to be the starting quarterback this season, and how he performs in the month of September will determine whether or not the Vols need Harrison Bailey. If the five-star is called upon to play this season, he should be able to be productive because of the offensive line’s ability, but we have to remember he’s just a freshman, and there will be ups-and-downs. So, I’m not quite sure if Bailey will push Tennessee over the top in his first year. I need to see him this spring and during fall camp before I can say.
“Is there any way we can prepare this fanbase to not be sore winners when/if we win the east in football?” – @not_a_cop_srsly
Nathanael: Nope, and I’m not gonna advocate for anyone to tone it down or “act like they’ve been there before.” The last 12 or so years of Tennessee football have been miserable with the exception of like two or three seasons. Vol fans have gone through heartbreaking losses, excruciating off-field drama, and national embarrassment. If/when Tennessee wins the SEC East in the next few years and if they outright win the entire conference, I’m all for fans going a little crazy over it. Vol fans have earned it.
Ben: No. It’s been a miserable decade of football for the most part, and Vol and are going to let every single bit of frustration out whenever the day comes that Tennessee wins the SEC East. And I don’t blame them one bit. After all the crap they’ve taken from Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and Vanderbilt fans, among others, Tennessee fans should give it right back when the Vols start winning.
“Chase Hayden is in the portal. Vols interested?” – @HawaiiVol31
Nathanael: I think there’s interest, but it’s going to come down to what Tennessee wants to do with their running back room. Not only are the Vols still pursuing five-star Zach Evans, but UT currently has seven scholarship running backs on their roster. I assume that no matter what happens this spring and no matter who Tennessee brings in, at least one or two backs are going to transfer. But do you move Len’Neth Whitehead or Tee Hodge to linebacker too? That would help thin the numbers some, but even then you will still have a logjam with a lot of older players depending on who stays and goes. Also, I’m not sure how much of an upgrade Chase Hayden would be over who UT already has. He’s kinda like a Ty Chandler type, but Tennessee already has Chandler and already has Eric Gray, who is an upgraded version of what Chandler can do. Hayden does have two years to play, which is a plus, but I’m not sure UT will end up being the best fit for the Tennessee legacy, unfortunately.
Ben: It’s my understanding that Tennessee may not be as interested in Chase Hayden as one would automatically assume. It’s a delicate situation, however, as his dad is former Vol great Aaron Hayden, and his brother, Dallan Hayden, is an emerging prospect in the class of 2022. The Arkansas transfer may very well end up at Tennessee, but the Vols are trying to figure out if there is going to be room. The Vols currently have seven running backs on campus with hopes of adding Zach Evans.
“Thoughts on Arch Manning hype? Chances of him coming to Tennessee?” – Sterling
Nathanael: I’m cautious about the hype, especially considering he’s currently in the process of finishing up his freshman year of high school (he’s a 2023 recruit), but I do think he has a good deal of potential. With that bloodline, he should. But I think the chances of him coming to Tennessee are pretty low, actually. Peyton is the only one of that family that came to UT, and the rest will likely be pushing him to go to Ole Miss. Plus, the Mannings are down in Louisiana, so you know LSU is going to push really, really hard for him. If Lane Kiffin has success at Ole Miss, that would be hard to turn down. At the same time, if Jim Chaney is still around by 2023 at UT, that would be enticing, too.
Ben: I have watched zero tape of Arch Manning, so to be quite honest, I don’t have a take on the hype surrounding him. It sounds as if he’s going to be a really good quarterback at the next level, and I love that the family isn’t accepting scholarship offers or taking visits in an effort to limit the hype. Surely Tennessee will have a chance with Arch, but I have a feeling the Vols are going to have an uphill battle against LSU and Ole Miss. New Orleans is LSU territory, and we all know about the Manning ties to Oxford.
“How many wins do Vols need to make the NCAA tourney???” – @slowdown72
Nathanael: I was just thinking about this on Wednesday afternoon after the Vols’ win over Arkansas on Tuesday night. Tennessee has seven regular season games remaining and currently sit at 14-10. I think going 5-2 to end the regular season is the absolute best case scenario, and I would be shocked if that happened to be honest. I think the Vols absolutely have to beat South Carolina this weekend and defeat Vandy next Tuesday, and a win over Florida later on at home would be ideal. That would give UT 17 wins, and I think getting to 18-13 to end the regular season would put them firmly on the bubble. Can UT split their two-game series with Auburn? Can Tennessee defeat Arkansas again, this time on the road? Can the Vols find a way to get an unlikely win in Lexington against Kentucky? The odds aren’t in UT’s favor to go 4-3 down the stretch, but I think an 18-13 record and 10-8 SEC mark going into the SEC Tournament would have them positioned well at least. If UT can find a way to get to 20 wins by the time the SEC Tournament is over, I think they have a strong chance of making it in.
Ben: Seven games remain, and I think the Vols need to win at minimum four of those games to have a chance. That would give Tennessee 18 wins heading into the SEC Tournament, which would then create a situation to where the Vols need to win at least two game in Nashville to give themselves a chance at making the big dance. If they can pull off a miracle and somehow get to 20 wins entering the SEC Tourney, I would feel great about the Vols chances. That would require winning six of those games against a brutal stretch to finish the season, which feels unlikely at this point.