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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.
“With the current state of recruiting I think it’s totally acceptable to ask, is this real life?” @nposey23
Nathanael: I’ve asked myself that over the last few days, honestly. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a week like this in recruiting in my lifetime. Not for Tennessee football, at least. It’s been pretty astounding to watch.
Ben: It is in fact real life. It was just a matter of time before Jeremy Pruitt and his staff lit up the recruiting trail, but I didn’t expect for it to come before any monumental wins on the field. The most surprising part to me is that they’ve been able to land the No. 1 player in the state of Alabama and a top 10 overall player from South Florida. Remarkable accomplishment.
“With recent revelations in recruiting is it acceptable to start THINKING about a natty anytime soon?” – @htcook1999
Nathanael: I would say yes, you can think about it, but I don’t know how soon I would expect Tennessee to legitimately compete for one. The Vols have to win the SEC East first, and getting by Georgia and Florida is still off the table for another year or so, I think. Then you have to likely beat either Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, or Auburn in the title game, which is no easy task at all. I’d still say UT is a good three years out from competing for a national title, if not longer. But winning the East? That’s more doable in the next three years.
Ben: Absolutely. Tennessee is recruiting championship-caliber players, which means expectations should, and will, rise. It’s as simple as that in my mind. Now it doesn’t mean that the Vols should be competing for a National Championship in 2020, or maybe even 2021, but come 2022, with the type of players that are being brought in, 2022 is a year in which a championship is a reasonable expectation.
“What is Tennessee going to have to do this season to keep these recruits in the boat and land the big ones down the line?” – Evan
Nathanael: They can’t afford another slip up of the same proportion as they did in 2019. Tennessee cannot lose to a Georgia State-type of team, nor can they really afford to lose to a BYU-type of team. I think in order for the Vols to keep the majority of the high-end recruits they have right now and to land more down the line, they have to upset at least one of the four powerhouses on their 2020 schedule. That means beating at least one of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, or Oklahoma. If UT does that, they likely go 9-3 on the season with a chance to get a 10th win a bowl game. That hasn’t happened since 2007, and that would show legit progress.
Ben: Not bomb out like they did last season. Early playing time has been key to getting the current commitments on board, and that’s going to exist no matter how Tennessee does this season. So, as long as they don’t start out 1-4, I think they’re going to be okay.
“I’ve heard we start on time, start late, no fans.. do u really think they would have college football without fans? And what’s your “guess” on when we start season?” – Stevie
Nathanael: My gut says the season starts on a delay. I simply do not see a way it starts on time, at least not without major repercussions. I don’t think the NCAA would allow the season to be completely scrapped. I could see it starting as late as the spring semester, but then you’d also have to figure out what to do with basketball and also the 2021 football season as well. But at this time, I just don’t see the season starting on time. I’d like to be wrong, though.
Ben: I think it’s still too early to tell one way or the other. Let’s revisit this question at the end of May.
“10 wins for football Vols this season?” – @tjvol49
Nathanael: Only if that 10th win comes in a bowl game, in my opinion. I think the Vols have made enough progress to pull off one upset against the four toughest teams on their schedule, but I’m not sure they can beat two of them. Not without much better quarterback play, and I’m not sure any QB on Tennessee’s roster is currently capable of making this team a 10-win regular season team. But I think nine wins is within reason, and it wouldn’t stun me to see UT get 10 in the regular season. I’m just not buying it right now.
Ben: Not during the regular season. I do believe the Vols are at minimum an 8-4 football team, which means at that point, they only need to win two of Oklahoma, Florida, Alabama, and Georgia to get to double-digits in the regular season. Personally, I think the Vols win one of those four and then head to a bowl game with a chance to win a 10th.
“Wins over/under with JG vs. wins over/under with HB.” – @VFL_WNC
Nathanael: Without having seen Harrison Bailey in the spring for more than two practices, I don’t know that this question is truly answerable. Bailey could be a better option, or he could struggle as a true freshman if thrust into a starting role. Guarantano has the ability to get Tennessee to nine wins or so, but he has to be much more consistent. My over/under for wins on the season is probably 8.5 right now regardless of who the quarterback is.
Ben: I don’t have an answer for Harrison Bailey. We saw him in one spring practice before everything was canceled, which in my opinion, means that it’s highly unlikely we see Bailey start game No. 1. Personally, I think the over/under with Jarrett Guarantano at quarterback is 8.5. If he plays like he did last year, the Vols will be lucky to get to eight wins. If things finally click mentally for Guarantano, I’ll take the over all day long.
“If Yves Pons decides to stay in the draft who will Tennessee look at to fill his scholarship or will they keep it open for next year?” – Samuel
Nathanael: I think they’d look to fill it for this upcoming season. Tennessee has a chance to make a run next season, and I think Rick Barnes would want his team at full capacity if at all possible. Whether that’s by getting a grad transfer or a late addition to the 2020 class, I don’t know. But ultimately I think Pons comes back, so we hopefully don’t have to worry about this.
Ben: I imagine they would look to add a grad transfer, but I don’t know that any would be available when Pons would announce his intent to remain in the draft. Luckily for the Vols, I doubt they’ll have to face that decision.