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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.
“I know u guys don’t know the future, but what’s your guess on college football this season? Start on time, delayed start, please don’t say won’t play.” – Stevie
Nathanael: Right now, there’s still a lot in the air, but I just have a bad feeling about the season starting on time. It takes a while to develop a vaccine for any type of virus, and I don’t think there will be one ready by the time fall camp is supposed to start. I think the more likely scenario is that the season is delayed, probably beyond October even. They may end up having to play it in the spring semester and figuring out what to do with basketball, too.
Ben: As of the beginning of April, I don’t have a feeling one way or the other as to whether or not it’ll start on time, be delayed, or canceled. It’s simply too early to make a determination. Quite frankly, the Coronavirus will determine what happens. If things improve, we should be fine. If not, well, it’s going to be a difficult fall to cope with.
One thing I will say, however, is that if thing’s don’t improve, I don’t see how the NFL or the NCAA signs off on starting the season on time. You can’t trot players out on to the field if things don’t improve. Here’s to hoping they do.
“Since the stay at home orders are state by state, is the SEC going to limit football activities until all states are open or can a school get a competitive edge if they open first?” – @RfD24
Nathanael: I’d be shocked if SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey allowed teams to get an advantage like that. Ole Miss did just announce that they aren’t having any sort of activities all the way through August 1st, and that’s right when fall camp usually begins. So I imagine the SEC will have to respect the rules of the universities, because if they aren’t having classes, I can’t imagine football would be going on still.
Ben: I doubt the SEC is going to sign off on allowing football programs to begin conducting any form of team activities if the university itself isn’t conducting classes. You raise a good point on the stay-at-home orders not being intact in every state that has an SEC school. Surely the SEC wouldn’t allow particular teams to practice when others are placed under a stay-at-home order. If I were Greg Sankey, I wouldn’t allow teams to begin holding team activities until all schools are able to return to campus.
“Thoughts on Gundy’s comments? What about Leach’s? Think hiring Pruitt instead them was good in the end?” – @volunteer_27
Nathanael: Mike Gundy displayed his ignorance in his comments and came off looking like a buffoon. And he wasn’t punished, to my knowledge. He has so much power there that he can basically get away with whatever he wants (short of major violations). As for Leach, he also displayed his ignorance, but in a much smaller scale. I don’t think he realized the racial implications of his little joke, and that just shows that he doesn’t understand the culture he’s in now. Leach has never been engrossed in the deep south. Yes, he coached at Valdosta State and at Kentucky in the 1990s, but that was 20-plus years ago and also in completely different situations. What he did was dumb, but it’s no different than anything he’s done in the past, really. I’ll be interested to see how many players transfer or how many recruits change their minds on him and MSU as a result, though.
Right now, Pruitt looks like the smarter choice in terms of PR, but college football is about winning, not marketing. So if Pruitt ultimately fails, then it’s hard to say he was the right choice. But as of right now, I’d rather have him or someone like him than Gundy or Leach.
Ben: I thought Mike Gundy looked like a complete idiot. His comments were ignorant. Mike Leach shouldn’t have posted the meme he did, but I don’t believe there was any ill-will behind making the post. Leach just showed a lack of judgement whereas Gundy came off as ignorant to the current situation our country is dealing with.
At the end of the day, college football is a results-based business, so people won’t care what coaches say or post on Twitter as long as they’re winning. I do prefer the Jeremy Pruitt approach of keeping quiet and focusing on football, but I would happily take Leach or Gundy if they were winning more than Pruitt.
“Bob Kesling will not be on Vol Network forever, so who would be frontrunner for ‘Voice of the Vols?'” – @brokebackvol
Nathanael: My first choice would be Mike Keith, the current voice of the Tennessee Titans. I don’t know a ton of other names out there in the radio broadcasting world, so my knowledge beyond Keith is very limited. But he would be the obvious one, in my opinion. I don’t know if he’d leave the Titans job to call the Vols, but I think it would be very appealing to him.
Ben: Hopefully the current voice of the Tennessee Titans and Tennessee alum Mike Keith. I imagine he’ll be the first call, but does he view the Tennessee play-by-play job bigger than the Titans job? Personally, I do think being the voice of the Vols is much more prestigious, but most broadcasters are all about getting to the professional ranks. We’ll see, but I truly hope it ends up being Keith. He’ll definitely be the frontrunner and his job to turn down, in my opinion.
“With Joe Lunardi releasing his 2021 Bracketology and having Tennessee as a five seed, what should realistic expectations be for next year in terms of seeding and a tournament run?” – Samuel
Nathanael: It’s so early, but I think it’s fair for reasonable expectations to be fairly high for next year’s team. I think a five-seed sounds about right, but I honestly think this team could compete for a four or three-seed in the NCAA Tournament. I expect the Vols to finish in the top four of the SEC and earn a double-bye for the SEC Tournament. Not only does this team return a lot from this past season, but they welcome in a ton of talented options as potential starters and depth players with two five-stars, a four-star, and a grad transfer. I don’t like trying to predict how far a team will go in the NCAA Tournament because the Big Dance is a complete toss-up, but this team has at least Sweet Sixteen potential, if not Elite Eight or Final Four potential.
Ben: There is no such thing as realistic expectations in sports. But we can try to set some. In April, I would say doing more than simply making the NCAA Tournament is a realistic expectation. The 2020-21 Tennessee basketball team has the chance to be really good, led by an elite defense, so simply making the big dance isn’t sufficient in my book. A Sweet 16 run is a good expectation along with being a top three or four team in the SEC. As of today, anything less looks disappointing.
“What’s going on with the Lady Vols bball team? 2 transfers out…should we be concerned?” – @tjvol49
Ben: No. All indications behind the scenes is that Kellie Harper is in the midst of instilling her culture. Players that aren’t bought in, are consistently creating issues, and need to mature aren’t going to last — which is how it should be and what Holly Warlick failed to do towards the end of her tenure. Of the two recent transfers, Zaay Green in particular has some maturing to do. Losing two starting guards isn’t ideal, but Harper can’t afford to sacrifice the culture she’s building.
The fact that Harper just landed a graduate transfer over top programs such as Texas, Maryland, and Louisville should serve as a telling and positive sign for the program despite the recent transfers.