Brian Rice

NFL Week 6 Picks, Notes & Schedule including Bills at Titans on MNF

NFL Week 6 Picks, Notes & Schedule including Bills at Titans on MNF

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

Below are my NFL Week 6 predictions, straight and spread, with the full schedule of games. Plus, you’ll find some notes on this week’s games and the season courtesy of NFL Communications.

Listen to The NFL Report with John Wilkerson and two rotating Sports Animal hosts, including myself, every Sunday, 10am to 12:30pm ET on 99.1 The Sports Animal here in Knoxville and streaming here at 991TheSportsAnimal.com, the WNML app or on your smart speakers.

Week 5 Straight-Up Record: -13-3 (81%)
Week 5 Against The Spread Record: 10-6 (63%)

2021 Season Straight-Up: 50-30 (63%)
2021 Season Against The Spread: 39-41 (49%)
2020 Season Prediction Record Straight-Up: 181-88 (67%)

Vikings safety Harrison Smith / Credit: Minnesota Vikings Media Site

WEEK 6 NFL SCHEDULE

(All times Eastern)

Thursday, October 14Tampa Bay at Philadelphia 
V-Picks: Bucs -7; Tampa Bay wins
FOX/NFLN
/Amazon
8:20
Sunday, October 17Miami at Jacksonville (London)
V-Picks: Dolphins -3.5; Miami wins
CBS9:30 AM
Los Angeles Chargers at Baltimore
V-Picks: Chargers +3; Los Angeles wins
CBS1:00
Minnesota at Carolina 
V-Picks: Panthers +1.5; Carolina wins
FOX1:00
Green Bay at Chicago  
V-Picks: Packers -5; Green Bay wins
FOX1:00
Cincinnati at Detroit 
V-Picks: Bengals -3.5; Cincinnati wins
FOX1:00
Houston at Indianapolis 
V-Picks: Colts -10; Indianapolis wins
CBS1:00
Los Angeles Rams at New York Giants
V-Picks: Rams -9.5; Los Angeles wins
FOX1:00
Kansas City at Washington  
V-Picks: Chiefs -6.5; Kansas City wins
CBS1:00
Arizona at Cleveland  
V-Picks: Browns -3; Cleveland wins
FOX4:05
Las Vegas at Denver  
V-Picks: Broncos -3.5; Denver wins
CBS4:25
Dallas at New England  
V-Picks: Cowboys -3.5; Dallas wins
CBS4:25
Seattle at Pittsburgh 
V-Picks: Seahawks +5; Seattle wins
NBC8:20
Monday, October 18Buffalo at Tennessee 
V-Picks: Titans +5.5; Buffalo wins
ESPN8:15
   

Byes: Atlanta, New Orleans, New York Jets, San Francisco

Vince’s View: SEC Week 7 score predictions including Vols vs. Rebels with analysis

Vince’s View: SEC Week 7 score predictions including Vols vs. Rebels with analysis

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

Below are my Week 7 SEC football predictions.

This season, I’m sharing my picks both against the spread and straight-up.

Check back on my “Vince’s View” blog page for future posts including weekly SEC football and NFL game predictions. Bookmark my blog page and check back often.

Week 5 Straight-Up Record: 6-1 (86%)
Week 5 vs. Spread Record: 5-2 (71%)
2021 Season Straight-Up Record: 48-14 (77%)
2021 Season Straight-Up Record: 32-30 (52%)
2020 SEC Season Prediction Record Straight-Up: 66-12 (85%)

KNOXVILLE, TN – October 09, 2021 – Quarterback Hendon Hooker #5 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

FULL SLATE OF CONFERENCE GAMES IN WEEK 7

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 16
Auburn (4-2, 1-1 SEC) at Arkansas (4-2, 1-2 SEC)
Fayetteville, Ark. • Reynolds Razorback Stadium (72,000)
Noon ET • CBS
Series: AU leads, 18-11-1
Last: AU, 30-28 (2020 at Auburn)
CBS: Noah Eagle, Aaron Murray, Rick Neuheisel, Jenny Dell
Sirius: 111/81 • XM: 192/81
Point Spread: Arkansas -4
Vince’s View: KJ Jefferson is really playing well and gives Arkansas the QB advantage at home.
Vince’s Pick vs. the line: Arkansas -4
Score Prediction: Arkansas 35 Auburn 28

Florida (4-2, 2-2 SEC) at LSU (3-3, 1-2 SEC)
Baton Rouge, La. • Tiger Stadium (102,321)
Noon ET • ESPN
Series: UF leads, 33-31-3
Last: LSU, 37-34 (2020 at Gainesville)
ESPN: Sean McDonough, Todd Blackledge, Molly McGrath
ESPN Radio: Sean Kelley, Barrett Jones, Ian Fitzsimmons
Sirius: 85/138 • XM: 85/191
Point Spread: Florida -12
Vince’s View: The LSU body language in the whoopin’ it took at Kentucky was concerning. The Florida rushing attack should have a field day, even on the road.
Vince’s Pick vs. the line: Florida -12
Score Prediction: Florida 41 LSU 21

Texas A&M (4-2, 1-2 SEC) at Missouri (3-3, 0-2 SEC)
Columbia, Mo. • Faurot Field (62,621)
Noon ET • SEC Network
Series: TAMU leads, 8-7
Last: MIZ, 34-27 (2014 at College Station)
SECN: Taylor Zarzour, Matt Stinchcomb, Alyssa Lang
Sirius: 119/137 • XM: 202/190
Point Spread: Texas A&M -9
Vince’s View: Missouri is flawed, but there’s a huge concern of a letdown for the Aggies after upsetting. This will be a huge test for A&M having truly turned the season around.
Vince’s Pick vs. the line: Missouri +9
Score Prediction: Texas A&M 27 Missouri 20

Kentucky (6-0, 4-0 SEC) at Georgia (6-0, 4-0 SEC)
Athens, Ga. • Sanford Stadium (92,746)
3:30 p.m. ET • CBS
Series: UGA leads, 60-12-2
Last: UGA, 14-3 (2020 at Lexington)
CBS: Brad Nessler, Gary Danielson, Jamie Erdahl
Sirius: 138/81 • XM: 191/81
Point Spread: Georgia -23
Vince’s View: I think Kentucky will come back down to earth against the nation’s top-ranked team. Yes, Georgia’s handling the #1 ranking is a thing, but I believe that’s more of a fan concern than a team concern. I do think the number is a touch too big though, but we’ll know the better team throughout.
Vince’s Pick vs. the line: Kentucky +23
Score Prediction: Georgia 38 Kentucky 17

Vanderbilt (2-4, 0-2 SEC) at South Carolina (3-3, 0-3 SEC)
Columbia, S.C. • Williams-Brice Stadium (77,559)
4 p.m. ET • SEC Network
Series: SC leads, 26-4
Last: SC, 41-7 (2020 at Nashville)
SECN: Dave Neal, Deuce McAllister, Andraya Carter
Sirius: 111/137 • XM: 192/190
Point Spread: South Carolina -18.5
Vince’s View: That’s a lot of points for a struggling, low-scoring South Carolina team to cover. Then again, how do you have any belief in Vanderbilt, who hasn’t scored in two SEC massacres?
Vince’s Pick vs. the line: South Carolina -18.5
Score Prediction: South Carolina 24 Vanderbilt 0

Alabama (5-1, 2-1 SEC) at Mississippi State (3-2, 1-1 SEC)
Starkville, Miss. • Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field (61,337)
7 p.m. ET • ESPN
Series: UA leads, 83-18-3
Last: UA, 41-0 (2020 at Tuscaloosa)
ESPN: Joe Tessitore, Greg McElroy, Katie George
Sirius: 84/138 • XM: 84/191
Point Spread: Alabama -17
Vince’s View: This is clearly a get-focused game for Alabama. I think you’re see a dominant Tide team. If not, the flaws we’ve seen in this team will be real.
Vince’s Pick vs. the line: Alabama -17
Score Prediction: Alabama 42 Miss State 17

Ole Miss (4-1, 1-1 SEC) at Tennessee (4-2, 2-1 SEC)
Knoxville, Tenn. • Neyland Stadium (102,455)
7:30 p.m. ET • SEC Network
Series: UT leads, 44-19-1
Last: UM, 34-3 (2014 at Oxford)
SECN: Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers, Cole Cubelic
Sirius: 81/137 • XM: 81/190
Point Spread: Ole Miss -2.5
Vince’s View: So many storylines in this one with Lane Kiffin returning for the first time as a head coach, Checker Neyland, orange britches and the opportunity to elevate the season potential after two dominant SEC wins. Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker has been tremendous and the catalyst to the two game win streak. Hooker is #1 in the SEC and #5 in the nation in passing efficiency. One thing to watch is the possibility for Hooker to pass for 300 yards, which has been a rare mark since 2012. UT has only had 10 passing games of over 300 yards in the last 104 games. That’s only happened 5 times in the last 54 games. To keep-up with Ole Miss, that may need to happen today, especially if UT isn’t healthy at running back. I think this could be the game where injuries catch-up with the Vols. UT needs RB Tiyon Evans. These are the top two teams in plays per minutes in the country, so be ready. My concern with Ole Miss is that the Rebels defense has looked like last season’s D the last two games. Offense galore in Knoxville. A key stop or two and turnovers should swing a close game.
Vince’s Pick vs. the line: Ole Miss -2.5
Score Prediction: Ole Miss 45 Tennessee 41

Jimmy’s Blog: Kiffin still moves the needle in Knoxville

Jimmy’s Blog: Kiffin still moves the needle in Knoxville

By Jimmy Hyams

Lane Kiffin has coached twice in Neyland Stadium since his awkward departure for USC in January 2010.

But this is the first time the former Tennessee coach has come with a team as the head coach.

Love him or not, Lane Kiffin still moves the needle in Knoxville.

If you don’t believe it, how else do you explain Tennessee announcing a sellout of 102,455 on Tuesday when the Vols hadn’t sold 90,000 to a home game this year?

Tennessee has yet to have an actual attendance crowd of 70,000. You can bet it will be close to 100,000 Saturday night.

Ole Miss has helped with the sellout, buying 3,300 of its allotment from UT and fans buying thousands more on the open market. Don’t be surprised if about 10,000 Rebels fans are in the stands.

Kiffin did a good job at Tennessee in 2009. He guided the Vols to a 7-5 record, almost upset Alabama, blew out Georgia and South Carolina and earned a trip to the Chick-fil-A bowl. He also did a nice job resurrecting the career of quarterback Jonathan Crompton..

The narrative that he inherited a weak roster isn’t true. The Vols had two first-round draft choices (Eric Berry and Dan Williams) a second-round pick (Montario Hardesty) and three others drafted no later than the fifth round. That roster also included two others taken by the fifth round the next year: tight end Luke Stocker, receiver Denarius Moore.

The only game Kiffin lost that he shouldn’t have: UCLA.

Still, he was a fan favorite. That’s the reason there was a near riot on campus when it was learned he was leaving UT for USC.

Fans wouldn’t have been upset about him leaving if they didn’t like him. They certainly weren’t upset when Derek Dooley, Butch Jones and Jeremy Pruitt were fired.

Kiffin has proven to be an excellent offensive coordinator and play caller since leaving UT. His abilities as a head coach are yet to be determined.

If he can become a consistent eight-game winner at Ole Miss, my hat’s off to him.

Regarding Saturday’s night, here are some observations:

Is UT a top 25 team?

Kiffin says he believes Tennessee is a top 25 team and said he voted that way in the coaches’ poll.

“Two blowout SEC wins are hard to come by,’’ Kiffin said.

They have been for Tennessee in recent years. Yet, the Vols haven’t done enough to be ranked. They lost to two good teams: Pitt and Florida. They haven’t beaten decent opponent yet.

A win over No. 13 Ole Miss could put the Vols in the polls.

It would also ingratiate the Vol Nation even more to Josh Heupel, who has done a wonderful job maximizing UT’s roster. The Vols’ offense, run defense, effort and chemistry are to be applauded, especially when 44 different players could be on this team (UT lost 38 in transfer portal since start of last season, two took medical leaves and four asked out of their National Letter of Intent).

And a Heupel win in Year One at Tennessee would win over even more fans if he could beat Kiffin, who is in Year Two.

Both teams like to run

Tennessee is averaging 253.7 rush yards per game behind a make-shift offensive line and with multiple injuries to running backs. Tiyan Evans has been a surprise, as he ranks 4 th in the SEC in rushing.

Ole Miss averages 259.6 rush yards per game. They have a trio of fine backs, led by Jerrion Ealy, Snoop Connor (seven touchdowns) and Henry Parrish. And Matt Corral is an excellent runner; he already has eight rushing touchdowns.

If I voted today on the Heisman Trophy, Corral would get my nod.

As much as I like UT quarterback Hendon Hooker (275.75 total yards per game, 14 touchdowns accounted for in four starts) I have to give the edge to Corral.

Playing the `what if’ game

Kiffin was asked if he made a mistake leaving UT for USC in 2010.

He didn’t say yes, but he said he was told by USC officials that the Trojans would only get a slap on the wrist for the Reggie Bush debacle.

They got a two-year bowl ban, a 30-scholarship reduction and all juniors and seniors could transfer without having to sit out. That, Kiffin said, was as close to the death penalty as you can get.

Kiffin was famously fired on the airport tarmac during his fourth season at USC.

Would he have fared better without the NCAA sanctions? Certainly.

Would UT have done better in the decade after Kiffin departed if Kiffin had stayed? Absolutely. But how much better, no one knows for sure. He would have recruited well and been a thrown in the side to Georgia and Florida and Alabama.

But would he have ever won the East Division?

There’s no way to know.

Prediction

Tennessee’s defense is better than I expected. The run defense has been outstanding, for the most part, against teams without a really good running quarterback, like Florida.

One problem: Corral is a really good running quarterback.

Corral also has 12 touchdown passes against 0 interceptions. He threw 14 picks last year, 11 in two games (six against Arkansas, five against LSU).

Tennessee’s offense is also better than I thought: 41.5 points per game, No. 7 in the nation in rushing, No. 19 in total offense.

One problem: Ole Miss’ offense is even better. The Rebels average 46.2 points per game, and rank No. 5 in rushing, and No. 2 in total offense.

Several keys for Tennessee: Coral Corral; if he escapes the pocket, you’re in trouble. Also, third-and-fourth downs. Tennessee must win those conversion rates. And UT must avoid sacks. UT has been sacked an SEC-leading 20 times. And sacks on three straight second-half possessions helped kill drives against South Carolina.

Tennessee has been able to overcome quite a few injuries on offense and defense.

But I don’t think they can overcome not having Evans against Ole Miss.

I’m not 100% sure Evans won’t play, but if he does, I don’t think he’ll be 100%.

Score: Ole Miss 45 Tennessee 38

Sponsored by Big Kahuna Wings: The wings that changed it all

WATCH: Interview with Bellator MMA on Showtime Analyst Big John McCarthy on living in Knoxville, Vols & show 268

WATCH: Interview with Bellator MMA on Showtime Analyst Big John McCarthy on living in Knoxville, Vols & show 268

Here on my blog “Vince’s View” I bring you interviews as well as predictions and written posts.

I caught-up with legendary referee from the UFC and now terrific analyst for Bellator MMA on Showtime, Big John McCarthy, to preview this weekend’s show, Bellator MMA 268, at the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Watch that interview below.

Follow me on Twitter @VinceSports and see more of my broadcasting work at VinceSports.net. Thanks!

Big John McCarthy & Vince Ferrara / Credit: 99.1 The Sports Animal

Jimmy’s Blog: Tennessee’s fast starts have been impressive

Jimmy’s Blog: Tennessee’s fast starts have been impressive

By Jimmy Hyams / @JimmyHyams

Five things we learned about Tennessee after 45-20 rout of South Carolina.

*The Vols are fast starters.

UT has outscored South Carolina and Missouri 56-3 in the first quarter. It has also outscored those two SEC foes 83-17 in the first half. It has outscored six opponents 101-13 in the first quarter.

That might be the widest first-quarter margin of any team in the NCAA this season.

Why the fast starts?

Scripting plays has helped. The scouting report has helped. The efficiency of quarterback Hendon Hooker has helped. And being ready to play has helped.

Coach Josh Heupel has complained at times that his team doesn’t prepare properly in the 48 hours before kickoff. He couldn’t have any complaints about the last two games.

*The Vols can overcome a plethora of injuries.

Against South Carolina, Tennessee was without three defensive backs (Theo Jackson, Christian Charles, Deneiko Slaughter) two running backs (Jabari Small, Jaylen Wright) two defensive linemen (Elijah Simmons, Latrell Bumphus), two offensive linemen (Cooper Mays, Kingston Harris) a linebacker (Juwan Mitchell) and a few others.

Yet, Brandon Turnage, the Alabama transfer, replaced Jackson at nickelback and led the team in tackles with 14. The Vols ran for 247 yards against South Carolina while having to use a fourth-team running back. And the patched-up defense held the Gamecocks to one touchdown in the first half.

Also, during the South Carolina game, running back Tiyan Evans and offensive linemen Dayne Davis and Jackson Lampley went down with injuries.

Heupel and his staff had done a remarkable job implementing the “next-man up theory,’’ especially when you consider that UT is down 44 players from the start of last season that could be on the roster: 38 in the transfer portal, two that took medical leaves and four that were let out of their National Letter of Intent.

Even with all that attrition, UT still has 78 on scholarship, although Heupel lists 71 because he does not count the seven super seniors who are, indeed, on scholarship.

*The Vols need Tiyan Evans to beat Ole Miss.

Ole Miss has the best quarterback in the SEC in Matt Corral. It is averaging over 45 points per game. It scored 52 against Arkansas.

The Rebels, a four-point favorite, might score close to 50 against Tennessee’s better-than-expected defense.

That means UT has to score a ton of points. But the Vols can’t do it without a healthy Evans, who has emerged as one of the SEC’s top five running backs. He is averaging 97.2 rush yards per game and has had three 100-yard games. He has power, speed, balance and vision.

Evans could have a field day against Ole Miss’ defense, which surrendered 51 points and 324 rush yards to Arkansas. And it’s evident that UT’s run game drops off quite a bit without Evans in the backfield.

Evans left the South Carolina game in the second half with an undisclosed injury. Heupel said Evans could have returned but wasn’t needed. He will be needed against Ole Miss.

*Tennessee must play a clean game.

In losses to Pitt and Florida, the Vols had double digit penalties and lost the turnover battle to Pitt, 3-0.

In the past two SEC games, the Vols had no turnovers and four combined penalties.

That is a winning formula as UT outscored Missouri and South Carolina 107-44.

*Tennessee must avoid sacks.

The Vols scored touchdowns on their first four possessions against the Gamecocks. Counting the Missouri game, UT scored on 14 of 15 possessions with 12 touchdowns. That is mind-blowing.

That streak ended abruptly in the second half against South Carolina as UT punted on its first four possessions. The first drive was stopped on third-and-1. The other three were thwarted due to sacks.

Hendon Hooker was sacked six times. That’s far too many.

Sacks are usually drive killers, and UT can’t afford sacks if it wants to keep pace with Ole Miss’ high-powered offense.

Along those lines, first-down production could be a key. In the first half against South Carolina, UT gained 180 yards on 21 first-down snaps with 11 gains of 5 or more yards. In the second half, UT got 38 yards on 11 first downs with just four plays of 5 or more yards.

First-down efficiency can keep you out of third-and-long, which can lead to sacks.

Sponsored by Big Kahuna Wings: The wings that changed it all

Vince’s View: SEC Week 6 score predictions including Vols vs. Gamecocks with analysis

Vince’s View: SEC Week 6 score predictions including Vols vs. Gamecocks with analysis

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

Below are my Week 6 SEC football predictions.

This season, I’m sharing my picks both against the spread and straight-up.

Check back on my “Vince’s View” blog page for future posts including weekly SEC football and NFL game predictions. Bookmark my blog page and check back often.

Week 4 Straight-Up Record: 4-4 (50%)
Week 4 vs. Spread Record: 2-6 (25%)
2021 Season Straight-Up Record: 42-13 (76%)

2021 Season Straight-Up Record: 27-28 (49%)
2020 SEC Season Prediction Record Straight-Up: 66-12 (85%)

KNOXVILLE, TN – October 05, 2021 – Dark Mode Power T helmet taken in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

WEEK 6 IN THE SEC INCLUDES CBS DOUBLEHEADER

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 9

13 Arkansas (4-1, 1-1 SEC) at #17 Ole Miss (3-1, 0-1 SEC)
Oxford, Miss. • Vaught-Hemingway Stadium (64,038)
Noon ET • ESPN
Series: ARK leads, 37-28-1
Last: ARK, 33-21 (2020 at Fayetteville)
Sirius: 133/81 • XM: 191/81
Point Spread: Ole Miss -6
Vince’s View: The battle of the two not-ready-for-primetime previously undefeated SEC teams meet to get one team on track and the other in a losing streak. QB is the difference with Matt Corral over a banged-up KJ Jefferson.
Vince’s Pick vs. the line: Ole Miss -6
Score Prediction: Ole Miss 35 Arkansas 21

Vanderbilt (2-3, 0-1 SEC) at #20 Florida (3-2, 1-2 SEC)
Gainesville, Fla. • Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Spurrier-Florida Field (88,548)
Noon ET • SEC Network
Series: UF leads, 42-10-2
Last: UF, 38-17 (2020 at Nashville)
Sirius: 119/138 • XM: 235/190
Point Spread: Florida -38.5
Vince’s View: It’s so hard to lay all those points in a conference game. It’s even harder to believe in Vanderbilt, as bad as that team has been. Florida should be on-point coming off the loss at Kentucky.
Vince’s Pick vs. the line: Florida -38.5
Score Prediction: Florida 45 Vanderbilt 3

South Carolina (3-2, 0-2 SEC) at Tennessee (3-2, 1-1 SEC)
Knoxville, Tenn. • Neyland Stadium (102,455)
Noon ET • ESPN2
Series: UT leads, 27-10-2
Last: UT, 31-27 (2020 at Columbia)
Sirius: 137/135 • XM: 201/192
Point Spread: Tennessee -10.5
Vince’s View: This will be another gauge of how connected the team is to each other and the coaching staff, if the Vols handle this game with maturity. A loss would cancel out all the earned positivity. UT doesn’t want that for many reasons, including future ticket sales, desperately needed donations and recruiting. Hendon Hooker has been one of the most efficient QBs in the country. SC has been stingy on defense. The Gamecocks are one of the best in the country at creating turnovers. The Vols should be locked-in on keeping the South Carolina run game from finally busting out with a big game. They have several backs that have that potential and we’ve seen numerous SC backs have career performances vs. UT. I think Tennessee handles business well enough and takes care of business.
Vince’s Pick vs. the line: Tennessee -10.5
Score Prediction: Tennessee 31 South Carolina 13

2 Georgia (5-0, 3-0) at #18 Auburn (4-1, 1-1 SEC)
Auburn, Ala. • Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451)
3:30 p.m. ET • CBS
Series: UGA leads, 61-56-8
Last: UGA, 27-6 (2020 at Athens)
Sirius: 133/81 • XM: 191/81
Point Spread: Georgia -15.5
Vince’s View: Bo Nix’s heroics of last week won’t work against that dominant Georgia defense that’s allowed 13 points in 3 conference games. This will be a little more of a test for the Bulldogs offense. I think they pass that test easily.
Vince’s Pick vs. the line: Georgia -15.5
Score Prediction: Georgia 35 Auburn 10

North Texas (1-3) at Missouri (1-3, 2-3 SEC)
Columbia, Mo. • Faurot Field (62,621)
4 p.m. ET • SEC Network
Series: MIZ leads, 1-0
Sirius: 138 • XM: 190
Point Spread: Missouri -19
Vince’s View: North Texas can run the ball and they’ve created some turnover, but they rest has been a struggle bus for the Mean Green from Denton, Texas. Mizzou fired it’s DL coach after a pathetic overall team performance in the home rout at the hands of the Volunteers. It should be better today, even if it’s not pretty.
Vince’s Pick vs. the line: North Texas +19
Score Prediction: Missouri 28 North Texas 24

LSU (3-2, 1-1 SEC) at #16 Kentucky (5-0, 3-0 SEC)
Lexington, Ky. • Kroger Field (61,000)
7:30 p.m. ET • SEC Network
Series: LSU leads, 40-16-1
Last: LSU, 41-3 (2014 at Baton Rouge)
Sirius: 138/135 • XM: 190/192
Point Spread: Kentucky -3.5
Vince’s View: What to make of the LSU Tigers. Who knows. You see individual wow plays and talent, but the disappointing stretches continue. LSU is 128th in the country in rushing offense. QB Max Johnson had played well until last week. Too much is on his shoulders and UK’s defense should be too tough.
Vince’s Pick vs. the line: Kentucky -3.5
Score Prediction: Kentucky 27 LSU 20

1 Alabama (5-0, 2-0) at Texas A&M (3-2, 0-2 SEC)
College Station, Texas • Kyle Field (102,733)
8 p.m. ET • CBS
Series: UA leads, 11-2
Last: UA, 52-24 (2020 at Tuscaloosa)
Sirius: 81/133 • XM: 81/191
Point Spread: Alabama -18
Vince’s View: Alabama’s continued ability to adjust and improve is underrated impressive. Road wins in the SEC are hard. Florida played the Tide tight earlier this season. A&M doesn’t have the QB run threat and it isn’t played well on offense. This game will be easier than it should be, considering what the Aggies were expected to be this season.
Vince’s Pick vs. the line: Alabama -18
Score Prediction: Alabama 45 Texas A&M 14

OPEN: Mississippi State (3-2, 1-1 SEC)

NFL Week 5 Picks, Notes & Schedule: Record number of late-game heroics; two games featuring 3-1 teams

NFL Week 5 Picks, Notes & Schedule: Record number of late-game heroics; two games featuring 3-1 teams

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

Below are my NFL Week 5 predictions, straight and spread, with the full schedule of games. Plus, you’ll find some notes on this week’s games and the season courtesy of NFL Communications.

Listen to The NFL Report with John Wilkerson and two rotating Sports Animal hosts, including myself, every Sunday, 10am to 12:30pm ET on 99.1 The Sports Animal here in Knoxville and streaming here at 991TheSportsAnimal.com, the WNML app or on your smart speakers.

Week 4 Straight-Up Record: -9-7 (56%)
Week 3 Against The Spread Record: 6-10 (38%)

2021 Season Straight-Up: 37-27 (58%)
2021 Season Against The Spread: 29-35 (45%)
2020 Season Prediction Record Straight-Up: 181-88 (67%)

Cleveland Browns at Indianapolis Colts on August 17, 2019 in the preseason at Lucas Oil Stadium / Credit: Cleveland Browns Media Site

WEEK 5 NFL SCHEDULE

(All times Eastern)

Thursday, Oct. 7Los Angeles Rams at Seattle
V-Picks: Rams -2.5; Los Angeles wins
FOX/NFLN
/Amazon
8:20
   
Sunday, Oct. 10New York Jets vs. Atlanta (London)
V-Picks: Falcons -3; Atlanta wins
NFLN9:30 AM
Philadelphia at Carolina
V-Picks: Panthers -3; Carolina wins
FOX1:00
Green Bay at Cincinnati
V-Picks: Packers -3; Green Bay wins
FOX1:00
New England at Houston
V-Picks: Patriots -9; New England wins
CBS1:00
Tennessee at Jacksonville
V-Picks: Titans -4.5; Tennessee wins
CBS1:00
Detroit at Minnesota
V-Picks: Vikings -10; Minnesota wins
FOX1:00
Denver at Pittsburgh
V-Picks: Steelers PK; Pittsburgh wins
FOX1:00
Miami at Tampa Bay
V-Picks: Buccaneers -10; Tampa Bay wins
CBS1:00
New Orleans at Washington
V-Picks: Saints -2.5; New Orleans wins
CBS1:00
Cleveland at Los Angeles Chargers
V-Picks: Chargers -2; Los Angeles wins
CBS4:05
Chicago at Las Vegas
V-Picks: Raiders -5.5; Las Vegas wins
CBS4:05
San Francisco at Arizona
V-Picks: Cardinals -5.5; Arizona wins
FOX4:25
New York Giants at Dallas
V-Picks: Cowboys -7; Dallas wins
FOX4:25
Buffalo at Kansas City
V-Picks: Chiefs -2.5; Kansas City wins
NBC8:20
    
Monday, Oct. 11Indianapolis at Baltimore
V-Picks: Ravens -7; Baltimore wins
ESPN8:15

NFL CONTINUES UNPRECEDENTED LAST-MINUTE EXCITEMENT; TWO GAMES FEATURE A PAIR OF 3-1 TEAMS & LEAGUE RETURNS TO LONDON IN WEEK 5

Week in and week out, the NFL never disappoints.

The first four weeks of the 2021 schedule have produced more late-game drama than any other season to this point. Road teams are winning more than home teams. A quarterback leads the league in rushing touchdowns. And seven teams that missed the 2020 playoffs have at least a share of their division leads, including the ARIZONA CARDINALS (4-0), who enter play as the league’s only remaining undefeated team for the first time since 1974.

The Week 5 forecast calls for more of the same, with occasional waves of double-digit comeback wins, including a good chance of games decided by a field goal or less. Games ending on the last play are likely, so prepare accordingly. And set your alarm to wake up early on Sunday, because the NFL is back in London.

EDGE-OF-SEAT DRAMATICS: This season has already seen 15 games decided on a game-winning score in the final minute of regulation or in overtime, the most such games through the first four weeks of a season since at least the 1970 merger.

Twelve of those contests have been won on the last play of the game.

The most games decided on a game-winning score in the final minute of regulation or in overtime through Week 4, since 1970:

SEASONGAMES
202115
201214
201313
200313

Including two Week 4 overtime games, which gave both the NEW YORK GIANTS and NEW YORK JETS their first wins, at least one game has gone to overtime in each of the first four weeks of the season. This marks the fifth instance ever in which at least one game has gone to OT in each of the first four weeks. It also happened in 1979, 1983, 2002 and 2018.

CLOSE SHAVES: Through four weeks, 17 of 64 NFL games (26.6 percent) have been decided by three points or fewer. At this point in a season, that’s tied for the fourth-most in league history.

The most games decided by three points or fewer through four weeks in NFL history:

SEASONGAMES
201119
201818
199918
202117
201217
198817

BACK TO LONDON: This week, the NFL continues an important initiative by returning to international play. Sunday’s schedule starts early with the first of two international games on the 2021 schedule when the NEW YORK JETS (1-3) meet the ATLANTA FALCONS (1-3) at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London (9:30 AM ET/2:30 PM in the UK, NFL Network). Both the Falcons (2014) and Jets (2015) are making their second London appearances.

The NFL had played 28 regular-season games over 13 years (2007-19) until the pandemic kept all league contests in the United States last season.

BOUNCEBACK TEAMS: Through the first four weeks, 12 teams have at least three wins and seven of those teams were not in the postseason last year: ARIZONA (4-0), CAROLINA (3-1), CINCINNATI (3-1), DALLAS (3-1), DENVER (3-1), LAS VEGAS (3-1) and the LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (3-1).

  • Five teams that lost their season-openers – BALTIMORE (3-1), BUFFALO (3-1), CLEVELAND (3-1), DALLAS (3-1) and GREEN BAY (3-1) – have rebounded to win three straight games entering this week.

HOLDING ALL THE CARDS: The ARIZONA CARDINALS (4-0) can mark their best start in 47 years, since 1974, with a victory on Sunday against the SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (2-2) at State Farm Stadium (4:25 PM ET, FOX). The club enters this week as the NFL’s lone remaining undefeated team for the first time since Week 8 of that 1974 season, when the franchise, then based in St. Louis, started 7-0.

  • Arizona’s offense leads the NFL in both total yards per game (440.5) and points per game (35.0).
  • The Cardinals this season have opened 4-0 and scored at least 30 points with 400-or-more yards of offense in each of their first four games. Prior to this season, only three teams had done that, and each went to the Super Bowl: the 2013 Denver Broncos, 2007 New England Patriots and 2002 Oakland Raiders.
  • Three of Arizona’s wins this season have come on the road, and all have been by at least 12 points, including an impressive 37-20 triumph last week against the previously undefeated Rams.
  • The Cardinals have joined the 1980 San Diego Chargers as one of only two undefeated teams over the last 60 years to register three road wins in their first four games and win each by 12-or-more points.
  • This week, Arizona wide receiver DEANDRE HOPKINS (764 career receptions) needs one catch to surpass LARRY FITZGERALD (764) for the most receptions ever by a player prior to his 30th birthday. Hopkins will be 29 years and 126 days old on Sunday.
  • The 49ers, meanwhile, could start third-overall selection TREY LANCE at quarterback. If that happens, all five rookie quarterbacks taken in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft will have made their starting debuts.
  • San Francisco’s DEEBO SAMUEL leads the NFL with 490 receiving yards. In franchise history, only Pro Football Hall of Famer JERRY RICE (522 in 1995) collected more through the first four games of a season.

CHAMPIONSHIP REMATCHES: The BUFFALO BILLS (3-1) travel to play the KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (2-2) on Sunday Night Football (8:20 PM ET, NBC). It’s the ninth time in 10 seasons that teams who played in the most recent AFC Championship are meeting the following year. Over the previous eight rematches, the winner of the rematch game has gone on to the Super Bowl five times, winning the Lombardi Trophy in four of those seasons. And in that span, the only time the winner of the rematch did not make the playoffs, in 2018, the losing team in the rematch went on to win the Super Bowl.

The winners of the last eight rematches of the prior season’s AFC Championship Game:

SEASONREMATCHWINNING TEAM’S SEASON RESULT
2019Kansas City 23, New England 16KC won Super Bowl
2018Jacksonville 31, +New England 20JAX missed playoffs
2017New England 27, Pittsburgh 24NE Advanced to Super Bowl
2016New England 16, Denver 3NE won Super Bowl
2015New England 34, Indianapolis 27NE advanced to AFC Championship
2014New England 43, Denver 21NE won Super Bowl
2013New England 41, Baltimore 7NE advanced to AFC Championship
2012*Baltimore 28, New England 13BAL won Super Bowl
*Postseason game; +Went on to win Super Bowl

This week’s game also pits Buffalo’s No. 1-ranked defense in both points allowed per game (11.0) and yards allowed per game (216.8) against Kansas City’s top-ranked offense in yards per play (6.9). The Chiefs also rank second on offense in total yards per game (427.5) and tied for second (with Buffalo’s offense) in points per game (33.5).

Buffalo has scored at least 35 points in three consecutive games. The Bills, who registered shutouts in Weeks 2 and 4, are the third team since 1990 to record two shutouts in their first four games of a season, joining the Ravens in 2000 and Washington in 1991.

Chiefs quarterback PATRICK MAHOMES made his 50th career start last week and recorded five touchdown passes while wide receiver TYREEK HILL totaled 11 receptions for 186 yards and three touchdowns in the Chiefs’ win.

  • Mahomes has a 40-10 record (.800) as a starting quarterback and joined Pro Football Hall of Famer KEN STABLER (40-9-1) as the only quarterbacks whose career began in the Super Bowl era to win 40 of their first 50 career starts.
  • With five touchdown passes in Week 4, Mahomes became the fifth quarterback in NFL history to register at least three touchdown passes in each of his first four games of a season, joining TOM BRADY (first 10 games in 2007) and Pro Football Hall of Famers STEVE YOUNG (first five games in 1998), DAN MARINO (first four games in 1987) and KURT WARNER (first four games in 1999).
  • Mahomes became the first player with four games of at least five touchdown passes in his first 50 career starts and tied Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (four games) for the most such games by a player in his first five seasons all-time.
  • Mahomes has 25 career games with at least three touchdown passes and joined Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (33 games) as the only players with at least 25 such games in their first five seasons in NFL history.
  • Hill, who recorded his fifth-career game with at least 180 receiving yards, is the fifth player with five games with at least 180 receiving yards in his first six seasons in NFL history, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer LANCE ALWORTH (eight games), CHARLEY HENNIGAN (seven), Pro Football Hall of Famer ISAAC BRUCE (six) and ANTONIO BROWN (five).

ROAD SWEET HOME: NFL teams in road games this season are 33-31 (.516), continuing a trend of road-team success that began in 2019. Since the beginning of 2019, road teams are 284-290-2 (.495).

The seasons with the highest winning percentage by road teams through four weeks, since 1970:

SEASONWLTPCT
198333230.589
201935271.563
197830260.536
1971*26233.531
197226242.519
202133310.516
*Tie games did not count in winning percentage prior to 1972

Six clubs this season have at least two road wins through four weeks, including the DENVER BRONCOS (3-1), who put their 2-0 road record on the line this week against the PITTSBURGH STEELERS (1-3) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX).

  • Last week, Pittsburgh quarterback BEN ROETHLISBERGER threw his 400th career touchdown pass and became the eighth quarterback all-time to reach that milestone. Roethlisberger, who had 232 passing yards in Week 4, now has 61,381 career passing yards and also surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (61,361) for the sixth-most passing yards in NFL history.

SOFI HOSTS ANOTHER SPOTLIGHT GAME: Another week, another big game at SoFi Stadium. Next up is a clash of three-win teams when the CLEVELAND BROWNS (3-1) face the LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (3-1) on Sunday (4:05 PM ET, CBS).

  • Chargers quarterback JUSTIN HERBERT is 7-1 over his last eight starts, dating back to Week 14 last season.
  • Herbert needs 300 passing yards this week to register the 11th 300-yard passing game of his young career and surpass PATRICK MAHOMES (10 games) and Pro Football of Famer DAN MARINO (10) for the most by a player in his first two seasons.
  • Last week, Los Angeles running back AUSTIN EKELER recorded his 18th career touchdown reception to surpass DANNY WOODHEAD (17) for the most by an undrafted running back in the common-draft era.
  • Cleveland’s NICK CHUBB ranks second in the NFL with 362 rushing yards, playing the lead role in an offense that leads the NFL in rushing (177.0 yards per game).
  • On defense, Cleveland’s MYLES GARRETT leads the NFL with six sacks.

ESTABLISHED, BURGEONING STARS FACE OFF IN CINCY: In another battle of one-loss teams, the GREEN BAY PACKERS (3-1) head south to face the CINCINNATI BENGALS (3-1) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX).

Last week, Packers quarterback AARON RODGERS recorded three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) with no interceptions. He now has 420 career touchdown passes, tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (420) for the sixth-most all time.

Sunday is an intriguing matchup of Rodgers, the reigning league MVP, and Cincinnati’s JOE BURROW, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Burrow last week led the Bengals back from 14-point halftime deficit, finishing with 348 passing yards and two touchdowns. He has at least two touchdown passes in each of his first four games this season.

The first 14 NFL starts in the careers of Aaron Rodgers and Joe Burrow:

RODGERS, 2008BURROW, 2020-21
5-9-0Record5-8-1
63.5Completion Pct.66.9
3,470Passing Yards3,676
23Passing TD22
12Interceptions9
91.8Rating94.8

RAVENS HOST COLTS IN PRIMETIME: The INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (1-3) return to their franchise’s former home this week to face the BALTIMORE RAVENS (3-1) on Monday Night Football (8:15 PM ET, ESPN).

  • Last week, the Ravens rushed for 102 yards and now have at least 100 yards in 43 consecutive regular-season games, tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers (43 from 1974-77) for the longest such streak in NFL history.
  • Baltimore quarterback LAMAR JACKSON in four career starts on Monday Night Football has passed for 664 yards with eight touchdowns and no interceptions for a 111.9 passer rating. In those four starts, he’s also rushed for 388 yards on 38 carries (10.2 average) with two touchdowns.
  • Indianapolis has been stout against the run since the beginning of the 2020 season. The Colts rank third in rushing defense (95.2 yards per game) over that span. Over a longer stretch, since the beginning of 2018, the Colts have allowed a 100-yard rusher in only four of their past 52 games (DERRICK HENRY in all four games).

COMEBACK PLAYERS: The annual Comeback Player of the Year Award is meaningful because it’s the manifestation of a player’s ability to overcome personal adversity and return to contribute to his team’s on-field success. Two candidates for that award, running back SAQUON BARKLEY and quarterback DAK PRESCOTT, will be on the same field when the NEW YORK GIANTS (1-3) return to AT&T Stadium to face the DALLAS COWBOYS (3-1) on Sunday (4:25 PM ET, FOX).

  • Prescott last week threw four touchdown passes in the Cowboys’ win, his fifth career game with four-or-more touchdown passes.
  • Barkley, meanwhile, scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime last week. He finished with 126 scrimmage yards (74 receiving, 52 rushing), including a 54-yard touchdown reception that sparked an 11-point comeback in the fourth quarter.
  • Two rookie linebackers – New York’s AZEEZ OJULARI (3) and Dallas’ MICAH PARSONS (2.5) – are leading their respective teams in sacks. Last month, Ojulari became the first NFL rookie with at least one sack in each of his team’s first three games since TERRELL SUGGS in 2003.
  • Dallas cornerback TREVON DIGGS leads the NFL with five interceptions. Diggs is the fourth player since 1990 to record an interception in each of his team’s first four games of a season, joining DEVIN MCCOURTY (2019), BRIAN RUSSELL (2003) and OTIS SMITH (1995).
  • Giants quarterback DANIEL JONES leads the league among qualified players with 7.0 yards per carry (27 attempts, 188 yards, two touchdowns).

DUAL-THREAT QUARTERBACKS ON DISPLAY IN CAROLINA: Week 5 features five potential matchups of starting quarterbacks under the age of 27. One of those game is in Charlotte, where the PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (1-3) and JALEN HURTS square off with the CAROLINA PANTHERS (3-1) and SAM DARNOLD (1:00 PM ET, FOX).

  • Darnold leads all NFL players with five rushing touchdowns.
  • Last week, Darnold passed for 301 yards and totaled four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing). He became the first quarterback in NFL history to record five rushing touchdowns in his team’s first four games of a season.
  • Darnold, who also had two rushing touchdowns in Week 3, is the sixth quarterback since 1970 to record multiple rushing touchdowns in consecutive games.
  • Hurts, meanwhile, has 226 rushing yards, second among quarterbacks this season behind Baltimore’s LAMAR JACKSON (279).
WATCH: Xs & Os breakdown of Tiyon Evans’ 92-yd TD run & specifics on why Vols run game was so improved

WATCH: Xs & Os breakdown of Tiyon Evans’ 92-yd TD run & specifics on why Vols run game was so improved

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

Longtime college football assistant coach Don Mahoney, a former University of Tennessee assistant coach from 2013 to 2016, broke down Tennessee’s win over Missouri with me. He went to the dry erase “wipey” board for an Xs & Os analysis of the 92-yard TD run by Tiyon Evans. He also shared whether the Vols improved offense or Missouri’s bad defense should be the biggest takeaway from UT’s 62-24 win at Mizzou.

Don is a great football mind. He’s my color analyst for the KOC High School Football Game of the Week each Friday night on The Sports Animal, AM 990. Listen to all our completed game calls, commercial free HERE.

Highlights of the touchdown are from the University of Tennessee’s game highlights on YouTube. You can watch those full game highlights from the Tennessee win below as well.

Don Mahoney and Vince Ferrara – 99.1 The Sports Animal / Credit: 99.1 The Sports Animal

Jimmy’s blog: 5 things we learned about Tennessee

Jimmy’s blog: 5 things we learned about Tennessee

By Jimmy Hyams

Here are five things we learned about Tennessee after the 62-24 massacre at Missouri.  

  1. Hendon Hooker is clearly UT’s best quarterback

Hooker, who didn’t start until Joe Milton was hurt in Game 2, was outstanding against Missouri. The Virginia Tech transfer was 15 of 19 passing (one was dropped and one was a throwaway) for 225 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran 14 times for 74 yards and a score. Coming off an injury at Florida, Hooker wasn’t cleared to play until late in the week. But he led the Vols on scoring drives on nine of 10 possessions and it would have been 10 for 10 if not for a questionable call on a Tiyan Evans run. Hooker’s accuracy, running ability, decision making and coolness under fired have convinced me UT can score 30 points on every team it plays the rest of the season not named Alabama or Georgia. I rank him as the No. 7 QB in the SEC now – and he could move up the ladder.   

  1. UT’s run defense is really good, with one caveat.

Run defense was a concern entering this season. The Vols had allowed over 141.6 rush yards per game last year, surrendered at least 165 rush yards to six opponents and wasn’t sure after a coaching change which players would return. Turns out, several six-year seniors re-invested in the program and, turns out, the hire of defensive line coach Rodney Garner was critical. When not facing a team with a standout running quarterback, UT’s run defense has been outstanding. The Vols held Missouri to 74 yards – less than half the Tigers’ average. And against the four teams that didn’t have Emory Jones at quarterback, the Vols are allowing 59.3 rush yards per game and 1.88 yards per carry. Those numbers would rank first in the SEC – ahead of even Georgia — if you could take out the Florida game. UT faces only one other quarterback likely to run a dozen times in a game – Matt Corral at Ole Miss. That’s a good sign for UT’s run defense.      

  1. Tiyan Evans is a big-time SEC running back.

The junior college transfer made a huge splash in his Tennessee debut, rushing for 120 yards and a touchdown against lowly Bowling Green. He missed the Pitt game for a non-injury reason, then didn’t run hard in gaining just 41 yards against Tennessee Tech. After being called out by his position coach, Evans responded with 121 yards from the line of scrimmage at Florida and 156 yards and three touchdowns (almost four) on 15 carries against Missouri. He spearheaded a run game that mauled Missouri for 452 yards. Evans has speed, power, cutting ability, vision and toughness. And he now ranks third in the SEC in rushing per game (91.75) behind only Chris Rodriguez of Kentucky (122.4) and Brian Robinson at Alabama (94.75).  Even behind an average-at-best offensive line, Evans should rush for over 1,000 yards this season. He was the No. 1 rated junior college back in the country, and at Hartsville (S.C.) High School (home of Albert Haynesworth), he rushed for over 2,000 yards as a sophomore and junior and 1,400 more when moved to quarterback as a senior. He’s the real deal.   

  1. Velus Jones Jr. is effective in the slot

  Tennessee moved Jones to the slot against Missouri and made a concerted effort to get him the ball. It worked. Jones led the Vols with seven catches for 79 yards and a touchdown. Jones is dynamic in space, as evidenced by the fact he has more career kickoff return yards than any other active player on the FBS level. Look for Jones, a fifth-year senior who has never caught more than 24 passes in a season (USC in 2018) to emerge as UT’s leading receiver.   

  1. You can run the clock even if your base offense is high octane

  Tennessee went up-tempo in building a 45-10 halftime lead against Missouri. At one point UT had five touchdowns in about five minutes time of possession. But in the second half, there was no reason to go high octane. Milking the clock, keeping your defense off the field and limiting Missouri possessions was all that was needed to score a one-sided win. And that’s what UT did.   While still going no-huddle, UT ran the clock before snapping the ball. Instead of running 3.1 plays per minute, UT ran about 1.5 plays per minute. As a result, Tennessee had just four second-half possessions and Missouri had three (including one at the end of the game when the clock ran out). You can’t rally from 35 down if you only get three possessions. That was textbook clock management by the Vols.

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Vince’s View: SEC Week 5 score predictions including Vols at Tigers with analysis

Vince’s View: SEC Week 5 score predictions including Vols at Tigers with analysis

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

Below are my Week 5 SEC football predictions.

This season, I’m sharing my picks both against the spread and straight-up.

Check back on my “Vince’s View” blog page for future posts including weekly SEC football and NFL game predictions. Bookmark my blog page and check back often.

Week 4 Straight-Up Record: 6-2 (75%)
Week 4 vs. Spread Record: 4-4 (50%)
2021 Season Straight-Up Record: 38-9 (81%)

2021 Season Straight-Up Record: 25-22 (53%)
2020 SEC Season Prediction Record Straight-Up: 66-12 (85%)

GAINESVILLE, FL – September 25, 2021 – Quarterback Hendon Hooker #5 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the Florida Gators and the Tennessee Volunteers at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

SEC OPENS OCTOBER WITH SIX CONFERENCE GAMES

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 2
#8 Arkansas (4-0, 1-0 SEC) at #2 Georgia (4-0, 2-0 SEC)
Athens, Ga. • Sanford Stadium (92,746)
Noon ET • ESPN
Series: UGA leads, 11-4
Last: UGA, 37-10 (2020 at Fayetteville)
ESPN: Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Holly Rowe
Touchdown Radio: Brett Dolan, Gino Torretta
Sirius: 121/81 • XM: 191/81
Point Spread: Georgia -16.5
Vince’s View: I’ve been so impressed by how hard Arkansas plays and how well coached that team is in all phases, getting the most of their roster. Georgia’s defense is too good and that team is a new level of talent.
Vince’s Pick vs. the line: Arkansas +16.5
Score Prediction: Georgia 30 Arkansas 14

Tennessee (2-2, 0-1 SEC) at Missouri (2-2, 0-1 SEC)
Columbia, Mo. • Faurot Field (62,621)
Noon ET • SEC Network
Series: MIZ leads, 5-4
Last: UT, 35-12 (2020 at Knoxville)
SECN: Dave Neal, Deuce McAllister, Andraya Carter
Sirius: 103/132 • XM: 192/190
Point Spread: Missouri -2.5
Vince’s View: Hendon Hooker is expected to start for the Vols. The offense has been better with him. Will he be limited in the run game coming off of the injury that forced him out of the Florida game last week? Running the ball is going to be necessarily for UT, probably needing over 250 rush yards. Mizzou gives up an average of 270 yards per game on the ground. It should not just be yards, but attempts with the commitment to the run.

The Vols defense needs to be aware of where RB Tyler Badie is at all times. He’s Mizzou’s leading rusher and receiver. Badie is 5 receiving yards away from being the first player in program history with 1,000 career rushing and receiving yards. He averages 150 all-purpose yards per game, which is about 1/3 of Mizzou’s 483 yards of offense per game.

I think this game will be wild and high-scoring. This is a game where we will learn more about this coaching staff’s ability to scheme their way around deficiencies, weaknesses and injuries to find a way to get the most out of this team.

This game is also a culture test. If it’s as good as the players say it is this year, then the players will clean-up the penalties, the drops and the lack of focus that some of the players mentioned from the loss to the Gators. This roster isn’t good enough to keep having to overcome piles of mistakes.

Vince’s Pick vs. the line: Tennessee +2.5
Score Prediction: Tennessee 34 Missouri 31

#12 Ole Miss (3-0, 0-0 SEC) at #1 Alabama (4-0, 1-0 SEC)
Tuscaloosa Ala. • Bryant-Denny Stadium (101,821)
3:30 p.m. ET • CBS
Series: UA leads, 52-10-2
Last: UA, 63-48 (2020 in Oxford)
CBS: Brad Nessler, Gary Danielson
Compass Media Radio: T.J. Rives, Steve Beuerlein
Sirius: 121/81 • XM: 191/81
Point Spread: Alabama -14.5
Vince’s View: I’m going with Ole Miss to shock the world in a season of big upsets. I realize former Saban assistants are 0-for-23 against him. Ole Miss is 0-for-13 vs. AP #1 teams. I get all the numbers. Lane Kiffin knows Alabama so well and has an extra week (and I’m sure much more than that) to prepare.

Matt Corral is the best QB in the country. Dual threat QBs are the ones that at times give the Tide some issues. The Rebels have weapons in so many different skill spots.

The Rebels defense is improved from last season led by MLB Chance Campbell and DE Sam Williams.

A high scoring game where Alabama doesn’t have balance on offense will put a lot on Bryce Young’s shoulders.

The few times Alabama loses in the regular season, those more often come at home to teams with great quarterbacks. Don’t get me wrong, I think Alabama will the best team at season’s end. This is a one week perfect storm pick.

Vince’s Pick vs. the line: Ole Miss +14.5
Score Prediction: Ole Miss 42 Alabama 38

Troy (2-2) at South Carolina (2-2, 0-2 SEC)
Columbia, S.C. • Williams-Brice Stadium (77,559)
3:30 p.m. ET • SEC Network
Series: SC leads, 3-0
SECN: Taylor Zarzour, Matt Stinchcomb, Alyssa Lang
Sirius: 132 • XM: 190
Point Spread: South Carolina -6.5
Vince’s View: The Gamecocks don’t have the roster to win many SEC games, but SC should have enough to beat the Trojans.
Vince’s Pick vs. the line: South Carolina -6.5
Score Prediction: South Carolina 20 Troy 10

#10 Florida (3-1, 1-1 SEC) at Kentucky (4-0, 2-0 SEC)
Lexington, Ky. • Kroger Field (61,000)
6 p.m. ET • ESPN
Series: UF leads, 53-18
Last: UF, 34-10 (2020 at Gainesville)
ESPN: Bob Wischusen, Dan Orlovsky, Kris Budden
Sirius: 106/103 • XM: 235/182
Point Spread: Florida -7.5
Vince’s View: I think Kentucky will do the best job against the Florida run game this season, but the Gators will still get points and pull away late.
Vince’s Pick vs. the line: Florida -7.5
Score Prediction: Florida 31 Kentucky 21

Mississippi State (2-2, 0-1 SEC) at #15 Texas A&M (3-1, 0-1 SEC)
College Station, Texas • Kyle Field (102,733)
7 p.m. ET • SEC Network
Series: Tied 7-7
Last: TAMU, 28-14 (2020 at Starkville)
SECN: Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers, Cole Cubelic
Sirius: 81 • XM: 388/81
Point Spread: Texas A&M -7.5
Vince’s View: Miss State is inconsistent and Texas A&M has underachieved. The Aggies should be refocused and committed to the run game coming off the loss to Arkansas.
Vince’s Pick vs. the line: Texas A&M -7.5
Score Prediction: Texas A&M 28 Mississippi State 14

UConn (0-5) at Vanderbilt (1-3, 0-1 SEC)
Nashville, Tenn. • Vanderbilt Stadium (40,350)
7:30 p.m. ET • ESPNU
Series: VU leads, 2-1
ESPNU: Brian Custer, Kelly Stouffer
Sirius: 121 • XM: 191
Point Spread: Vanderbilt -14.5
Vince’s View: This is ugly. You’re welcome.
Vince’s Pick vs. the line: Vanderbilt -14.5
Score Prediction: Vanderbilt 31 UConn 14

#22 Auburn (3-1, 0-0 SEC at LSU (3-1, 1-0 SEC)
Baton Rouge, La. • Tiger Stadium (102,321)
9 p.m. ET • ESPN
Series: LSU leads, 31-23-1
Last: AU, 48-11 (2020 at Auburn)
ESPN: Joe Tessitore, Greg McElroy, Katie George
ESPN Radio: Sean Kelley, Barrett Jones, Ian Fitzsimmons
Sirius: 138/132 • XM: 202/190
Point Spread: LSU -3
Vince’s View: The quarterback position is the difference in this one. Max Johnson has been excellent. Auburn’s QB situation is up in the air and not great.
Vince’s Pick vs. the line: LSU -3
Score Prediction: LSU 35 Auburn 17

NFL Week 4 Picks & Notes: Dramatic endings, resurgent teams & young QBs

NFL Week 4 Picks & Notes: Dramatic endings, resurgent teams & young QBs

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

Below are my NFL Week 4 predictions, straight and spread, with the full schedule of games. Plus, you’ll find some notes on this week’s games and the season courtesy of NFL Communications.

Listen to The NFL Report with John Wilkerson and two rotating Sports Animal hosts, including myself, every Sunday, 10am to 12:30pm ET on 99.1 The Sports Animal here in Knoxville and streaming here at 991TheSportsAnimal.com, the WNML app or on your smart speakers.

Week 3 Straight-Up Record: 10-6 (63%)
Week 3 Against The Spread Record: 8-8 (50%)

2021 Season Straight-Up: 28-20 (58%)
2021 Season Against The Spread: 23-25 (48%)
2020 Season Prediction Record Straight-Up: 181-88 (67%)

AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX / Credit: Dallas Cowboys Media Website

WEEK 4 NFL SCHEDULE

(All times Eastern)

Odds are via WynnBet when available or VegasInsider’s consensus

Thursday, September 30Jacksonville at Cincinnati
V-Picks: Bengals -7.5; Cincinnati wins
NFLN8:20
   
Sunday, October 3Washington at Atlanta
V-Picks: Falcons +1.5; Atlanta wins
FOX1:00
Houston at Buffalo
V-Picks: Bills -17; Buffalo wins
CBS1:00
Detroit at Chicago
V-Picks: Lions +2.5; Detroit wins
FOX1:00
Carolina at Dallas
V-Picks: Panthers +4; Dallas wins
FOX1:00
Indianapolis at Miami
V-Picks: Colts +1.5; Indianapolis wins
CBS1:00
Cleveland at Minnesota
V-Picks: Browns -2; Cleveland wins
CBS1:00
New York Giants at New Orleans
V-Picks: Saints -7; New Orleans wins
FOX1:00
Tennessee at New York Jets
V-Picks: Titans -6.5; Tennessee wins
CBS1:00
Kansas City at Philadelphia
V-Picks: Chiefs -7; Kansas City wins
CBS1:00
Arizona at Los Angeles Rams
V-Picks: Rams -4; Los Angeles wins
FOX4:05
Seattle at San Francisco
V-Picks: 49ers -2.5: San Francisco wins
FOX4:05
Baltimore at Denver
V-Picks: Ravens +1; Baltimore wins
CBS4:25
Pittsburgh at Green Bay
V-Picks: Packers -6.5; Green Bay wins
CBS4:25
Tampa Bay at New England
V-Picks: Buccaneers -7; Tampa Bay wins
NBC8:20
    
Monday, October 4Las Vegas at Los Angeles Chargers
V-Picks: Chargers -3; Los Angeles wins
ESPN8:15

Like a poem written by Steve Sabol and narrated by John Facenda, complete with a score composed by Sam Spence, the 2021 NFL season somehow continues to get better as it rolls along.

Week 3 featured five games decided in the final minute of regulation or overtime. One of those contests ended with the longest field goal in NFL history, JUSTIN TUCKER’s 66-yarder to lift Baltimore. Eleven of 16 games in Week 3 were within one score (eight points) in the final quarter.

What’s in store for Week 4? Take a deep breath.

For starters, this week features a clash of undefeated NFC West rivals in Los Angeles, and TOM BRADY and ROB GRONKOWSKI returning to New England, where Brady needs 68 passing yards to break the NFL’s career record. ANDY REID returns to Philadelphia with an opportunity to become the first coach in NFL annals to win 100 games with one franchise and 100 with another.

If that’s not enough, how about a pair of resurgent division leaders, the CAROLINA PANTHERS (3-0) and DALLAS COWBOYS (2-1), at AT&T Stadium, or two of the most prolific passers in league history, BEN ROETHLISBERGER and AARON RODGERS, at Lambeau Field?

The week begins Thursday night with a primetime matchup of the last two No. 1 overall selections in the NFL Draft, JOE BURROW and TREVOR LAWRENCE, and it ends on Monday night when the head-turning LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (2-1) host the LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (3-0), off to their best start in 19 years.

Intermission is over, so get to your seats. Dim the house lights and cue the orchestra. Here comes Week 4.

LATE-GAME DRAMA: Through Week 3, NFL teams have scored the winning points in the final minute of the fourth quarter or in overtime on 11 occasions. Just one other year has produced more such games at this point of a season.

The seasons with the most games in which the winning points were scored in the final minute of the fourth quarter or in overtime through three weeks:

SEASONGAMES
201312
202111
201211
200311
199711

WORKING OVERTIME: For the first time since 2018, at least one NFL game has gone to overtime in each of the season’s first three weeks. The league has had overtime games in each of the first four weeks of a season on only four occasions: 2018, 2002, 1983 and 1979.

WILD, WILD NFC WEST: Five teams, including four that missed the playoffs last year (Arizona, Carolina, Denver and Las Vegas) are 3-0. Two of the undefeated teams are NFC West rivals that will meet at SoFi Stadium, where the ARIZONA CARDINALS (3-0) travel to clash with the LOS ANGELES RAMS (3-0) on Sunday (4:05 PM ET, FOX). Arizona is tied for the league lead with 34.3 points per game, while the Rams rank third with 31.7.

  • With a rushing touchdown on Sunday, Arizona quarterback KYLER MURRAY would become the first quarterback in NFL history to run for a touchdown in each of his team’s first four games of a season. Murray has rushed for a touchdown in each of his team’s first three games for the second season in a row. The only other quarterbacks with a rushing touchdown in each of their team’s first three games of a season since 1970 are Pro Football Hall of Famer TERRY BRADSHAW (1972) and CHARLIE FRYE (2006).
  • Murray, who passed for 316 yards in last week’s win at Jacksonville, aims to lead the Cardinals to their best start in nine years, when they opened 4-0 in 2012. The last time Arizona began 3-0 was 2015, when the Cardinals advanced to the NFC Championship Game.
  • The Rams’ COOPER KUPP leads the NFL in both receiving yards (367) and touchdown catches (five). He’s also tied for the league lead with 25 receptions.
  • Last week, Rams wide receiver DESEAN JACKSON recorded a 75-yard touchdown reception in the team’s win over Tampa Bay. He became the fifth player in the Super Bowl era to register 10 career touchdowns of at least 75 yards, joining DEVIN HESTER (14 touchdowns), DANTE HALL (11), JOSH CRIBBS (10) and TYREEK HILL (10).
  • Rams quarterback MATTHEW STAFFORD has established a blistering pace through his first three games with the Rams, ranking second in the league with a 129.8 passer rating and tied for second with nine touchdown passes. He’s only the sixth player since 1950 to throw nine-or-more touchdown passes in his first three starts with a team. If he throws for three more touchdowns on Sunday against the Cardinals, he would join elite company.

The players with the most touchdown passes in their first four starts with a franchise since 1950:

PLAYERTEAMYEAR(S)TD PASSES
Kurt WarnerHOFSt. Louis Rams199914
Patrick MahomesKansas City2017-1813
Brett FavreHOFN.Y. Jets200812
Mark RypienWashington198812
    
Matthew StaffordL.A. Rams20219*
*Entering Week 4

REUNION GAMES: Three notable individuals come back to their former NFL homes this week. Chiefs head coach ANDY REID makes a return to Philadelphia, where the Eagles (1-2) host Kansas City (1-2) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS). Meanwhile, Tampa Bay (2-1) is at New England (1-2), where the Buccaneers’ tandem of TOM BRADY and ROB GRONKOWSKI make a return to Foxboro on Sunday Night Football (8:20 PM ET, NBC).

  • For Reid, head coach of the Eagles from 1999-2012, it’s a second return trip, following his first game at Lincoln Financial Field with the Chiefs in 2013. Reid has won each of his two games against the Eagles, including a 2017 victory at Arrowhead Stadium. This week, Reid can become the first head coach in NFL history to win 100 games, including the postseason, with multiple franchises. He’s 99-45-0 in nine years with the Chiefs and was 140-102-1 in 14 years with the Eagles, including the postseason. Overall, Reid’s 239 career victories rank fifth all-time.
  • Reid is also one of just seven coaches to take multiple teams to the Super Bowl.

The seven head coaches to lead multiple franchises to Super Bowl appearances:

HEAD COACHTEAM, SUPER BOWL SEASON(S)TEAM, SUPER BOWL SEASON(S)
Don ShulaHOFBaltimore Colts, 1968Miami Dolphins, 1971-73, 1982, 1984
Bill ParcellsHOFNew York Giants, 1986, 1990New England Patriots, 1996
Dan ReevesDenver Broncos, 1986-87, 1989Atlanta Falcons, 1998
Dick VermeilPhiladelphia Eagles, 1980St. Louis Rams, 1999
Mike HolmgrenGreen Bay Packers, 1996-97Seattle Seahawks, 2005
John FoxCarolina Panthers, 2003Denver Broncos, 2013
Andy ReidPhiladelphia Eagles, 2004Kansas City Chiefs, 2019-20

For Brady, selected by the Patriots in the sixth round (199th overall) of the 2000 NFL Draft, his first return trip to New England figures to be historic. Brady, who enters the week with 80,291 career passing yards, needs just 68 more to break the NFL’s career record, held by DREW BREES (80,358).

The players with the most career passing yards in NFL history:

PLAYERTEAM(S)SEASONSPASSING YARDS
Drew BreesSan Diego Chargers, New Orleans2001-2080,358
Tom Brady*New England, Tampa Bay2000-2180,291
Peyton ManningHOFIndianapolis, Denver1998-201571,940
Brett FavreHOFAtlanta, Green Bay, N.Y. Jets, Minnesota1991-201071,838
Philip RiversSan Diego Chargers, Indianapolis2004-2063,440
Dan MarinoHOFMiami1983-9961,361
Ben Roethlisberger*Pittsburgh2004-2161,149
Eli ManningN.Y. Giants2004-1957,023
Matt Ryan*Atlanta2008-2156,474
Aaron Rodgers*Green Bay2005-2151,894
*Active   

Brady’s former head coach, the Patriots’ BILL BELICHICK, has not lost to the Buccaneers since Sept. 3, 2000. Brady and Belichick in 20 years with the Patriots (2000-19) won six Super Bowls and 17 division titles. Their combined 249 wins, including postseason, is the most ever by a coach and starting quarterback duo.

Quarterbacks in their first starts against head coaches with whom they won a Super Bowl in NFL history:

DATEQUARTERBACK, TEAMCOACH, TEAMYDSTDINTRATINGRESULT
09/11/1994Joe Montana,HOF Kansas CityGeorge Seifert, San Francisco20320101.0KC, 24-17
10/09/1994Jeff Hostetler, L.A. RaidersBill Parcells,HOF New England2501352.6LAR, 21-17
10/27/1996Troy Aikman,HOF DallasJimmy Johnson,HOF Miami36330127.0DAL, 29-10
11/01/1999Brett Favre,HOF Green BayMike Holmgren, Seattle1801426.8SEA, 27-7
10/16/2005Trent Dilfer, ClevelandBrian Billick, Baltimore1470153.1BAL, 16-3
10/26/2008Brad Johnson, DallasJon Gruden, Tampa Bay1221075.6DAL, 13-9
10/03/2021Tom Brady, Tampa BayBill Belichick, New England    ???

Gronkowski, selected by the Patriots in the second round (42nd overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft, ranks first in New England history with 79 touchdown receptions, second with 7,861 receiving yards and fifth with 521 career receptions.

AFC WEST SHOWDOWN TO CLOSE WEEKEND: Last week, the LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (3-0) overcame a 14-point deficit to defeat Miami, 31-28, in overtime and became the fourth team to win two overtime games within its first three games of a season, joining the 1995 Atlanta Falcons, 1995 Kansas City Chiefs and 1994 Detroit Lions. This week, the Raiders battle the LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (2-1) on Monday Night Football (8:15 PM ET, ESPN).

  • In the Raiders’ overtime win against Miami, quarterback DEREK CARR passed for 386 yards and two touchdowns with one interception for a 95.7 rating, leading the team to its first 3-0 start since 2002, when they advanced to the Super Bowl. Carr, who enters Week 4 with an NFL-best 1,203 passing yards, is the fourth player with at least 1,200 passing yards through his team’s first three games of a season in NFL history, joining TOM BRADY (1,327 passing yards in 2011), RYAN FITZPATRICK (1,230 in 2018) and Pro Football Hall of Famer KURT WARNER (1,221 in 2000).
  • Dating back to Week 16 of last season, Carr has recorded at least 325 passing yards in five consecutive games, joining RICH GANNON (six games with the Raiders in 2002), DREW BREES (five games with the Saints in 2011) and Pro Football Hall of Famer KURT WARNER (five games with the Rams in 2000 and five games with the Cardinals in 2008) as the only players to pass for 325 yards in five straight games in NFL history.
  • The Raiders lead the NFL with 471.0 total yards of offense per game.
  • Last week in a win at Kansas City, Chargers quarterback JUSTIN HERBERT passed for 281 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions for a 125.0 rating, including the game-winning touchdown pass with 32 seconds remaining. Herbert became the fifth player in the Super Bowl era to record five games with at least three touchdown passes and zero interceptions in his first two seasons, joining LAMAR JACKSON (six games), Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (six), PATRICK MAHOMES (five) and DAK PRESCOTT (five).

STIFF TEST ON TAP FOR COWBOYS: Four games this week feature two teams with at least two wins, including the CAROLINA PANTHERS (3-0) at the DALLAS COWBOYS (2-1) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX).

  • The Panthers are 3-0 for the first time since they opened 14-0 in 2015 en route to a berth in Super Bowl 50. Carolina’s defense leads the NFL in fewest total yards allowed per game (191.0) and ranks second in fewest points allowed per game (10.0).
  • Panthers quarterback SAM DARNOLD is 8-2 in 10 career starts when passing for at least 270 yards, including 3-0 this season.
  • Carolina linebacker HAASON REDDICK has 12 sacks over his past seven games, dating back to Week 14 of last season. Prior to Reddick, the last player with that many sacks over a seven-game span was Rams defensive lineman AARON DONALD, who registered 12.5 over a seven-game stretch in 2018.
  • Last week, Dallas quarterback DAK PRESCOTT completed 21 of 26 passes for 238 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 143.3 rating. He now has 20 career games with three-or-more touchdown passes.
  • The Cowboys, who lead the NFL with eight takeaways and are tied for first with a plus-five turnover margin, have at least two takeaways in seven straight games (dating to Week 14 of last season), the longest active streak in the league.
  • Dallas cornerback TREVON DIGGS is tied for the NFL lead with three interceptions, while two Cowboys rookies, linebacker MICAH PARSONS and defensive tackle OSA ODIGHIZUWA, are tied for the team lead with 1.5 sacks.

DERBY CITY PIPELINE: Starting quarterbacks from the University of Louisville, both first-round draft choices selected 32nd overall, will lead their teams when the BALTIMORE RAVENS (2-1) meet the DENVER BRONCOS (3-0) on Sunday (4:25 PM ET, CBS). Baltimore’s LAMAR JACKSON, selected at the end of the first round by the Ravens in 2018, and Denver’s TEDDY BRIDGEWATER, taken by the Vikings to close the first round in 2014, both hail from South Florida.

  • In 40 career starts, Jackson now has 90 touchdowns (70 passing, 20 rushing) and joined PATRICK MAHOMES (107 touchdowns) and Pro Football Hall of Famers DAN MARINO (95) and KURT WARNER (91) as the only quarterbacks with at least 90 combined passing and rushing touchdowns in their first 40 career starts.
  • Last week as time expired in Detroit, Baltimore kicker JUSTIN TUCKER converted a game-winning 66-yard field goal, the longest field goal in NFL history. Tucker, who also converted a 50-yard field goal in the third quarter last week, has seven career games with multiple 50-yard field goals, tied with BRANDON MCMANUS (seven games) and MATT PRATER (seven) for the most such games in NFL history.
  • Tucker is now 20-for-20 on career field goals attempted either in overtime or the final minute of the fourth quarter.
  • In the league rankings, Baltimore is first with 185.3 rushing yards per game while Denver’s defense is second against the run, allowing just 59.3 rushing yards per game.
  • Denver, which also leads the NFL in fewest points allowed per game (8.7), is off to its best start since opening 4-0 in 2016.
  • Sunday’s game is a rematch of a thrilling 2012 AFC Divisional playoff in Denver, won by the Ravens, 38-35, on JUSTIN TUCKER’s 47-yard field goal in double overtime. With 31 seconds remaining in regulation, Tucker’s extra point knotted the game, following Joe Flacco’s 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones. Baltimore used the win as a springboard to a victory in Super Bowl XLVII three weeks later.

LEGENDS AT LAMBEAU: Sunday’s game between the PITTSBURGH STEELERS (1-2) and the GREEN BAY PACKERS (2-1) at Lambeau Field (4:25 PM ET, CBS) is significant because it comes more than a decade after starting quarterbacks BEN ROETHLISBERGER and AARON RODGERS met in Super Bowl XLV. This week’s contest will mark the first time two starting quarterbacks have met 11-or-more seasons after a Super Bowl matchup. Prior to this week, the longest stretch was 10 years, when Roethlisberger and MATT HASSELBECK met on Dec. 6, 2015, 10 years after they squared off in Super Bowl XL.

  • Rodgers ranks seventh in NFL history with 418 career touchdown passes and this week can advance to No. 5 on the all-time list. Against Pittsburgh, he can surpass Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (420) and PHILIP RIVERS (421). Rodgers also ranks 10th all-time in passing yards (51,894) entering Week 4.
  • Roethlisberger has 399 career touchdown passes and can become the eighth quarterback all-time to reach 400. He also has 61,149 career passing yards and can surpass Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (61,361) for the sixth-most passing yards in NFL history.
  • Last week, Pittsburgh rookie running back NAJEE HARRIS totaled 14 receptions for 102 yards. Harris’ 14 catches tied SAQUON BARKLEY (Sept. 16, 2018) and ROY HELU (Nov. 6, 2011) for the most single-game receptions by a rookie running back in NFL history.

ALLEN WRENCH: The BUFFALO BILLS (2-1) host the HOUSTON TEXANS (1-2) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS) in a rematch of an exciting 2019 Wild Card playoff. In that contest, Buffalo quarterback JOSH ALLEN put the Bills on the board by catching a 16-yard touchdown pass and wound up with 92 rushing yards and 264 passing yards, but Houston stormed back with timely plays, including a fourth-quarter sack and forced fumble by the Texans’ WHITNEY MERCILUS, and Houston prevailed in overtime, 22-19.

  • Since that game, Allen has led the Bills to a 17-5 record, including the postseason.
  • Last week, Allen passed for 358 yards and four touchdowns, and added one rushing touchdown in the Bills’ win over Washington. Allen became the fourth player in NFL history to record multiple career games with at least 300 passing yards, four touchdown passes and one rushing touchdown, joining DREW BREES (four games), AARON RODGERS (three) and Pro Football Hall of Famer PEYTON MANNING (two). Allen’s first such game was Week 3 of the 2020 season, when he registered 311 passing yards with four touchdown passes and one rushing touchdown.
  • Plus, among players in their first four NFL seasons, Allen is the fifth player ever to record five games with at least 300 passing yards and four touchdown passes. Only PATRICK MAHOMES (nine games), Pro Football Hall of Famers DAN MARINO (nine) and KURT WARNER (six), and ANDREW LUCK (six) have accomplished the feat during their first four years in the league.
Jimmy’s Blog: Two projects will reduce Neyland Stadium capacity next year

Jimmy’s Blog: Two projects will reduce Neyland Stadium capacity next year

By Jimmy Hyams

Tennessee still lists Neyland Stadium’s capacity at 102,455, but there is a good chance it could dip into five figures for next season.

Tennessee is going to eliminate an untold amount of seats when it installs a party deck in the North end zone and club seats in the lower West end.

Tennessee athletic director Danny White said during a Tuesday appearance on SportsTalk on 99.1 The Sports Animal, that those two projects will reduce stadium capacity.

One of the things I keep saying in our meetings, ” White said, I don’t want to be the person that determines how important being over or under 100,000 is. That’s going to be a topic of conversation as we engage in survey work and focus groups with football season-ticket holders.

“I’d like to know what our fans think about that. I need more analysis of what attendance looked like when we were good. We certainly don’t want to reduce too much and wish we had more seats when we get good again because we have every intention of doing that and competing for SEC and national championships.

“But there’s kind of a give and take there for the types of amenities we know fans want. The North end zone party deck and lower West club, there is seat reduction there. How much … is something we’ll be working on in coming months.’’

White said the two projects will start after the season concludes, but he isn’t sure how much capacity will be reduced.

“For this year, it’s 102,455,’’ White said.

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Jimmy’s Blog: White explains opt out with Army

Jimmy’s Blog: White explains opt out with Army

By Jimmy Hyams

Tennessee athletic director Danny White said he concurred with the decision for the Vols to drop Army from the 2022 football schedule, but he said that agreement was in place well before he was hired.

Under former athletic Dave Hart, UT signed a contract in 2016 to play the Cadets in 2022. Army would get paid $1.4 million. The buyout fee would be $500,000.

Former athletic director Phillip Fulmer and then football coach Jeremy Pruitt began discussing opting out in 2018, White said, because Army runs a triple-option offense, unlike any other SEC team.

“It was all about style of play,’’ White said Tuesday on SportsTalk on 99.1 The Sports Animal during his every-other-week appearance.

“I agree with the thinking. … Nobody (in the SEC) plays that style of play with the option. … It doesn’t make sense for a program that’s trying to rebuild like we are to play that game at that time. Army understands that. I’ve had correspondence with their athletic director. We’ve been transparent with them. They’re in a great place. We’re in a great place.

“Verbally the game had already changed long before I ever stepped foot in Knoxville.

“I rubber stamped it. We executed the contract this past spring. I think it’s the right thing to do for our football program as we continue to rebuild it and get back where we want to be.’’

White said he doesn’t recall if he discussed the issue with head coach Josh Heupel.

Rather than face Army next year, Tennessee will play Akron, which will be paid $1 million. Thus, UT will lose $100,00 in the transaction.

White said not signing the opt-out contract with Army would have made scheduling harder because “all the other games had been arranged.’’

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Vince’s View: SEC Week 4 picks including Vols at Gators with analysis

Vince’s View: SEC Week 4 picks including Vols at Gators with analysis

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

Below are my Week 4 SEC football predictions.

This season, I’m sharing my picks both against the spread and straight-up.

Check back on my “Vince’s View” blog page for future posts including weekly SEC football and NFL game predictions. Bookmark my blog page and check back often.

Week 3 Straight-Up Record: 11-1 (92%)
Week 3 vs. Spread Record: 7-5 (58%)
2021 Season Straight-Up Record: 32-7 (82%)

2021 Season Straight-Up Record: 21-18 (54%)
2020 SEC Season Prediction Record Straight-Up: 66-12 (85%)

KNOXVILLE, TN – September 18, 2021 – Quarterback Hendon Hooker #5 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles and the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 25
LSU (2-1, 0-0 SEC) at Mississippi State (2-1, 0-0 SEC)
Series: LSU leads, 75-36-3
Noon ET • ESPN
Last: MSU, 44-34 (2020 at Baton Rouge)
Starkville, Miss. • Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field (61,337)
Sirius: 99/136• XM: 192/191
Point Spread: LSU -1.5
Vince’s Pick vs. the line: LSU -1.5
Score Prediction: LSU 31 Miss State 13

Missouri (2-1, 0-1 SEC) at Boston College (3-0)
Series: First Meeting
Noon ET • ESPN2
Chestnut Hill, Mass. • Alumni Stadium (44,500)
Sirius: 133 • XM: 207
Point Spread: Boston College -1
Vince’s Pick vs. the line: Missouri +1
Score Prediction: Missouri 34 Boston College 31

Georgia (3-0, 1-0 SEC) at Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-0 SEC)
Series: UGA leads, 58-20-2
Noon ET • SEC Network
Last: UGA, 30-6 (2019 in Nashville)
Nashville, Tenn. • Vanderbilt Stadium (40,350)
Sirius: 81/135 • XM: 81/190
Point Spread: Georgia -37
Vince’s Pick vs. the line: Georgia -37
Score Prediction: Georgia 45 Vanderbilt 0

Texas A&M (3-0, 0-0 SEC) vs. Arkansas (3-0, 0-0 SEC)
Series: ARK leads, 41-33-3
3:30 p.m. ET • CBS
Last: TAMU, 42-31 (2020 at College Station)
Arlington, Texas • AT&T Stadium (86,798)
Sirius: 136/135 • XM: 191/190
Point Spread: Texas A&M -4.5
Vince’s Pick vs. the line: Texas A&M -4.5
Score Prediction: Texas A&M 27 Arkansas 21

Georgia State (2-2) at Auburn (2-1, 0-0 SEC)
Series: First Meeting
4 p.m. ET • SEC Network
Auburn, Ala. • Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451)
Sirius: 81 • XM: 81
Point Spread: Auburn -27
Vince’s Pick vs. the line: Auburn -27
Score Prediction: Auburn 49 Georgia State 10

Tennessee (2-1, 0-0 SEC) at Florida (2-1, 0-1 SEC)
Series: UF leads, 30-20
7 p.m. ET • ESPN
Last: UF, 31-19 (2020 at Knoxville)
Gainesville, Fla. • Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Spurrier-Florida Field (88,548)
Sirius: 99/84 • XM: 192/84
Point Spread: Florida -19
Vince’s View: On defense, Star DB Theo Jackson, LEO Byron Young and LEO Tyler Baron on UT’s edges at the line of scrimmage are going to be important if the Vols are going to have a chance in this game. They have to sure tacklers, aggressive getting vertical and know what they are seeing with Florida’s effective rushing attack. Florida’s offensive line has been one of the big surprises for the Gators. QB Emory Jones, despite the 2 TDs and 5 INTs, has still played better than many expected. Getting Anthony Richardson back as a second QB will add to the difficult task for Tennessee’s defense. UT’s rush stats have been great against the run this season, but that’s versus bad running teams. This game will prove a lot in that area and for where the program is overall in Heupel’s first year.

Tennessee has had more life in the offense with Hooker at quarterback. I think Hendon Hooker will start with previous starter Joe Milton III not seemingly full-go at practice. Hooker is a more willing runner than Milton and has seemed to be more decisive. The problem is, despite the experience and the positives, Hooker has been more prone to turn the ball over. If that continues, and Milton is available/ready to play, I think you may see a short leash back to Milton, especially if UT is behind.

UT has got to find a way to get the non-QB run game going again. In addition, the Vols have to make plays in the passing game against an improved, but not dominant, Florida defense.

Here’s how rare big passing days by Tennessee quarterbacks have been in recent years, courtesy of ESPN, SEC Network and 99.1 The Sports Animal statistician, Jeff Muir.

UT had 6 300-yard passing games in 2012 (12 games), all by Tyler Bray. It has 10 from 2013-20 (8 years & 3 games in 9th year, 101 games) and five in the last 51 games.

There have been 8 individual 300-yard passing games in that span (5-Joshua Dobbs, 3-Jarrett Guarantano) along with two combined 300-yard passing games:

VU 2020 – 328 yards (Harrison Bailey 207, J.T. Shrout 90, Paxton Brooks 31) & SC 2019 – 351 yards (Jarrett Guarantano 229, J.T. Shrout 122)

The bottom line is, Tennessee absolutely must play better than it has at any point in the first three games and sustain that play. Anything less than a Florida disinterested effort or a gators in-game meltdown, it will take the best version of the Vols, that we haven’t seen yet, for the Vols to pull the upset. With so much health, QB and handling road environment uncertainty with Tennessee, I think Florida wins by a couple of scores. I do expect UT to fight and playing hard.

Vince’s Pick vs. the line: Tennessee +19
Score Prediction: Florida 35 Tennessee 17

Kentucky (3-0, 1-0 SEC) at South Carolina (2-1, 0-1 SEC)
Series: SC leads, 18-13-1
7 p.m. ET • ESPN2
Last: UK, 41-18 (2020 at Kentucky)
Columbia, S.C. • Williams-Brice Stadium (77,559)
Sirius: 136/135 • XM: 191/190
Point Spread: Kentucky -4.5
Vince’s Pick vs. the line: Kentucky -4.5
Score Prediction: Kentucky 23 South Carolina 13

Southern Miss (1-2) at Alabama (3-0, 1-0 SEC)
Series: UA leads, 35-6-2
7:30 p.m. ET • SEC Network
Tuscaloosa Ala. • Bryant-Denny Stadium (101,821)
Sirius: 81 • XM: 81
Point Spread: Alabama -45
Vince’s Pick vs. the line: Alabama -45
Score Prediction: Alabama 56 Southern Miss 3

Open: Ole Miss (3-0, 0-0 SEC)

Vince’s View: NFL Week 3 Picks

Vince’s View: NFL Week 3 Picks

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

Below are my NFL Week 3 predictions, straight and spread, with the schedule

Listen to The NFL Report with John Wilkerson and two rotating Sports Animal hosts, including myself, every Sunday, 10am to 12:30pm ET on 99.1 The Sports Animal here in Knoxville and streaming here at 991TheSportsAnimal.com, the WNML app or on your smart speakers.


Dolphins WR Preston Williams / Credit: Miami Dolphins media site

Week 2 Straight-Up Record: 9-7 (56%)
Week 2 Against The Spread Record: 8-8 (50%)

2021 Season Straight-Up: 18-14 (56%)
2021 Season Against The Spread: 15-17 (47%)
2020 Season Prediction Record Straight-Up: 181-88 (67%)


WEEK 3 NFL SCHEDULE

(All times Eastern)

Thursday, September 23Carolina at Houston
V-Picks: Panthers -8; Carolina wins
NFLN8:20
    
Sunday, September 26Washington at Buffalo
V-Picks: Bills -7.5; Buffalo wins
FOX1:00
Chicago at Cleveland
V-Picks: Bears +7; Cleveland wins
FOX1:00
Baltimore at Detroit
V-Picks: Ravens -8.5; Baltimore wins
CBS1:00
Arizona at Jacksonville
V-Picks: Cardinals -7; Arizona wins
FOX1:00
Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City
V-Picks: Chiefs -6.5; Kansas City wins
CBS1:00
New Orleans at New England
V-Picks: Patriots -3; New England wins
FOX1:00
Atlanta at New York Giants
V-Picks: Falcons +3; Atlanta wins
FOX1:00
Cincinnati at Pittsburgh
V-Picks: Steelers -3; Pittsburgh wins
CBS1:00
Indianapolis at Tennessee
V-Picks: Titans -5.5; Tennessee wins
CBS1:00
New York Jets at Denver
V-Picks: Broncos -10.5; Denver wins
CBS4:05
Miami at Las Vegas
V-Picks: Raiders -4; Las Vegas wins
CBS4:05
Tampa Bay at Los Angeles Rams
V-Picks: Rams +1; Los Angeles wins
FOX4:25
Seattle at Minnesota
V-Picks: Seahawks -1.5; Seattle wins
FOX4:25
Green Bay at San Francisco
V-Picks: 49ers -3.5; San Francisco wins
NBC8:20
    
Monday, September 27Philadelphia at Dallas
V-Picks: Cowboys -4; Dallas wins
ESPN8:15
Jimmy’s blog: Garner issues warning: Big men can’t run out of gas

Jimmy’s blog: Garner issues warning: Big men can’t run out of gas

By Jimmy Hyams

Tennessee has already played 14 defensive linemen in three games.

Whether that’s a testament to the Vols’ depth or strictly a fresh-body philosophy is debatable.

Perhaps it’s both.

But one thing is clear: Defensive line coach Rodney Garner believes big men need a break during a game, because if the battery runs low, there is no re-charging.

“The one thing about big men,’’ Garner said, “if you let them get out of gas, there is no refueling them in the game. I mean, it’s over, you better get ready for the next week. So, our plan is to try and keep those guys from running out of gas so we can play the fourth quarter like we played the first quarter.

“We’ve got to keep fuel in the tank, there’s no refueling. If we let them gas out, it’s over, so just trying to develop that quality depth.’’

Tennessee’s run defense has been extraordinary this season, allowing just 54.3 yards per game and 1.7 yards per rush.

But that was against three teams not exactly adept at running the ball.

The Gators are a different animal. They rank second in the nation in rush offense (335.7) and churned out 245 yards against a stout Alabama defense.

What makes Florida’s run game so problematic are the quarterbacks. Backup Anthony Richardson is averaging 25 yards per carry in two games (11 for 275) with two runs of over 70 yards.

Starter Emory Jones has 231 yards on 42 carries, 5.5 per attempt.

The leader among running backs is Malik Davis at 212 yards.

“They’re a two-headed monster,’’ Garner said. “They’re both very good. They’re both dynamic runners. Actually 15 (Richardson), may be more dynamic, as far as pure elite speed. But Emory is a seasoned veteran, he’s got three years in that system, so he totally understands what (coach Dan) Mullen is trying to do. They do a great job with power, the counter reads, and they don’t put them in situations for them to beat them.

“They give them situations that are conducive to them being successful, via the RPO’s off the run. Then you throw in the quarterback run, which now they’ve got an extra guy we can’t account for with hats. So, it makes us have to make sure that we’re being really dialed in and detailed to doing all of the little things correctly.”
You would think Garner would be elated with UT’s run defense and tackles for loss (29). Not so.

“When you sit there and look at the film, you see a lot of plays that you leave out there every game, missed tackles, missed sack opportunities,’’ Garner said.

“We’ve got to keep straining. We’ve got to strain harder and we’ve got to be able to finish plays. There are many missed sack opportunities where we could have had sacks. There are many more TFL opportunities where we should have made the tackle, instead of having missed tackles. … I think when you look at the film there is a lot of stuff every week that we can do to get better.’’

Garner wants maximum effort whether UT is playing a contender or a pretender.

He was fuming at times during Tennessee’s 56-0 rout of Tennessee Tech last Saturday.

“I was spasming out on the sideline in that game,’’ he said, “but I just didn’t think they played with an edge, weren’t razor sharp. I don’t want to just go through the motions, you know what I mean? We’re trying to sharpen our blade every time we go out there. Our reputation is on the line, that’s what I try to tell them. We walk on that field, our reputation is on the line.”

While there is plenty of room for improvement, defensive end Ja’Quain Blakely believes the Vols are immensely better along the front four than a year ago.

“There’s a tremendous difference in the d-line this year than it was last year,’’ Blakely said. “I think it’s just because we’re all buying into the program. Coach Garner is a guy that expects the best out of you and is going to get the best out of you no matter how you feel.”

Blakely said UT’s run defense is playing “vertical’’ with “relentless pursuit, just playing strong up front is the key.’’

Even Garner admits his unit has made strides since the spring.

“I think we’re moving the needle in the right direction,’’ Garner said. “But every week, it’s a new challenge. And the challenge is, are we going to be better this week than we were last week? That’s what we said when we started on this journey, that we want to be better each day of practice. Each game, we want to see improvement and making strides to get where we want to be.

“It’s like climbing Mount Everest, we’re not going to be there overnight. We know it’s a process, but we’ve got to embrace the process.’’

What’s been the key to UT’s run defense so far?

“I think we got the kids playing hard,’’ Garner said. “They’re playing for one another. We’re playing vertically for the most part. We’re trying to create knockbacks. When you’re getting 10 and 11 hats to the ball, you have an opportunity to be successful.

“Just playing with more of an edge, even improving our fundamentals with our hat placement, hand placement and our pad level. Just disengaging and tearing off our blocks, just doing all the little things that it is going to take when you get in conference play.’’

Tennessee is now in conference play.

And it will take a Sampson-like effort to slay the Gators.

And they’re at it, they better not run out of gas.


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Jimmy’s blog: UT coach hopes Vols can `shock the world’ at Florida

Jimmy’s blog: UT coach hopes Vols can `shock the world’ at Florida

By Jimmy Hyams

Having played in the SEC, Kodi Burns knows the difference in intensity between playing Bowling Green and a bowl-bound team from the SEC.

And this Saturday, it doesn’t get any more intense than playing at Gainesville.

“Obviously, you come to Tennessee to play in games like Florida, right?’’ said Burns, Tennessee’s first-year wide receivers coach.

No. 11 Florida, which has won 15 of the last 16 meetings in this series, is favored by between 16 and 22 points.

“Florida is a really good opponent, a really good team,’’ Burns told the Knoxville Quarterback Club on Monday.

“It’s our job to go out there and really compete, and not only compete, but try to … win the game and shock the world, because outside of this room, not a lot of people give us a chance. But as long as we believe within our team and our coaches, we’ve got a chance to go shock the world.’’

Burns said he likes his receiver room, but his unit can get better as he cited several drops.

He said Velus Jones Jr. is “a really good player with the ball in his hands’’ as evidence by his kick and punt returns against Tennessee Tech and 45-yard scoring reception.

He said Jimmy Callaway is “really special’’ with the ball in his hands and “with his ability to make people miss out in space.’’

He said Jalin Hyatt, knocked out of the Pitt game due to a concussion, has great speed but must “grow and develop’’ to become a “wholistic receiver.’’

Burns said his receivers read a lot when running routes. While some schools have pre-called go routes or slants or fades, UT react s to the defense.

“In this system, just about every single play, they have the option on what route they run based on the defensive look,’’ Burns said. “That chemistry (between quarterback and receiver) is still not there. That’s why I think you’ll see us get better every single week because the timing and chemistry will come along.’’

Burns said having pass-catching tight ends “100 percent’’ helps the receivers. “It takes a lot of stress off the receivers when you do have a tight end as a threat to catch the ball. That will really help out the passing game.’’

Burns said UT does ask receivers to block, but not very often since so many plays are run-pass options.

One person in the audience tried to trip Burns up by asking which quarterback the receivers prefer.

Head coach Josh Heupel has been coy about announcing a starter for each game.

Burns chuckled, then said: “I tell my guys, `I do not care who is playing quarterback. We’ve got to make sure we’re right, we’ve got to make sure what we do is crisp and clean … to take stress off that guy’’’

Tennessee has misfired on a number of long balls, whether it’s an overthrow by the quarterback or a drop by the receivers. Burns thinks the Vols will get that corrected.

“We’re going to get there,’’ Burns vowed. “If we can connect on a few of those balls … it’s a different season already.

“Eventually they’re going to hit. We plan on that being this week.’’


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Jimmy’s Blog: What did we learn about UT in a rout? More than you’d think

Jimmy’s Blog: What did we learn about UT in a rout? More than you’d think

By Jimmy Hyams

So what did we learn about Tennessee after the Vols dismantled outmanned Tennessee Tech 56-0 Saturday at Neyland Stadium before about 55,000 fans?

*We learned that coach Josh Heupel wants to run the offense at an even faster pace.

“Our pace is not anywhere near where it’s capable,’’ Heupel said after the Vols ran 79 snaps against the
Golden Eagles and 66 the week before against Pitt.

Tennessee gained just 417 yards – 5.3 yards per play. That’s far below what Heupel wants against a good defense, much less Tennessee Tech.

*We learned that Heupel isn’t crazy about UT’s game prep 48 hours before kickoff.

He mentioned last week it wasn’t good before the Pitt game. He said it was better before the Tech game, but when asked for specifics, Heupel pointed to the “mental approach’’ and added “that’s as specific as I’ll get right now.’’

*We learned Tennessee’s defense can actually force turnovers.

After getting zero in the first two games, the Vols had four interceptions, including a 31-yard pick six by linebacker Soon Page. Jalen McCullough, Alontae Taylor and Tamarion McDonald had the others against a poor passing team.

*We learned that Tennessee’s run defense is stout.

Yes Tech doesn’t have much of a run game or offensive line, but the Vols still managed to hold the Golden Eagles to 35 yards on 28 carries. UT entered the contest allowing 64 yards per game and 1.88 yards per carry. Those numbers have been inflated by two inferior opponents, but the run defense has, nonetheless, been very impressive thus far.

*We learned that Hendon Hooker is an efficient quarterback.

Hooker isn’t going to make All-SEC. He might not even start against Florida. But he accounted for four touchdowns against Tech, hitting 17 of 25 passes for 199 yards and three scores. He also led the team with 64 rushing yards and a touchdown. He did miss a couple of throws and he had a fumble, but he’s been, in my opinion, UT’s most consistent and reliable quarterback.

*We learned that UT is better on fourth down than third down – at least against Tech.

The Vols were a paltry 4 of 13 on third-down conversions but managed four of five on fourth down. The combined number of 8 for 18 isn’t bad, but you’re not going to be rolling the dice and going for fourth down that often against SEC foes, much less Florida. Better to convert on third down than risk a fourth-down snap.

*We learned that Tennessee can avoid penalties.

After having 13 accepted infractions against Pitt, UT had just three against Tech, although one wiped out an 87-yard opening kickoff return by Velus Jones.

*We learned that Tennessee is struggling to run the football.

The Vols has 202 rushing yards against Tech, but starter Tiyan Evans had just 41 yards on 15 carries (2.7 per run) and Jaylen Wright had just 43 on 9 carries (4.8 per run). That’s not good enough against an FCS opponent that had been outscored 78-14 in its first two games against FCS foes. UT did not get the push it needs. It also has had poor play out of the guard spots for the second game in a row.

UT needs center Cooper Mays back in the lineup to solidify the group and also allow Jerome Carvin, who has done OK at center, to return to his natural guard position.

*We learned that UT can get receivers open.

Once again, UT quarterbacks misfired on several deep throws to open receivers.

“You guys could see that, too,’’ Heupel joked with the media.

Yes, indeed. The Vols can get away with missed opportunities against Bowling Green and Tennessee Tech, but not against Florida or most other SEC opponents.

Heupel took no delight in the schemes that got receivers open, saying it matters not if you don’t connect.

Although Heupel obviously wasn’t pleased with several aspects of UT’s lack of execution, he did say:

“It’s really important that the players enjoy every win.’’

It sure is. Because if UT doesn’t perform at a higher level, there might not be many more.


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SEC Week 3 score predictions and picks ATS of 12 games including Tennessee/TN Tech

SEC Week 3 score predictions and picks ATS of 12 games including Tennessee/TN Tech

KNOXVILLE, TN – September 11, 2021 – Quarterback Hendon Hooker #5 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the Pittsburgh Panthers and the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

Below are my Week 3 SEC football predictions.

This season, I’m sharing my picks both against the spread and straight-up.

Week 2 Straight-Up Record: 10-3 (77%)
2021 Season Straight-Up Record: 21-6 (78%)
Week 2 vs. Spread Record: 6-7 (46%)
2021 Season Straight-Up Record: 14-13 (52%)

2020 SEC Season Prediction Record Straight-Up: 66-12 (85%)

Check back on my “Vince’s View” blog page for future posts including weekly SEC football and NFL game predictions. Bookmark my blog page and check back often.


WEEK THREE IN THE SEC

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 18
SEMO (0-2) at Missouri (1-1, 1-0 SEC)
Series: MIZ leads, 4-0
Noon ET • SECN+/ ESPN+
Columbia, Mo. • Faurot Field (62,621)
Sirius: 98 • XM: 192
Spread: Missouri -34 ½
Vince’s Pick vs. the Line: Missouri -34 ½
Score Prediction: Missouri 49 SEMO 6

New Mexico (2-0) at Texas A&M (2-0, 0-0 SEC)
Series: TAMU leads, 4-0
Noon ET • SEC Network
College Station, Texas • Kyle Field (102,733)
Sirius: 108 • XM: 190
Spread: Texas A&M -29 ½
Vince’s Pick vs. the Line: New Mexico +29 ½
Score Prediction: Texas A&M 35 New Mexico 7

Chattanooga (1-1) at Kentucky (2-0, 1-0 SEC)
Series: First Meeting
Noon ET • SECN+/ ESPN+
Lexington, Ky. • Kroger Field (61,000)
Sirius: 104 • XM: 191
Spread: Kentucky -32
Vince’s Pick vs. the Line: Chattanooga +32
Score Prediction: Kentucky 37 Chattanooga 10

Tennessee Tech (0-2) at Tennessee (1-1, 0-0 SEC)
Series: UT leads, 6-0
Noon ET • SECN+/ ESPN+
Knoxville, Tenn. • Neyland Stadium (102,455)
Sirius: 81 • XM: 81
Spread: Tennessee -40
Vince’s Pick vs. the Line: Tennessee -40
Score Prediction: Tennessee 52 TN Tech 7

Alabama (2-0, 0-0 SEC) at Florida (2-0, 0-0 SEC)
Series: UA leads, 26-14
3:30 p.m. ET • CBS
Last: UA, 52-46 (2020 at SEC Championship Game)
Gainesville, Fla. • Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Spurrier-Florida Field (88,548) Sirius: 104/81 • XM: 191/81
Spread: Alabama -14 ½
Vince’s Pick vs. the Line: Alabama -14 ½
Score Prediction: Alabama 42 Florida 21

Georgia Southern (1-1) at Arkansas (2-0, 0-0 SEC)
Series: First Meeting
4 p.m. ET • SEC Network
Fayetteville, Ark. • Reynolds Razorback Stadium (72,000)
Sirius: 108 • XM: 190
Spread: Arkansas -23 ½
Vince’s Pick vs. the Line: Arkansas -23 ½
Score Prediction: Arkansas 38 Georgia Southern 14

Mississippi State (2-0, 0-0 SEC) at Memphis (2-0)
Series: MSU leads, 33-11
4 p.m. ET • ESPN2
Memphis, Tenn. • Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium (58,325)
Sirius: 98 • XM: 192
Spread: Miss State -3 ½
Vince’s Pick vs. the Line: Miss State -3 ½
Score Prediction: Miss State 26 Memphis 21

South Carolina (2-0, 0-0 SEC) at Georgia (2-0, 0-0 SEC)
Series: UG leads, 52-19-2
7 p.m. ET • ESPN
Last: UG, 45-16 (2020 at Columbia)
Athens, Ga. • Sanford Stadium (92,746)
Sirius: 135/81 • XM: 201/81
Spread: Georgia -32
Vince’s Pick vs. the Line: South Carolina +32
Score Prediction: Georgia 35 South Carolina 6

Auburn (2-0, 0-0 SEC) at Penn State (2-0)
Series: Tied, 1-1
7:30 p.m. ET • ABC
University Park, Pa. • Beaver Stadium (106,572)
Sirius: 113 • XM: 202
Spread: Penn State -6
Vince’s Pick vs. the Line: Auburn +6
Score Prediction: Penn State 24 Auburn 23

Central Michigan (1-1) at LSU (1-1, 0-0 SEC)
Series: First Meeting
7:30 p.m. ET • SEC Network
Baton Rouge, La. • Tiger Stadium (102,321)
Sirius: 108 • XM: 190
Spread: LSU -19 ½
Vince’s Pick vs. the Line: LSU -19 ½
Score Prediction: LSU 38 Central Michigan 14

Tulane (1-1) at Ole Miss (2-0, 0-0 SEC)
Series: UM leads, 41-28
8 p.m. ET • ESPN2
Oxford, Miss. • Vaught-Hemingway Stadium (64,038)
Sirius: 104 • XM: 191
Spread: Ole Miss -14
Vince’s Pick vs. the Line: Ole Miss -14
Score Prediction: Ole Miss 49 Tulane 21

Stanford (1-1) at Vanderbilt (1-1, 0-0 SEC)
Series: First Meeting
8 p.m. ET • ESPNU
Nashville, Tenn. • Vanderbilt Stadium (40,350)
Sirius: 98 • XM: 192
Spread: Stanford -12
Vince’s Pick vs. the Line: Stanford -12
Score Prediction: Stanford 31 Vanderbilt 10


Find more of my broadcasting work at VinceSports.net

Vince’s View: Week 2 NFL predictions, game info, notes, schedule & more

Vince’s View: Week 2 NFL predictions, game info, notes, schedule & more

Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa / Credit: Miami Dolphins Media Portal

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

Below are my NFL Week 2 predictions along with some great notes and stats directly from the National Football League Communications Department.

Look for weekly predictions with the spread and straight-up this season, as well as frequent VFL in the NFL updates here on my blog “Vince’s View.” Bookmark my blog page and check back often.

Listen to The NFL Report with John Wilkerson and two rotating Sports Animal hosts, including myself, every Sunday, 10am to 12:30pm ET on 99.1 The Sports Animal here in Knoxville and streaming here at 991TheSportsAnimal.com, the WNML app or on your smart speakers.


Week 1 Straight-Up Record: 9-7 (56%)
Week 1 Against The Spread: 7-9 (44%)
2020 Season Prediction Record Straight-Up: 181-88 (67%)


This season I will pick games both straight-up and versus the spread. I will show my record both for me and for you, if you’re interested. Both of my picks for each game are listed next to them.

WEEK 2 NFL SCHEDULE
(All times Eastern)

Thursday, September 16
8:20pm
New York Giants at Washington, NFLN (V-Picks: Wash Foot. Team -4, WFT win)

Sunday, September 19
1:00pm
New Orleans at Carolina, FOX (V-Picks: Saints -3.5, Saints win)
Cincinnati at Chicago, FOX (V-Picks: Bengals +2.5, Bengals win)
Houston at Cleveland, CBS (V-Picks: Browns -12.5, Browns win)
Los Angeles Rams at Indianapolis, FOX (V-Picks: Rams -3.5, Rams win)
Denver at Jacksonville, CBS (V-Picks: Broncos -6, Broncos win)
Buffalo at Miami, FOX (V-Picks: Bills -3. Bills win)
New England at New York Jets, CBS (V-Picks: Patriots -6, Patriots win)
San Francisco at Philadelphia, FOX (V-Picks: 49ers -3, 49ers win
Las Vegas at Pittsburgh, CBS (V-Picks: Raiders +6, Steelers win)
4:05pm
Minnesota at Arizona, FOX (V-Picks: Cardinals -3.5, Cardinals win)
Atlanta at Tampa Bay, FOX (V-Picks: Buccaneers -12.5, Buccaneers win)
Dallas at Los Angeles Chargers, CBS (V-Picks: Chargers -3.5, Chargers win)
4:25pm
Tennessee at Seattle, CBS (V-Picks: Titans +6, Seahawks win)
8:20pm
Kansas City at Baltimore, NBC (V-Picks: Chiefs -3.5, Chiefs win)

Monday, September 20
8:15pm
Detroit at Green Bay, ESPN (V-Picks: Packers -11, Packers win)


KAMARA-MCCAFFREY, PRESCOTT-HERBERT, JACKSON-MAHOMES ON TAP IN ENCORE TO THRILLING KICKOFF WEEKEND

The only certain aspect of the National Football League might be its electrifying uncertainty.

Just ask the LAS VEGAS RAIDERS, who overcame a 14-point deficit to beat Baltimore, 33-27, in just the second Week 1 overtime game in the history of Monday Night Football. After tying the game three times in the fourth quarter, including a 55-yard DANIEL CARLSON field goal at the end of regulation, the Raiders did not hold an official lead until ZAY JONES caught a 31-yard touchdown from DEREK CARR to stamp an exclamation point on one of the most thrilling kickoff weekends in league annals.

Or ask the PITTSBURGH STEELERS (1-0), who host the Raiders (1-0) on Sunday at Heinz Field (1:00 PM ET, CBS). At Buffalo last week, the Steelers clawed back from a 10-0 halftime deficit to win, 23-16.

And ask the KANSAS CITY CHIEFS, who trailed by 12 at halftime before storming back to win, 33-29, over Cleveland.

So, amid that uncertainty, also be certain of this: NFL teams are never out of games and no lead is safe.

On Kickoff Weekend, nine games were within one score (eight points) in the fourth quarter, including the CINCINNATI BENGALS’ dramatic win over Minnesota, the first regular-season game in NFL history with a game-tying score with no time remaining in regulation and a game-winning score with no time remaining in overtime.

The excitement is palpable. Stay tuned for the encore. Here comes Week 2.

MVP vs. MVP: Two of the past three NFL MVPs – PATRICK MAHOMES (2018) and LAMAR JACKSON (2019) — will battle on Sunday Night Football when the KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (1-0) travel to play the BALTIMORE RAVENS (0-1) at M&T Bank Stadium (8:20 PM ET, NBC). The perennial AFC playoff teams are meeting for a fourth straight season, with Kansas City winning each of the past three.

  • Sunday’s game along with Jackson and Mahomes’ Week 3 meeting in 2020 represent the only two instances of former MVPs under age 27 meeting as starting quarterbacks in NFL history.
  • The Ravens have won two of their last three games against teams that played in the Super Bowl the previous year. Baltimore knocked off both New England and the Los Angeles Rams in 2019 before losing to the Chiefs in 2020.
  • Mahomes passed for 337 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions for a 131.4 rating on Kickoff Weekend. Mahomes now has 14,489 career passing yards in 47 NFL starts and surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer KURT WARNER (14,372) for the most passing yards by a player in his first 50 career starts in NFL history.
  • Mahomes also has 117 touchdown passes in those 47 starts and surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (116) for the most touchdown passes by a player in his first 50 career starts in league annals.
  • Also in the Chiefs’ Kickoff Weekend win over Cleveland, tight end TRAVIS KELCE had 76 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns. His second score was his 50th career touchdown reception in his 112th career game, allowing him to surpass VERNON DAVIS (115 games) as the fifth-fastest tight end to reach 50 touchdown receptions in NFL history.
  • Chiefs head coach ANDY REID is 6-1 vs. the Ravens, including a 4-0 mark at the reins of Kansas City. Baltimore’s JOHN HARBAUGH served as an assistant under Reid in Philadelphia (1999-2007) and the two as head coaches have combined for 379 career regular-season and postseason wins, including two Super Bowl titles.

HOLDING ALL THE CARDS: On the heels of an impressive Kickoff Weekend win at Tennessee, the ARIZONA CARDINALS (1-0) open their home schedule on Sunday against the MINNESOTA VIKINGS (0-1) at State Farm Stadium (4:05 PM ET, FOX).

  • In Week 1, Arizona quarterback KYLER MURRAY ran for a touchdown and threw for 289 yards with a career-high four touchdown passes, while linebacker CHANDLER JONES totaled a career-high five sacks with two forced fumbles.
  • Murray now has four career games in which he’s scored at least one rushing touchdown and thrown for three-or-more touchdowns. That’s tied with JOSH ALLEN (four games) and JACK KEMP (four) for the most such games by a player in his first three seasons in NFL history.
  • Jones is the third player to record at least five sacks in a Week 1 game since 1982, when the individual sack became an official statistic, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer DERRICK THOMAS (six sacks in 1998) and BILL GAY (5.5 sacks in 1983). Jones also is the sixth player to record at least five sacks and two forced fumbles in any game since 2002.
  • Jones, who had two games with four sacks during the 2019 season (Weeks 7 and 16), is the fourth player since 1982 with three career games of at least four sacks, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers DERRICK THOMAS (four games) and REGGIE WHITE (three), as well as LESLIE O’NEAL (four).

IMMEDIATE CONTRIBUTIONS: Last week, San Francisco’s TREY LANCE threw a 5-yard touchdown on his initial NFL pass attempt while Philadelphia’s DEVONTA SMITH registered an 18-yard touchdown on his first career reception. Then, on Sunday night, Chicago’s JUSTIN FIELDS marked his first NFL carry with a 3-yard touchdown run.

  • It marked the first time during any week in 37 years that rookies produced touchdowns on their first career carry, first career reception and first career pass.
  • Two of those rookies, Lance and Smith, are in action at Lincoln Financial Field when the SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (1-0) meet the PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (1-0) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX).
  • The last weekend in which NFL rookies produced touchdowns on their first career carry, first career pass and first NFL reception was Week 2 in 1984. On that weekend, Vikings fullback ALFRED ANDERSON threw a 20-yard touchdown to quarterback Tommy Kramer, Saints running back TYRONE ANTHONY scored on his first rushing attempt, a 2-yard run, and two rookies – Packers tight end ED WEST (7-yard reception from Randy Wright) and Giants wide receiver LIONEL MANUEL (16-yard reception from Phil Simms) – scored on their first career catches.
  • Smith, along with Cincinnati’s JA’MARR CHASE and Miami’s JAYLEN WADDLE, was one of three rookie wide receivers selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft to catch a touchdown pass on Kickoff Weekend, making this the first season in the common-draft era in which three rookie wide receivers that were each selected in the first round of the NFL Draft registered touchdown receptions in Week 1.
  • Chase and Fields meet this week when the CHICAGO BEARS (0-1) host the CINCINNATI BENGALS (1-0) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX). Chase’s teammate, rookie kicker EVAN MCPHERSON, converted a 33-yard field goal with no time remaining in overtime in the Bengals’ 27-24 win over Minnesota. He became the second rookie kicker in NFL history to kick a game-winning field goal with no time remaining in overtime, joining JASON SANDERS (Oct. 14, 2018).

PICKING UP WHERE THEY LEFT OFF: NFL teams in 2020 combined to score 12,692 total points and 1,473 total touchdowns, both the most ever in a single season. Last week, the league combined for 90 touchdowns, tied with 2019 for the most through the first weekend in NFL history.

NOTHING COULD BE FINER THAN TO BE IN CAROLINA: A pair of NFC South rivals, the NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (1-0) and CAROLINA PANTHERS (1-0), will clash at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX). The contest features two of the more exciting running backs in the league, ALVIN KAMARA of the Saints and CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY of the Panthers, each of whom entered the league in 2017.

  • The New Orleans defense, led by coordinator DENNIS ALLEN, has now played a starring role in a pair of 38-3 victories over MVPs during a stretch of 10 regular-season games. On Nov. 8 last season at Tampa Bay, the Saints held eventual Super Bowl MVP TOM BRADY and the Buccaneers under 200 net yards of offense. Then, last week in an impressive win over Green Bay, New Orleans held reigning NFL MVP AARON RODGERS and the Packers to one third-down conversion.
  • Allen and the Saints have a significant test this week with McCaffrey, who recorded nine receptions and 187 scrimmage yards (98 rushing, 89 receiving) in the Panthers’ Week 1 win over the New York Jets. McCaffrey now has seven career games with at least 75 rushing yards and 75 receiving yards, surpassing Pro Football Hall of Famer WALTER PAYTON (six games) for the third-most such games in the Super Bowl era. Only Pro Football Hall of Famer MARSHALL FAULK (11 games) and PRIEST HOLMES (nine) have more.

The players with the most scrimmage yards since 2017:

PLAYER TEAM(S) SCRIMMAGE YARDS
Ezekiel Elliott Dallas 6,386
Alvin Kamara New Orleans 6,255
Christian McCaffrey Carolina 6,004
Derrick Henry Tennessee 6,002
Todd Gurley L.A. Rams/Atlanta 5,830

YOUNG GUNS SQUARE OFF AT METLIFE: The NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (0-1) have a date with the NEW YORK JETS (0-1) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS) at MetLife Stadium. When the Patriots’ MAC JONES and the Jets’ ZACH WILSON go under center, it’ll mark the earliest in a season since 2015 – when JAMEIS WINSTON and the Buccaneers opened the season at home against MARCUS MARIOTA and the Titans – that rookie starting quarterbacks drafted in the first round will meet in a game.

  • Also in the division, the BUFFALO BILLS (0-1) travel to play the MIAMI DOLPHINS (1-0) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX). With Buffalo’s JOSH ALLEN, Miami’s TUA TAGOVAILOA, Jones and Wilson, the AFC East last week became the first NFL division since 1985 with four quarterbacks under the age of 26 to start Week 1 games.

SPEAKING OF DIVISIONS: Both the AFC West and NFC West are unblemished after Week 1. It’s the first time since the 1970 merger that two divisions are undefeated after the first week. Since the league realigned to eight four-team divisions prior to the 2002 season, only the 2002 AFC West and 2015 AFC East had opened a season 4-0.

DON’T JUDGE BOOKS BY COVERS: Seven of the past 20 Super Bowl winners lost their Week 1 games before going on to win the Lombardi Trophy, including the TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS in each of their championship seasons (2002 and 2020). Other teams in that span (2001-20) to lose on Kickoff Weekend before winning a Super Bowl were the NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (2001, 2003 and 2014) and the NEW YORK GIANTS (2007 and 2011).

ROAD SUCCESS: Road teams won eight games in Week 1, continuing a trend that started in 2019. Last season, road teams were 128-127-1 (.502), the highest winning percentage since the 1970 league merger. In 2019, road teams were 123-132-1 (.482), the third-highest winning percentage in that span.

PRESCOTT-HERBERT ANCHORS LATE-AFTERNOON WINDOW: A pair of former Associated Press Offensive Rookies of the Year, Dallas quarterback DAK PRESCOTT and Chargers quarterback JUSTIN HERBERT, square off Sunday (4:25 PM ET, CBS) when the Chargers host fans at SoFi Stadium for the first time in a regular-season game. Prescott has thrown for at least 400 yards in four of his past five starts while Herbert has guided the Chargers to five consecutive wins, dating back to last season.

The nine quarterbacks to win Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year:

PLAYER TEAM SEASON CMP ATT PCT YDS TD INT RATING
Dak Prescott Dallas 2016 311 459 67.8 3,667 23 4 104.9
Robert Griffin III Washington 2012 258 393 65.6 3,200 20 5 102.4
Justin Herbert L.A. Chargers 2020 396 595 66.6 4,336 31 10 98.3
Ben Roethlisberger Pittsburgh 2004 196 295 66.4 2,621 17 11 98.1
Matt Ryan Atlanta 2008 265 434 61.1 3,440 16 11 87.7
Kyler Murray Arizona 2019 349 542 64.4 3,722 20 12 87.4
Cam Newton Carolina 2011 310 517 60.0 4,051 21 17 84.5
Sam Bradford St. Louis Rams 2010 354 590 60.0 3,512 18 15 76.5
Vince Young Tennessee 2006 184 357 51.5 2,199 12 13 66.7

THE WAY THEY ALL BECAME THE BRADY BUNCH: The TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (1-0) own a nine-game winning streak, including the postseason, entering Sunday’s game vs. the ATLANTA FALCONS (0-1) at Raymond James Stadium (4:05 PM ET, FOX). Over their last eight games in that streak, the Buccaneers are 8-0, scoring 30-or-more points in each game. Including the postseason, only two other teams in league history have won eight straight contests and scored at least 30 points in each, the 2007 and 2010 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS. Tampa Bay can establish the longest such streak in NFL history with a ninth straight win and 30-plus points on Sunday.

  • Quarterback TOM BRADY needs 417 passing yards to become the second player in NFL history to reach 80,000 career, trailing only DREW BREES (80,358). Brady opened his 22nd NFL season on Kickoff Weekend with his 300th regular-season start, his 100th career game of 300-or-more passing yards, and his 40th career fourth-quarter comeback victory.

SEATTLE’S BEST: The SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (1-0) host an interconference matchup against the TENNESSEE TITANS (0-1) on Sunday (4:25 PM ET, CBS). Seattle quarterback RUSSELL WILSON is 99-45-1 in 145 regular-season starts and this week can become the second quarterback in NFL history to win 100 regular-season starts in his first 10 seasons. Only Pro Football Hall of Famer PEYTON MANNING (105 wins) has more.

  • Last week, Wilson recorded four touchdown passes with zero interceptions and a 152.3 rating in the Seahawks’ win at Indianapolis on Kickoff Weekend. Wilson now has 11 career games with at least four touchdown passes and zero interceptions, surpassing TOM BRADY (10 games), Pro Football Hall of Famer PEYTON MANNING (10) and AARON RODGERS (10) for the most such games by a player in his first 10 seasons in league annals.

FIGHT FOR CALIFORNIA: The GREEN BAY PACKERS (0-1) host the DETROIT LIONS (0-1) on Monday Night Football (8:15 PM ET, ESPN). The last time the Packers opened their home schedule on a Monday night was Sept. 8, 2008, when quarterback AARON RODGERS made his first NFL start, a 24-19 victory over the Vikings.

  • Both Rodgers (selected No. 24 overall, 2005) and Lions quarterback JARED GOFF (No. 1, 2016) are former starting quarterbacks at the University of California. Both were drafted in the first round and both led their teams to a Super Bowl in their third seasons as an NFL starter (Rodgers in 2010, Goff with the Rams in 2018).

Find more of my broadcasting work at VinceSports.net

Jimmy’s blog: Vols had chance to win despite plethora of penalties

Jimmy’s blog: Vols had chance to win despite plethora of penalties

By Jimmy Hyams

You commit 13 penalties, lose the turnover battle 3-0, have a touchdown called back and twice fail to score a touchdown from inside the 5-yard line.

And yet, there you are, on the plus-34-yard line with 5:33 left with a chance to score a mild upset over 3-point favorite Pitt.

You’ve made enough mistakes to lose two games, but a win is still within your grasp.

Until the ill-fated pass toward the left hashmark.

Tennessee backup quarterback Hendon Hooker apparently didn’t see the safety cutting across the field and fired an interception that basically sealed the deal as Pitt escaped 41-34 in the first of two Johnny Majors Classic contests.

Pitt managed two first downs to run out the final 5 minutes to drop Josh Heupel’s team to 1-1.

If you’re a Tennessee fan, you’re sickened by the missed opportunities.

But if you’re a Tennessee fan, you must also be encouraged by the thought that if you play a clean game, you’ve got a chance to be pretty darn good.

Is there potential in an offense that left so many plays on the field yet still scored 34 points against a Power 5 team?

“Hundred percent,’’ said Vols tight end Jacob Warren, who had five catches for 55 yards and a touchdown, and could have had another if not for an overthrown pass.

“Our expectations are high. When you know you can do better, but it’s just not good enough.’’

Tennessee started the game in a mission, de-cleating Pitt’s returner on the opening kickoff. Then freshman Christian Charles surged through the line to block a punt and set up a touchdown from the 2-yard line.

“We saw some things (on tape),’’ Charles said, adding that he switched spots with a teammate before scissoring through the line.

Tennessee led 10-0 about 10 minutes into the game as the defense force three three-and-outs.

The lead could have been bigger. Quarterback Joe Milton misfired on several long balls, including one to a wide open Warren over the middle, and Jalin Hyatt dropped one in the end zone.

Pitt’s offense finally caught fire, scoring on five consecutive possessions to take a 27-20 halftime lead.

Meanwhile, Milton was sacked, fumbled and injured six minutes into the second quarter and didn’t return.

Enter Hendon Hooker, the fifth-year grad transfer from Virginia Tech known more as a runner than passer (he had two games at Tech in which he rushed for more than 150 yards).

“Hendon did a great job, coming off the bench and competing,’’ Heupel said.

On his second possession, Hooker hit Jimmy Callaway on the right sideline and Callaway tight-roped his way for a 44-yard score to tie the game at 20-20.

From that point, the outcome was in Hooker’s hands.

Early in the third quarter, Theo Jackson returned a shot field-goal attempt over 100-yards for an apparent touchdown.  UT was called for a block in the back and so was Pitt, both after a change of possession. Yet, the ruling was off-setting penalties and replay the down.

Pitt then penned UT at its 3-yard line, held, got the ball back in prime field positions and scored to take a two-touchdown lead.

Hooker threw a touchdown pass to cut the margin to seven, but Pitt answered with a touchdown toss from Kenny Pickett.

UT scored again, set up by Hooker hitting Warren for 34 yards to the 2.

With less than 10 minutes left, down by seven, UT marched from its 33 to the 3-yard line, where Hooker, on third down, was ruled short of a first down, even though video evidence suggested he had the first down.

Heupel considered calling a timeout, but he had only one left, so he asked the official if the replay ref was taking a second look.

Apparently, he wasn’t.

The Vols then ran 190-pound freshman Jalen Wright up the middle from the shotgun formation, a questionable call under the circumstances.

Why not have the quarterback under center? Or run Hooker wide, rather than pound up the middle?

Pitt stuffed Wright.

Even though UT got the ball back at the Pitt 34 with 5:33 left, Hooker threw a pick on the second snap.

Game. Set. Match.

Hooker clearly outplayed Milton, going 15 for 21 for 189 yards and two touchdowns whikle also rushing for 48 net yards.

Milton was 7 of 12 (all five misses were deep throws) for 50 yards and a lost fumble.

Who starts against Tennessee Tech this Saturday?

“We’ll go back and watch the tape and evaluate everybody,’’ Heupel said.

Heupel lamented the penalties, which included two personal fouls, blocks in the back, pass interference, illegal procedures and a player taking off his helmet while on the field.

“That’s not who we’ve been (in practice),’’ Heupel said. “we’ve got to be better a competitive composure.’’

UT’s run defense was stifling, holding Pitt to 96 yards on 45 carries, with several gains due to Pickett’s scrambling.

Pitt did find holes in the secondary, throwing for 301 yards.

Bottom line, this was a game Tennessee could have won with fewer mistakes.

“We’re capable of being a whole lot better than we were today,’’ Heupel said.

NOTES; RB Tiyan Evans didn’t play but was not injured … RB Jabari Small was hurt on the last play of the first half on a run when UT was running out the clock. Why not have the QB take a knee and not rish injury? … C Cooper Mays didn’t play (ankle). … DE Byron missed his second game as his eligibility issue has yet to be resolved.

 


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SEC Week 2 score predictions and picks ATS of 13 games including Tennessee/Pitt

SEC Week 2 score predictions and picks ATS of 13 games including Tennessee/Pitt

KNOXVILLE, TN – September 02, 2021 – Linebacker Solon Page III #38 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the Bowling Green Falcons and the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

Below are my Week 2 SEC football predictions.

This season, I’m sharing my picks both against the spread and straight-up.

2021 Week 1 vs. Spread Record: 8-6 (57%)
2021 Week 1 Straight-Up Record: 11-3 (79%)
2020 SEC Season Prediction Record Straight-Up: 66-12 (85%)

Check back on my “Vince’s View” blog page for future posts including weekly SEC football and NFL game predictions. Bookmark my blog page and check back often.


WEEK TWO BRINGS FIRST LEAGUE GAME OF SEASON

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 11
Alabama State (1-0) at #25 Auburn (1-0, 0-0 SEC)
Auburn, Ala. • Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451)
Noon ET • SEC Network
Series: AU leads, 1-0
SECN: Dave Neal, Deuce McAllister, Andraya Carter
Sirius: 81 • XM: 81
Spread: Auburn -49
Vince’s Pick vs. the Line: Auburn -49
Score Prediction: Auburn 52 Alabama St 0

South Carolina (1-0, 0-0 SEC) at East Carolina (0-1)
Greenville, N.C. • Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium (51,000)
Noon ET • ESPN2
Series: SC leads, 14-5
ESPN2: Brian Custer, Kelly Stouffer, Lauren Sisler
Sirius: 134 • XM: 190
Spread: South Carolina -2
Vince’s Pick vs. the Line: South Carolina -2
Score Prediction: South Carolina 27 East Carolina 24

Pittsburgh (1-0) at Tennessee (1-0, 0-0 SEC)
Knoxville, Tenn. • Neyland Stadium (102,455)
Noon ET • ESPN
Series: Pitt leads, 2-0
ESPN: Dave Pasch, Dusty Dvoracek, Tom Luginbill
ESPN Radio: Marc Kestecher, Max Starks
Sirius: 135 • XM: 191
Spread: Pittsburgh -3.5
Vince’s Pick vs. the Line: Pitt -3.5
Score Prediction: Pittsburgh 28 Tennessee 24

#13 Florida (1-0, 0-0 SEC) at South Florida (0-1)
Tampa, Fla. • Raymond James Stadium (65,890)
1 p.m. ET • ABC
Series: UF leads, 1-0
ABC: Bob Wischusen, Dan Orlovsky, Kris Budden
Touchdown Radio: J.P. Shadrick, Gino Torretta
Sirius: 211 • XM: 211
Spread: Florida -28.5
Vince’s Pick vs. the Line: Florida -28.5
Score Prediction: Florida 45 USF 7

UAB (1-0) at #2 Georgia (1-0, 0-0 SEC)
Athens, GA • Sanford Stadium (92,746)
3:30 p.m. ET • ESPN2
Series: UG leads, 2-0
ESPN2: Mark Jones, Robert Griffin III, Quint Kessenich
Sirius: 134 • XM: 190
Spread: Georgia -23.5
Vince’s Pick vs. the Line: UAB +23.5
Score Prediction: Georgia 27 UAB 10

#5 Texas A&M (1-0, 0-0 SEC) vs. Colorado (1-0)
Denver, Colo. • Empower Field at Mile High Stadium (76,125)
3:30 p.m. ET • Fox Sports
Series: UC leads, 6-3
FOX: Joe Davis, Brock Huard
Sirius: 135 • XM: 191
Spread: Texas A&M -17
Vince’s Pick vs. the Line: Texas A&M -17
Score Prediction: Texas A&M 45 Colorado 21

Mercer (1-0) at #1 Alabama (1-0, 0-0 SEC)
Tuscaloosa Ala. • Bryant-Denny Stadium (101,821)
4 p.m. ET • SEC Network
Series: UA leads, 3-0
SECN: Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers, Cole Cubelic
Sirius: 81 • XM: 81
Spread: Alabama -53
Vince’s Pick vs. the Line: Alabama -53
Score Prediction: Alabama 56 Mercer 0

#15 Texas (1-0) at Arkansas (1-0, 0-0 SEC)
Fayetteville, Ark. • Reynolds Razorback Stadium (72,000)
7 p.m. ET • ESPN
Series: UT leads, 56-22
ESPN: Joe Tessitore, Greg McElroy, Katie George
Sirius: 135 • XM: 191
Spread: Texas -7
Vince’s Pick vs. the Line: Texas -7
Score Prediction: Texas 35 Arkansas 21

North Carolina State (1-0) at Mississippi State (1-0, 0-0 SEC)
Starkville, Miss. • Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field (61,337)
7 p.m. ET • ESPN2
Series: Tied, 3-3
ESPN2: Anish Shroff, Mike Golic Jr., Taylor McGregor
Learfield: Kate Scott, Mike Golic
Sirius: 134 • XM: 190
Spread: North Carolina State -1
Vince’s Pick vs. the Line: NC State -1
Score Prediction: NC State 31 Miss State 27

McNeese State (0-1) at LSU (0-1, 0-0 SEC)
Baton Rouge, La. • Tiger Stadium (102,321)
7:30 p.m. ET • SECN+/ ESPN+
Series: LSU leads, 1-0
ESPN+: Mike Morgan, Charles Arbuckle, Taylor Davis
Sirius: 119 • XM: 203
Spread: LSU -38.5
Vince’s Pick vs. the Line: LSU -38.5
Score Prediction: LSU 49 McNeese State 7

Austin Peay (1-0) at #20 Ole Miss (1-0, 0-0 SEC)
Oxford, Miss. • Vaught-Hemingway Stadium (64,038)
7:30 p.m. ET • SECN+/ ESPN+
Series: First Meeting
ESPN+: Richard Cross, Ben Hartsock
Sirius: 204 • XM: 192
Spread: Ole Miss -34.5
Vince’s Pick vs. the Line: Ole Miss -34.5
Score Prediction: Ole Miss 56 Austin Peay 3

Missouri (1-0, 0-0 SEC) at Kentucky (1-0, 0-0 SEC)
Lexington, Ky. • Kroger Field (61,000)
7:30 p.m. ET • SEC Network
Series: UK leads, 7-4
Last: MIZ, 20-10 (2020 at Columbia)
SECN: Taylor Zarzour, Matt Stinchcomb, Alyssa Lang
Sirius: 81 • XM: 391/81
Spread: Kentucky -5.5
Vince’s Pick vs. the Line: Kentucky -5.5
Score Prediction: Kentucky 31 Missouri 24

Vanderbilt (0-1, 0-0 SEC) at Colorado State (1-0)
Fort Collins, Colo. • Canvas Stadium (41,000)
10 p.m. ET • CBS Sports Network
Series: First meeting
CBSSN: Rich Waltz, Aaron Taylor, Jenny Dell
Sirius: 135 • XM: 191
Spread: Colorado State -7
Vince’s Pick vs. the Line: Vanderbilt +7
Score Prediction: Colorado State 24 Vanderbilt 23

 


Find more of my broadcasting work at VinceSports.net

Vince’s View: Week 1 NFL predictions, game info, notes, schedule & more

Vince’s View: Week 1 NFL predictions, game info, notes, schedule & more

49ers CB Emmanuel Moseley / Credit: UT Athletics

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

Below are my NFL Week 1 predictions along with some great notes and stats directly from the National Football League Communications Department.

Look for weekly predictions with the spread and straight-up this season, as well as frequent VFL in the NFL updates here on my blog “Vince’s View.” Bookmark my blog page and check back often.

Listen to The NFL Report with John Wilkerson and two rotating Sports Animal hosts, including myself, every Sunday, 10am to 12:30pm ET on 99.1 The Sports Animal here in Knoxville and streaming here at 991TheSportsAnimal.com, the WNML app or on your smart speakers.


My 2020 Season Prediction Record Straight-Up: 181-88 (67%)


This season I will pick games both straight-up and versus the spread. I will show my record both for me and for you, if you’re interested. Both of my picks for each game are listed next to them.

KICKOFF WEEKEND NFL SCHEDULE (All times Eastern)
Thursday, September 9
8:20pm
Dallas at Tampa Bay, NBC (V-Picks: Cowboys +9, Bucs win)

Sunday, September 12
1pm
Philadelphia at Atlanta, FOX (V-Picks: Falcons -3, Falcons win)
Pittsburgh at Buffalo, CBS (V-Picks: Bills -6.5, Bills win)
New York Jets at Carolina, CBS (V-Picks: Jets +4, Panthers win)
Minnesota at Cincinnati, FOX (V-Picks: Bengals +3, Bengals win)
San Francisco at Detroit, FOX (V-Picks: 49ers -8, 49ers win)
Jacksonville at Houston, CBS (V-Picks: Jaguars -3, Jaguars win)
Seattle at Indianapolis, FOX (V-Picks: Seahawks -3, Seahawks win)
Arizona at Tennessee, CBS (V-Picks: Titans -3, Titans win)
Los Angeles Chargers at Washington, CBS (V-Picks: Chargers +1, Chargers win)
4:25pm
Cleveland at Kansas City, CBS (V-Picks: Chiefs -5.5, Chiefs win)
Miami at New England, CBS (V-Picks: Patriots -3, Patriots win)
Green Bay at New Orleans (in Jacksonville), FOX (V-Picks: Packers -3.5, Packers win)
Denver at New York Giants, FOX (V-Picks: Broncos -3, Broncos win)
8:20pm
Chicago at Los Angeles Rams, NBC (V-Picks: Rams -7.5, Rams win)

Monday, September 13
8:15pm
Baltimore at Las Vegas, ESPN/ABC (V-Picks: Ravens -4, Ravens win)


ALL 32 TEAMS SHARE SINGULAR GOAL AS NFL KICKS OFF ENHANCED SEASON

“Life starts all over again,” wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald, “when it gets crisp in the fall.”

And this fall in the National Football League, that initial autumn breeze means an enhanced 18-week, 272-game regular-season schedule. Each team is playing 17 regular-season games for the first time, providing fans an extra week of action. It marks the first change to the season structure since the 1978 campaign ushered in an era of 16 regular-season and four preseason games.

Life starting all over again also means 32 clubs are tied for first place, and that means every NFL coach, player and fan has insatiable hope. Why so much hopeful optimism entering 2021?

  • Currently, the average team has waited just 1.8 years since its last playoff berth. Three quarters of the league’s teams, 24 of 32, have been to the playoffs at least once in the past four seasons.
  • Over the past 18 seasons (2003-20), the average number of division winners that missed the postseason the year prior is 3.3 – including 26 division champions that finished last the year before. Both the PITTSBURGH STEELERS (AFC North) and WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM (NFC East) won their divisions in 2020 after missing the postseason in 2019, and at least two teams have won their divisions the season after missing the playoffs in 17 of the past 18 years.
  • Since 1990, 5.8 teams per year have qualified for the playoffs after missing the postseason the previous year. Over that stretch – a streak of 31 consecutive seasons – at least four teams every season have qualified for the playoffs after failing to make the postseason the year before. Seven teams that missed the postseason in 2019 – CHICAGOCLEVELANDINDIANAPOLISLOS ANGELES RAMSPITTSBURGHTAMPA BAY and WASHINGTON – accomplished the feat in 2020.
  • And no team has won consecutive Super Bowls since the 2003-04 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS, the longest stretch in NFL history without a repeat Super Bowl champion.

The team currently challenged with breaking that streak, the TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS, will kick off the NFL’s 102nd season on Thursday when the defending champions host the DALLAS COWBOYS (8:20 PM ET, NBC). In that game, quarterback TOM BRADY needs 300 passing yards to join DREW BREES (123 games) as the only players with at least 100 career games of 300-or-more passing yards in NFL history. Brady enters Thursday with 99 such games.

The Buccaneers, Cowboys and 30 other teams enter 2021 with one goal in mind: A trip to SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles and Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13.

ROOKIE RESPECT: In 13 consecutive seasons, at least one rookie quarterback has started a Week 1 game, the longest streak in the NFL since at least 1950.

  • The top two overall selections in the 2021 draft – Clemson’s TREVOR LAWRENCE (No. 1, Jacksonville) and BYU’s ZACH WILSON (No. 2, New York Jets) – are expected to extend the streak early in the afternoon on Sunday. Both signal-callers will be on the road; the Jaguars meet the Texans (1:00 PM ET, CBS) and the Jets travel to Carolina (1:00 PM ET, CBS) to play their former quarterback SAM DARNOLD, acquired by the Panthers in an offseason trade. Darnold’s new teammates include rookie cornerback JAYCEE HORN (selected No. 8 overall), expected to make his NFL debut for Carolina.
  • The last two starting quarterbacks at the University of Alabama will square off in New England Sunday (4:25 PM ET, CBS) when Patriots rookie MAC JONES (No. 15 overall) opens his NFL career against the Dolphins and TUA TAGOVAILOA, the fifth overall selection in the 2020 draft. Both players joined the Alabama program in 2017 and combined to lead the Crimson Tide to a berth in three of the past four national championship games. The AFC East showdown is also expected to feature the debut of former Alabama wide receiver JAYLEN WADDLE, the sixth-overall selection in the 2021 draft.

Elsewhere this weekend:

  • Steelers rookie running back NAJEE HARRIS (24th overall) is expected to make his NFL debut when Pittsburgh makes the short trip to open the season Sunday at reigning AFC East champion Buffalo (1:00 PM ET, CBS).
  • Two potential offensive stars – Atlanta tight end KYLE PITTS (No. 4 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft – the highest selected tight end in the common-draft era) and Philadelphia wide receiver DEVONTA SMITH (No. 10, the 2020 Heisman Trophy winner) – will be on opposite sidelines at Mercedes-Benz Stadium when Pitts’ Falcons host the Eagles on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX).
  • In Cincinnati on Sunday, Bengals rookie wide receiver JA’MARR CHASE (No. 5 overall) will line up for the first time with his college quarterback, JOE BURROW (No. 1 overall in 2020), when the Bengals host former LSU teammate JUSTIN JEFFERSON and the Vikings (1:00 PM ET, FOX). The last time the trio was on the same field, the 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship, Burrow threw for 463 yards and five touchdowns while Chase had nine catches for 221 yards with two touchdowns, and Jefferson nine receptions for 106 yards.
  • Several rookie offensive linemen, including Lions tackle PENEI SEWELL (No. 7 overall), Chargers tackle RASHAWN SLATER (No. 13), Jets guard ALIJAH VERA-TUCKER (No. 14) and Las Vegas tackle ALEX LEATHERWOOD (No. 17), are expected to make their NFL debuts on Sunday.
  • On the defensive side, rookie linebackers MICAH PARSONS (No. 12, Dallas), ZAVEN COLLINS (No. 16, Arizona) and JAMIN DAVIS (No. 19, Washington) are expected to anchor the middle of their respective defenses this weekend, while cornerback PAT SURTAIN (No. 9, Denver) and defensive end KWITY PAYE (No. 21, Indianapolis) will also make their first NFL appearances.

YOUTH MOVEMENT IN AFC EAST: All four quarterbacks expected to start for their AFC East teams this weekend, including TUA TAGOVAILOA (23 years old) and MAC JONES (23) in New England on Sunday (4:25 PM ET, CBS), are under the age of 26 to open the season. If JOSH ALLEN (25) starts for Buffalo and ZACH WILSON (22) opens for the Jets, it will mark the first time in 36 years that four starting quarterbacks in the same NFL division were under the age of 26 at the start of a season. In 1985, TONY EASON (25) of New England, Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (23) of Miami, KEN O’BRIEN (24) of the Jets and ART SCHLICHTER (25) of Indianapolis began the year under center in the AFC East. The Dolphins, Jets and Patriots reached the playoffs that season, and New England earned a berth in Super Bowl XX.

CONSISTENTLY PRODUCTIVE: When Green Bay meets New Orleans for a Sunday showdown between 2020 NFC division winners (4:25 PM ET, FOX, in Jacksonville), two of the NFL’s most consistently productive players will be in action. Only six individuals have rushed for at least 700 yards in each of the past three seasons (2018-20), including the Packers’ AARON JONES and the Saints’ ALVIN KAMARA.

The players with at least 700 rushing yards in each of the past three seasons:

PLAYER TEAM RUSHING YARDS (2018-20) SCRIMMAGE YARDS (2018-20)
Nick Chubb Cleveland 3,557 4,134
Gus Edwards Baltimore 2,152 2,346
Ezekiel Elliott Dallas 3,770 5,095
Derrick Henry Tennessee 4,626 5,045
Aaron Jones Green Bay 2,916 3,951
Alvin Kamara New Orleans 2,612 4,610

 

PLAYOFF TEAMS FACE OFF: That Packers-Saints contest is one of five games on the Week 1 docket featuring two teams that qualified for the 2020 playoffs.

  • Included in that group is a rematch of an AFC Divisional game between the CLEVELAND BROWNS and KANSAS CITY CHIEFS on Sunday (4:25 PM, CBS). Including the postseason, Chiefs head coach ANDY REID is 8-0 against the Browns, 4-0 with Philadelphia and 4-0 with Kansas City. Kansas City defeated Cleveland, 22-17, last postseason and became the first team since Reid’s 2002-04 PHILADELPHIA EAGLES to host three consecutive championship games.
  • Both the Packers and Chiefs will be looking to extend the league’s longest active winning streak on Kickoff Weekend. Each club has won its first game in six consecutive seasons.
  • Another tilt on the Kickoff Weekend card features the SEATTLE SEAHAWKS at INDIANAPOLIS COLTS on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX). Including the playoffs, Seattle in the Eastern Time Zone has won 12 of its past 13 games. Quarterback RUSSELL WILSON in those 13 games is 12-1 with a 117.9 passer rating, 3,598 passing yards, 26 touchdown passes and five interceptions.
  • In a marquee early game Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS), the PITTSBURGH STEELERS – who ranked third in the NFL last year in total defense (305.8 yards per game) and finished second in scoring defense (19.5 points per game) – face the BUFFALO BILLS, whose offense was second in the league in both yards per game (396.4) and points per game (31.3).
  • The LOS ANGELES RAMS will welcome fans to SoFi Stadium for the first time when the CHICAGO BEARS pay a visit on Sunday Night Football (8:20 PM ET, NBC). Chicago has 55 wins on Kickoff Weekend, the second-most in NFL history, while the Rams have won four consecutive Week 1 games.

REIGNING ROOKIES OF THE YEAR: For the second straight season and fourth time in NFL history, the defending Associated Press rookies of the year will clash on Kickoff Weekend. At FedExField on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS), 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year JUSTIN HERBERT will lead the Chargers against 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year CHASE YOUNG and Washington. Last season, Herbert recorded the most touchdown passes (31) and most completions (396), and second-most passing yards (4,336) by a rookie quarterback in NFL history. Young, meanwhile, led all rookies with 7.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss, and tied for the lead among rookies with four forced fumbles.

  • Last season, 2019 Offensive Rookie of the Year KYLER MURRAY guided the Cardinals to a season-opening win at San Francisco against defending Defensive Rookie of the Year NICK BOSA.
  • Prior to 2020, the last time defending rookies of the year met in Week 1 was Sept. 10, 1989, when the Patriots and running back JOHN STEPHENS defeated the Jets and defensive back ERIK MCMILLAN, 27-24, at Giants Stadium. The first time it happened was Sept. 21, 1975, when San Diego Chargers running back DON WOODS and Pittsburgh Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker JACK LAMBERT met at Jack Murphy Stadium, where the Steelers won, 37-0, en route to a Super Bowl X championship.

THE FOUNTAIN OF BRADY: Tampa Bay quarterback TOM BRADY, who will be 44 years and 37 days old on Thursday when the Buccaneers host Dallas in the league’s annual kickoff contest (8:20 PM ET, NBC), is expected to become the fourth-oldest individual on record (since 1932) to play in a season-opening game.

  • Brady also enters 2021 more than four years older than the next-oldest player on an active NFL roster, Rams tackle ANDREW WHITWORTH, who will be 39 years and 274 days old when his club hosts Chicago on Sunday Night Football (8:20 PM ET, NBC).

The five oldest individuals to play in a season-opening game, since 1932:

PLAYER AGE DATE TEAM
George BlandaHOF 48 years, 5 days Sept. 22, 1975 Oakland Raiders
Adam Vinatieri 46 years, 254 days Sept. 8, 2019 Indianapolis
John Carney 45 years, 146 days Sept. 13, 2009 New Orleans
Tom Brady 44 years, 37 days* Sept. 9, 2021 Tampa Bay
Morten AndersenHOF 44 years, 24 days Sept. 12, 2004 Minnesota
Lou GrozaHOF 43 years, 235 days Sept. 17, 1967 Cleveland Browns

*On Thursday

RAVING ABOUT THE RAVENS: The LAS VEGAS RAIDERS also welcome fans to their home, Allegiant Stadium, for the first time, hosting the BALTIMORE RAVENS on Monday Night Football (8:15 PM ET, ESPN/ABC). Since 2016 in Week 1 games, Baltimore is 5-0 and has outscored its opponents 177-26. The Ravens haven’t allowed more than 10 points in any of those five Kickoff Weekend games.

OPTIMISTIC STATE OF MIND: New leaders and new outlooks will dot the NFL’s landscape this weekend.

  • Seven new head coaches enter the 2021 season – DAN CAMPBELL in Detroit, DAVID CULLEY in Houston, URBAN MEYER in Jacksonville, ROBERT SALEH with the New York Jets, NICK SIRIANNI with Philadelphia, ARTHUR SMITH with Atlanta and BRANDON STALEY with the Los Angeles Chargers.
  • Over the last four seasons, seven head coaches in their first year with a new club have led their teams to the playoffs: RON RIVERA (Washington) and KEVIN STEFANSKI (Cleveland) in 2020, MATT LAFLEUR (Green Bay) in 2019, MATT NAGY (Chicago) and FRANK REICH (Indianapolis) in 2018, and SEAN MCVAY (Los Angeles Rams) and SEAN MCDERMOTT (Buffalo) in 2017.
  • Two games this weekend will feature first-year head coaches on opposite sidelines: Meyer and Culley (1:00 PM ET, CBS) will meet in Houston on Sunday while Sirianni and Smith will battle in Atlanta (1:00 PM ET, FOX). Coaches in their first year at the reins of an NFL team have played a Week 1 game only five times over the past 38 seasons, and never twice in the same opening weekend.

The last five meetings of rookie NFL head coaches on Kickoff Weekend:

DATE WINNING COACH TEAM LOSING COACH TEAM FINAL
Sept. 7, 2014 Bill O’Brien Houston Texans Jay Gruden Washington 17-6
Sept. 3, 2000 Al Groh New York Jets Mike Sherman Green Bay 20-16
Sept. 12, 1999 Dick Jauron Chicago Gunther Cunningham Kansas City 20-17
Sept. 6, 1992 Dennis Green Minnesota Mike Holmgren Green Bay 23-20 (OT)
Sept. 4, 1983 John Robinson L.A. Rams Bill ParcellsHOF N.Y. Giants 16-6

SAME FACES, NEW PLACES: Several notable players were on the move since the end of the 2020 season, including quarterbacks TEDDY BRIDGEWATER (Denver), ANDY DALTON (Chicago), RYAN FITZPATRICK (Washington), JARED GOFF (Detroit), MATTHEW STAFFORD (Los Angeles Rams), TYROD TAYLOR (Houston) and CARSON WENTZ (Indianapolis); running backs JAMES CONNER (Arizona), MIKE DAVIS (Atlanta), KENYAN DRAKE (Las Vegas), PHILLIP LINDSAY (Houston) and SONY MICHEL (Los Angeles Rams); wide receivers COREY DAVIS (New York Jets), A.J. GREEN (Arizona), JULIO JONES (Tennessee) and KENNY GOLLADAY (New York Giants); tight ends HUNTER HENRY (New England) and JONNU SMITH (New England); offensive linemen ORLANDO BROWN (Kansas City), TRENT BROWN (New England), COREY LINSLEY (L.A. Chargers), ALEX MACK (San Francisco) and JOE THUNEY (Kansas City); defensive linemen TREY HENDRICKSON (Cincinnati), YANNICK NGAKOUE (Las Vegas) and J.J. WATT (Arizona); linebackers BUD DUPREE (Tennessee), JUSTIN HOUSTON (Baltimore) and HAASON REDDICK (Carolina); and defensive backs KYLE FULLER (Denver), MIKE HILTON (Cincinnati), JOHN JOHNSON (Cleveland) and PATRICK PETERSON (Minnesota).


Find more of my broadcasting work at VinceSports.net

27 Vols in the NFL, 18 on active rosters to start season after late moves; VFL update/list

27 Vols in the NFL, 18 on active rosters to start season after late moves; VFL update/list

Steelers DB Cameron Sutton / Credit: Steelers Media Site

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

The 2021 NFL season has arrived!

Here’s an updated list of University of Tennessee players in the National Football League, as well as players that were once at UT and other Knoxville area players.

Look for constant VFL in the NFL updates here on my blog “Vince’s View.” Bookmark my blog page and check back often.

You’ll find jersey numbers, depth chart positions, numerical breakdowns and much more below regarding Vols in the NFL.


Most Recent Transactions
VFLs
DT Kahlil McKenzie signed to the practice squad by the Ravens
DB Nigel Warrior placed on IR by the Seahawks
DT Kendal Vickers selected as a protected player on practice squad by Raiders

Non-VFLs
RB Nathan Cottrell (local non-UT) was released from the practice squad by Jaguars


Notes and Numbers On Vols Players in the NFL
*27 U. of Tennessee players with teams in some fashion in the NFL currently
*18 UT players are on final 53-player NFL rosters to start season

*2 rookie VFLs are currently on active rosters (T. Smith & J. Palmer)
*New Orleans has most current UT players on active rosters with 3

*WR & DL are the largest positions represented with 4 players
*14 of the 32 teams have a UT player on rosters
*There are 5 players in the NFL that were once at U. of Tennessee but then transferred
*There are 4 players in the NFL that didn’t attend UT, but have Knoxville/East TN ties
*5 players that went to high school in the Knoxville area are on current rosters (A. Rodgers, L. Smith, H. Smith, R. Cobb, T. Higgins)


Tennessee Volunteers On 53-Player NFL Rosters as of 9/9/21 (18)
x = Rookie
AFC East (3)
CB – Justin Coleman (27) Miami Dolphins – starting CB
P – Michael Palardy (5) Miami Dolphins – P/H
FB – Jakob Johnson (47) New England Patriots – backup RB/FB
NONE – Buffalo Bills, New York Jets

AFC North (2)
DT – Malik Jackson (97) Cleveland Browns – starting LDT
DB – Cameron Sutton (20) Pittsburgh Steelers – starting RCB
NONE – Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals

AFC South (1)
LS – Morgan Cox (46) Tennessee Titans – LS
NONE – Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars

AFC West (3)
LB – Alexander Johnson (45) Denver Broncos – starting ILB
OL – Trey Smith (65) Kansas City Chiefs – x – starting RG
WR – Joshua Palmer (5) Los Angeles Chargers – x – backup WR
NONE – Las Vegas Raiders

NFC East (1)
DE – Derek Barnett (96) Philadelphia Eagles – starting RDE
NONE – Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Washington Redskins

NFC North (1)
LB – Jalen Reeves-Maybin (44) Detroit Lions – backup ILB
NONE – Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings

NFC South (4)
WR – Cordarrelle Patterson (84) Atlanta Falcons – backup RB & starting KR
RB – Alvin Kamara (41) New Orleans Saints – starting RB
DT – Shy Tuttle (99) New Orleans Saints – backup DT
WR – Marquez Callaway (1) New Orleans Saints – starting WR
NONE – Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West (3)
CB – Emmanuel Moseley (41) San Francisco 49ers – starting LCB
WR – Jauan Jennings (15) San Francisco 49ers – 3rd team WR
DE – Darrell Taylor (52) Seattle Seahawks – starting OLB
NONE – Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams


Vols on Injured Reserve (6)
TE – Jason Croom (81) Philadelphia Eagles
QB – Joshua Dobbs (5) Pittsburgh Steelers
OT – Ja’Wuan James (60) Baltimore Ravens
DE – Kyle Phillips (93) New York Jets
DB – Nigel Warrior (39) Seattle Seahawks
DT – Kendal Vickers (95) Las Vegas Raiders

Vols on Practice Squads (3)
RB – John Kelly (49) Cleveland Browns
TE – Ethan Wolf (86) New Orleans Saints
DT – Kahlil McKenzie (69) Baltimore Ravens

UT Players In The NFL On 53-Player Rosters By Position (18)
QB – 0
RB – 1
WR – 4
TE – 0
FB – 1
OL – 1
DL – 4
LB – 2
DB – 3
P – 1
PK – 0
LS – 1


One-Time Vols That Transferred To Other Schools On NFL Rosters (5)
TE – Lee Smith (85) Atlanta Falcons (Powell HS/U. of Tennessee/Marshall) – backup TE
P – Tommy Townsend (5) Kansas City Chiefs (U. of Tennessee/Florida) – P/H
QB – Nathan Peterman (3) Las Vegas Raiders (U. of Tennessee/Pitt) – 3rd team QB
WR – Preston Williams (18) Miami Dolphins (U. of Tennessee/Colorado St) – backup WR
WR – Jalen Hurd (14) San Francisco 49ers (U. of Tennessee/Baylor) – 3rd team WR

Active Knoxville Area Players That Didn’t Play At UT on NFL Rosters (4)
x = Rookie
WR – Tee Higgins (85) Cincinnati Bengals (Oak Ridge HS/Clemson) – starting WR
WR – Amari Rodgers (8) Green Bay Packers (Catholic HS/Clemson) – x – 3rd team WR
WR – Randall Cobb (18) Green Bay Packers (Alcoa HS/Kentucky) – backup WR
S – Harrison Smith (22) Minnesota Vikings (Catholic HS/Notre Dame) – starting SS

Non-VFLs on Practice Squads (1)
OG – Nathan Gilliam (65) Las Angeles Chargers


Find more of my broadcasting work at VinceSports.net

Vince’s View: 5 most promising takeaways from Tennessee’s season opening win

Vince’s View: 5 most promising takeaways from Tennessee’s season opening win

KNOXVILLE, TN – September 02, 2021 – Wide receiver JaVonta Payton #3 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the Bowling Green Falcons and the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

It was just game one against a team that isn’t close to what the Vols will face the rest of this season, but there are still some positives to take away from Tennessee’s Week 1 win over Bowling Green, 38-6.

1. Knowing What To Do

You didn’t see players out of place, looking around like they don’t know the call or their assignment or where to be like we’ve seen from them in recent years. The schemes aren’t as complex on either side of the ball and the players operated like they knew the plan and the call. Cleaning things like that up at least give you a fighting chance. That’s a positive on the coaching staff as well as the players.

2. Defensive Line

Despite not being able to see the potential difference-making pass rush of DE Byron Young, who did not play, the Vols moved the line of scrimmage quite a bit. UT recorded 11 tackles for loss and a +7 in that category. The unit had two sacks and allowed just 32 yards rushing. DE/OLB Tyler Baron had a couple of bull pass rushes back to the quarterback, although I had even higher expectations for him. DL Caleb Tremblay was in the backfield from both the interior and end spots. Big 350-pound defensive tackle Elijah Simmons was a force that drew some extra attention from Bowling Green. Bryson Eason had his most effective day in a Tennessee uniform with two of those TFLs. You could see the line doing it’s job disrupting and allowing the linebackers and secondary to flow to the ball and make plays. Star defensive back Theo Jackson was among those who benefitted with two of those TFLs. Matthew Butler said the defensive line would be the most improved unit on the team. Based on seeing them at practice, hearing about how many guys had good camps and thinking about how much better coached they’ll be under DL coach Rodney Garner, I felt better about the defense than better camp. The unit played like it’s made that jump, which is necessary for this team to succeed.

3. Tempo On Offense

The first two drives were masterful on offense for Tennessee. Two TD drives that combined for 20 plays, 133 yards in just 5:00 of clock time. That’s an average of 15 seconds per play. That includes running the play and lining up. UT was efficient and balanced as well, with 9 passes and 11 runs. That’s the balance that is typical of the identity of a Josh Heupel. The lack of substitutions, not having receivers switch fields, hustling to get up and give the right official the ball, center Cooper Mays sprinting to the spot ready to run the next play, quarterback Joe Milton knowing the next call and the coaches not delaying the calls…were all a part of the elite-level tempo. There’s a photo of wide receiver JaVonta Payton in our photo gallery (see above) where Payton is still in bounds and Heupel appears to be already calling the next play. Having success ramps-up the ability to go fast, so it didn’t continue to look that way, but it gives you a feel for what it could do to defenses. UT racked-up 88 plays in the game, which is where they would like to be. That’s where Heupel’s offenses at UCF were usually at among the nation’s leaders in offensive plays run. That could pay fourth quarter and late season dividends.

4. Halftime Impact

This had been an area lacking for a while at UT and it looked better Thursday night. The Vols came out with an 8-play 72-yard touchdown scoring drive in 1:58 to start the third quarter. All 8 plays on that drive were runs. UT reestablished the line of scrimmage with a plan. Tennessee would dominate the quarter and continue to pull away to the finish line.

5. Running Game

Tennessee rushed for 331 yards on 64 rushing attempts at 5.2 per carry. Your 1 and 1a running backs carried the load almost exclusively and both rushed for 116 yards and a touchdown. Both ran hard and broke tackles. Jabari Small put his foot in the ground and made defenders miss in the open field several times. I was even more impressed by Tiyon Evans. He shrugged off would-be tacklers regularly and showed athleticism to go with his power. You add now having a running threat on designed runs and scrambles at quarterback with Joe Milton and you now have more for future defenses to have to think about. We didn’t see much of speedy freshman Jaylen Wright, especially with the first team, so that area could still evolve.

Again, I know it was Bowling Green, but these are some things that could be promising signs as the season continues.

Tennessee hosts Pittsburgh Saturday at Noon. I’ll have an interview with a player in the pregame for a preview of the matchup.


Find more of my broadcasting work at VinceSports.net

VFL in the NFL Update: 19 Vols on rosters; UT players signed to practice squad, few released

VFL in the NFL Update: 19 Vols on rosters; UT players signed to practice squad, few released

Falcons WR Cordarrelle Patterson / Credit: Falcons Media Site

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

Practice squads have been filled and there have been more moves in the NFL involving players from the University of Tennessee as the start of the 2021 season approaches Thursday night in my hometown of Tampa.

Here’s an updated list of University of Tennessee players in the National Football League, as well as players that were once at UT and other Knoxville area players.

Look for constant VFL in the NFL updates here on my blog “Vince’s View.” Bookmark my blog page and check back often.

Depth chart positions are from our friends at Ourlads NFL Scouting Services. As teams reveal their own “unofficial” depth charts, we’ll adjust those positions to what the teams list. Many haven’t done so yet for the season opener and the 53-player roster.


Transactions Since Rosters Were Cutdown to 53
VFLs
DB Nigel Warrior signed by Seahawks to 53-player roster
RB John Kelly signed to practice squad by Browns
DT Kendal Vickers signed to practice squad by Raiders
TE Ethan Wolf signed to practice squad by Saints
TE Luke Stocker released from 53-player roster by Titans
P Britton Colquitt released, resigned then released again by Vikings
DB Bryce Thompson released from IR by Saints
TE Alex Ellis added to IR then released by Raiders

Non-VFLs
RB Nathan Cottrell (local non-UT) signed to practice squad by Jaguars
OG Nathan Gilliam (local non-UT) signed to practice squad by Chargers


Notes and Numbers On UT Players
*19 U. of Tennessee players on final 53-player NFL rosters to start season
*2 rookie VFLs are currently on active rosters (T. Smith & J. Palmer)
*New Orleans has most current UT players on active rosters with 3

*WR & DL are the largest positions represented with 4
*14 of the 32 teams have a UT player on rosters
*There are 5 players that were once at U. of Tennessee but then transferred
*There are 4 players that didn’t attend UT, but have Knoxville/East TN ties
*5 players that went to high school in the Knoxville area are on current rosters (A. Rodgers, L. Smith, H. Smith, R. Cobb, T. Higgins)


Tennessee Volunteers On 53-Player NFL Rosters as of 9/4/21 (19)
x = Rookie
AFC East (3)
CB – Justin Coleman (27) Miami Dolphins – starting CB
P – Michael Palardy (5) Miami Dolphins – starting P
FB – Jakob Johnson (47) New England Patriots – starting FB
NONE – Buffalo Bills, New York Jets

AFC North (2)
DT – Malik Jackson (97) Cleveland Browns – starting LDT
DB – Cameron Sutton (20) Pittsburgh Steelers – starting RCB
NONE – Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals

AFC South (1)
LS – Morgan Cox (46) Tennessee Titans – starting LS
NONE – Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars

AFC West (3)
LB – Alexander Johnson (45) Denver Broncos – starting ILB
OL – Trey Smith (65) Kansas City Chiefs – x – starting RG
WR – Joshua Palmer (5) Los Angeles Chargers – x – backup WR
NONE – Las Vegas Raiders

NFC East (1)
DE – Derek Barnett (96) Philadelphia Eagles – starting RDE
NONE – Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Washington Redskins

NFC North (1)
LB – Jalen Reeves-Maybin (44) Detroit Lions – backup ILB
NONE – Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings

NFC South (4)
WR – Cordarrelle Patterson (84) Atlanta Falcons – backup WR & starting KR
RB – Alvin Kamara (41) New Orleans Saints – starting RB
DT – Shy Tuttle (99) New Orleans Saints – 3rd team NT
WR – Marquez Callaway (12) New Orleans Saints – starting WR
NONE – Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West (3)
CB – Emmanuel Moseley (41) San Francisco 49ers – backup LCB
WR – Jauan Jennings (15) San Francisco 49ers – 3rd team WR
DE – Darrell Taylor (52) Seattle Seahawks – starting LEO “DE-OLB”
DB – Nigel Warrior (39) Seattle Seahawks – 3rd team SS
NONE – Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams


Not on 53-Player Rosters – Reserve Lists (4)
TE – Jason Croom (81) Philadelphia Eagles
QB – Joshua Dobbs (5) Pittsburgh Steelers
OT – Ja’Wuan James (60) Baltimore Ravens
DE – Kyle Phillips (93) New York Jets

Not on 53-Player Rosters – Practice Squad Players (3)
RB – John Kelly (49) Cleveland Browns
DT – Kendal Vickers (95) Las Vegas Raiders
TE – Ethan Wolf (86) New Orleans Saints

UT Players In The NFL On 53-Player Rosters By Position (19)
QB – 0
RB – 1
WR – 4
TE – 0
FB – 1
OL – 1
DL – 4
LB – 2
DB – 4
P – 1
PK – 0
LS – 1


One-Time Vols That Transferred To Other Schools On NFL Rosters (5)
x = Rookie
TE – Lee Smith (85) Atlanta Falcons (Powell HS/U. of Tennessee/Marshall) – backup TE
P – Tommy Townsend (5) Kansas City Chiefs (U. of Tennessee/Florida) – starting P
QB – Nathan Peterman (3) Las Vegas Raiders (U. of Tennessee/Pitt) – 3rd team QB
WR – Preston Williams (18) Miami Dolphins (U. of Tennessee/Colorado St) – backup WR
WR – Jalen Hurd (14) San Francisco 49ers (U. of Tennessee/Baylor) – 3rd team WR

Active Knoxville Area Players That Didn’t Play At UT on NFL Rosters (4)
x = Rookie
WR – Tee Higgins (85) Cincinnati Bengals (Oak Ridge HS/Clemson) – starting SWR
WR – Amari Rodgers (8) Green Bay Packers (Catholic HS/Clemson) – x – 3rd team WR
WR – Randall Cobb (18) Green Bay Packers (Alcoa HS/Kentucky) – backup WR
S – Harrison Smith (22) Minnesota Vikings (Catholic HS/Notre Dame) – starting SS

Non-VFLs on Practice Squads (2)
RB – Nathan Cottrell (31) Jacksonville Jaguars
OG – Nathan Gilliam (65) Las Angeles Chargers


Find more of my broadcasting work at VinceSports.net

You could see 27 different former Vols play for other FBS teams this season; full list with jersey numbers

You could see 27 different former Vols play for other FBS teams this season; full list with jersey numbers

Henry To’o To’o – Alabama LB / Credit: 99.1 The Sports Animal

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

No Power 5 football program has been hit harder by the transfer portal than the University of Tennessee.

Counting transfers to FBS schools and 2021 NLI releases on current rosters, you could see 27 different former University of Tennessee football players on college fields playing for other FBS programs this season. That is incredible. The full list with jersey numbers is down below.

Watching college football, it jumps out how often you see former UT players, whether you root for them or not. If not, I get that too. I’m just listing the names.

Here’s the breakdown of the numbers.

Since the start of the 2020 football season, 32 scholarship players have hit the transfer portal. 29 went in the transfer portal after the 2020 season concluded.

Among the 32 scholarship players that went in the transfer portal, 26 have enrolled at new schools, 20 of those players are at FBS schools, 6 are at FCS programs and 6 have not found new homes.

Of the 20 at FBS schools, 12 are at Power 5 programs. Oklahoma has the most ex-Vols with 3.

There have also been 7 walk-ons listed in the transfer portal database since the start of the 2020 season, with 6 of them finding new spots to play college football.

UT also let 4 players out of their signed national letter of intent after Josh Heupel was hired as head coach. The 2 that are on current FBS rosters are listed below. 1 other went to an FBS school but was ruled medically ineligible. Another went to an FCS school.

Below is the list of one-time University of Tennessee players on other FBS teams (20) this season, if you choose, as well as 5 more players that transferred in 2019 and 2020 while at UT under Jeremy Pruitt that are currently on college football rosters. Jersey numbers are included to spot them when watching. You’ll also see depth chart positions based on their first games, official depth charts or projected depth charts entering Week 1. Those are fluid.

Check back on my “Vince’s View” blog page for future posts including weekly SEC football and NFL game predictions. Bookmark my blog page and check back often.
________________________________________

Former University of Tennessee on FBS Rosters (27)
10 – LB Henry To’o To’o – Alabama (starting MLB)
0 – RB Eric Gray – Oklahoma (starting RB)
64 – RT Wanya Morris – Oklahoma (2nd team RT)
12 – S Key Lawrence – Oklahoma (2nd team SS)
19 – RB Ty Chandler – North Carolina (starting RB)
6 – LB Quavaris Crouch – Michigan State (starting LB)
58 – OT Jahmir Johnson – Texas A&M (co-starting LT)
13 – DE Deandre Johnson – Miami (2nd team DE)
24 – RB Cody Brown – Miami (not on depth chart) *released from 2021 Class NLI
42 – PK Brent Cimaglia – Georgia Tech (starting PK)
70 – OL Ryan Johnson – Georgia Tech (starting RG) *transferred before 2020 season
99 – DL Darel Middleton – West Virginia (not on depth chart)
7 – QB JT Shrout – Colorado (injured, out for the year)
18 – QB Jarrett Guarantano – Washington State (starting QB)
39 – EDGE Dylan Brooks – Auburn (not on depth chart) *released from 2021 Class NLI
91 – DL Greg Emerson – Memphis (not on depth chart)
17 – P Joe Doyle – Memphis (starting P)
3 – WR Brandon Johnson – UCF (starting WR)
68 – OL Marcus Tatum – UCF (starting LT) *transferred before 2020
5 – CB Kenney Solomon – Tulsa (3rd team CB)
18 – QB Kaidon Salter – Liberty (not on depth chart)
0 – CB Baylen Buchanan – Louisiana Tech (starting CB)
15 – WR Jerrod “Bub” Means – Louisiana Tech (3rd team WR) *transferred before 2020 season
23 – LB Will Ignont – Western Kentucky (starting LB) *transferred before 2020 season
8 – WR Latrell Williams – USF (starting WR) *transferred before 2020 season
0 – DL John Mincey – Arkansas State (2nd team DT)
5 – DE Kivon Bennett – Arkansas State (starting DE) *dismissed from UT before going in portal
________________________________________
Find more of my broadcasting work at VinceSports.net

Jimmy’s blog: Vols get win but need more efficiency in pass game

Jimmy’s blog: Vols get win but need more efficiency in pass game

By Jimmy Hyams

Despite the final score, despite the rushing yards, despite the third-down conversions, what Tennessee did Thursday night in its opener against Bowling Green wasn’t good enough.

It wasn’t good enough to beat the 50-50 teams on its schedule.

It wasn’t good enough to scare any SEC opponent.

And it wasn’t good enough to appease a fan base that expected more.

Tennessee trudged its way to a 38-6 victory over what was the worst team in the FCS last year, a team that went 0-5 and allowed 45 points per game. But at least it was a victory for a program coming off a 3-7 season.

“The pass game was really hit and miss for us tonight,’’ said first-year coach Josh Heupel, who didn’t want to minimize the victory but also didn’t want to sugar coat the concerns. “We have to be a whole lot more efficient in the pass game,

Running a high-octane offense, Tennessee completed just 12 of 24 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown. UT connected on one pass – count it, ONE — in the second half, a not-so-well-thrown ball that forced Cedric Tillman to out-maneuver a defender for a 41-yard score.

Quarterback Joe Milton, the athletic transfer from Michigan with the cannon for an arm, turned in mixed results. He rifled in several passes in the first half, but he also misfired on a few, didn’t see some open receivers, didn’t make the defense pay when he had all day to throw and lost a fumble.

All in all, Milton’s performance was average at best, although he did score on a couple of short runs.

“A couple of times,’’ Heupel said, “I didn’t like his decision making. We had some guys running open down the middle of the football field he doesn’t recognize or see. There are some things he’s got to clean up.’’

That was one of the raps against Milton at Michigan, where he lost his starting job last season after five games and was benched in his last two starts.

But clearly, Milton has immense talent. He engineered Tennessee on scoring drives of 66 and 67 yards on the first two possessions for an early 14-0 lead.

But then the offense stalled. Center Cooper Mays went out with an injury on the third possession — Heupel said he is expected back next week – and that seemed to bog down the attack. UT went the next three possessions without scoring. A holding penalty, a drop and a sack contributed to the malaise.

Leading 14-6 at halftime, UT scored on two of its first three drives in the second half behind a stout run game. But the 34-point favorites managed only a field goal on its next three possessions.

Jalen Hyatt led the team with four catches for 62 yards, but he had at least two drops.

While the pass game struggled, the run game was, at times, overpowering. Jabari Small and Tiyan Evans each ran for 116 yards and a touchdown, with Evans actually impressing more.

The Vols finished with 326 rushing yards.

Another bright spot was the defensive line, which dominated up front and limited the Falcons to just 32 rushing yards on 23 carries.

The pass defense got burned on a couple of wheel routes and throws over the middle, but didn’t yield a touchdown.

While Bowling Green wasn’t much of a test, holding a team to six points – and 219 total yards — is an achievement nowadays.

“We played with passion, effort and energy on defense,’’ Heupel said.

The Vols did reel off 88 plays. Last year’s average was 66 per game.

Heupel said he doesn’t have a set number of plays he wants to run in a game, he just wants “operate” more efficiently.

Said Heupel: “We can be a whole lot better.’’

The Vols might have to be to beat Pitt. Kickoff is set for noon Sept. 11 at Neyland Stadium.

GAME NOTES: Wide receivers Ramel Keyton and Jimmy Holiday did not play for Covid related reasons, a source said. … Defensive end Byron Young didn’t play. Heupel said UT is working through some eligibility issues at his previous school, Georgia Military Academy. … In a surprise, Ollie Lane was inserted at left guard after Cooper Mays was injured and left guard Jerome Carvin moved to center. … The tickets-sold announced crowd was 84,314. The actual crowd was closer to 70,000. … UT was 7 of 15 on third down while BGU was 2 of 14. … The Pitt game has been dubbed the Johnny Majors Classic, since Majors played and coached at UT and coached Pitt to the 1976 national championship.


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SEC Week 1 score predictions of all 14 games including Vols/BG, UGA/Clemson & who covers

SEC Week 1 score predictions of all 14 games including Vols/BG, UGA/Clemson & who covers

KNOXVILLE, TN – August 17, 2021 – Defensive back De’Shawn Rucker #28 of the Tennessee Volunteers during 2021 Fall Camp practice at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

It’s game picks time here on my blog. I pick the games straight-up, but I list the point spreads and give a final score, so you can make your own deductions from my picks and use as you wish. I’ve had great success each year with my SEC and even NFL picks. Enjoy!

My record the last two seasons…
2020 SEC Season Prediction Record: 66-12 (85%)
2019 SEC Season Prediction Record: 103-20 (84%)

Check back on my “Vince’s View” blog page for future posts including weekly SEC football and NFL game predictions. Bookmark my blog page and check back often.


SEC Opening Weekend

(2020 Record)
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 2
Bowling Green (0-5) at Tennessee (3-7, 3-7 SEC)
Knoxville, Tenn. • Neyland Stadium (102,455)
8 p.m. ET • SEC Network
Series: UT leads 1-0
Sirius: 138 • XM: 190
Spread: Tennessee -34
Vince’s View: This game is more about seeing the identity of a Josh Heupel football team more than if UT covers the point spread or not. That identity needs to be playing with tremendous tempo, stacking up yards and putting up points. You want to see the team play clean, look well-coached and get a big enough lead so they can play reserves in this game. You do not want to pile-on unnecessary snaps on starters when you’re not a deep or proven football team. Bowling Green is young and is lacking talent even comparable to the MAC or Group of 5, much less the SEC. A source that saw them practice this week told me he thinks they are bad once again despite seven transfers from Power 5 schools. If Tennessee is even in a close game vs. BG, that will be a horrible sign for the season. We’d all be shocked. No reason for it with all the positivity we’ve seen and heard from the offseason and preseason.
Score Prediction: Tennessee 49 Bowling Green 7

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 4
Louisiana-Monroe (0-10) at Kentucky (5-6, 4-6 SEC)
Lexington, Ky. • Kroger Field (61,000)
12 p.m. ET • SEC Network
Series: UK leads 4-1
Sirius: 81 • XM: 81
Spread: Kentucky -29.5
Vince’s View: This game is about UK unveiling what Penn State transfer QB Will Levis can do with the strong arm they haven’t seen from a QB in a long time. The Wildcats will dominate a bad team at the line of scrimmage.
Score Prediction: Kentucky 42 Louisiana-Monroe 10

Rice (2-3) at Arkansas (3-7, 3-7 SEC)
Fayetteville, Ark. • Reynolds Razorback Stadium (72,000)
2 p.m. ET • SECN+ / ESPN+
Series: AR leads 35-29-3
Sirius: 108 • XM: 190
Spread: Arkansas -19.5
Vince’s View: I want to see what KJ Jefferson looks like running the offense. He, like several other SEC teams including UT, can change the narrative of the season with bigtime QB play. Sam Pittman is hoping to build off of a solid first-year campaign in Fayetteville.
Score Prediction: Arkansas 37 Rice 13

Alabama (13-0, 10-0 SEC) vs. Miami (8-3)
Atlanta, Ga. • Mercedes-Benz Stadium (71,000)
3:30 p.m. ET • ABC
Series: UA leads 14-3
Sirius: 135 • XM: 192
Spread: Alabama -18.5
Vince’s View: I’d give those points all day. I like Hurricanes QB D’Eriq King. Miami has some NFL talent, but it’s not back to the old days like many are clamoring for. Alabama will unleash Tennessee transfer LB Henry To’o To’o and that strong defense, as well as the Bryce Young QB show on offense.
Score Prediction: Alabama 42 Miami 14

Louisiana Tech (5-5) at Mississippi State (4-7, 3-7 SEC)
Starkville, Miss. • Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field (61,337)
4 p.m. ET • ESPNU
Series: MS leads 10-3
Sirius: 111 • XM: 191
Spread: Miss State -23.5
Vince’s View: I’m not sold on the Bulldogs in the SEC, compared to some, but this will be a stat-padder game for the Mike Leach bunch.
Score Prediction: Miss State 35 Louisiana Tech 17

Central Michigan (3-3) at Missouri (5-5, 5-5 SEC)
Columbia, Mo. • Faurot Field (62,621)
4 p.m. ET • SEC Network
Series: First meeting
Sirius: 81 • XM: 81
Spread: Missouri -13
Vince’s View: Mizzou should be strong at the line of scrimmage and promising at quarterback. There’s no reason they don’t put those things on display in this one against the visitors from the MAC.
Score Prediction: Missouri 34 Central Michigan 10

Akron (1-5) at Auburn (6-5, 6-4 SEC)
Auburn, Ala. • Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451)
7 p.m. ET • SECN+/ ESPN+
Series: AU leads 1-0
Sirius: 108 • XM: 190
Spread: Auburn -37
Vince’s View: The Bryan Harsin era opens similar to the Josh Heupel era at Tennessee, against one of the worst teams in the FBS where winning big won’t win you any cookies, but ugly wins will set-off the fire alarms. Akron’s only win last year was a blowout of Bowling Green. Should be an easy game for Auburn.
Score Prediction: Auburn 52 Akron 6

Eastern Illinois (1-5) at South Carolina (2-8, 2-8 SEC)
Columbia, S.C.. • Williams-Brice Stadium (77,559)
7 p.m. ET • SECN+/ ESPN+
Series: First meeting
Sirius: 135 • XM: 192
Spread: South Carolina -42.5
Vince’s View: Eastern Illinois struggled on the FCS level last year. Just like Harsin and Heupel, your first game as head coach at your school is a soft opener. Great opportunity to build confidence and play a lot of players, as long as you take care of business. SC had a coach win the starting QB job. That’s where they’re at from a talent standpoint. SC does have really good running backs, an excellent TE and is solid defensively but near the bottom in the SEC overall.
Score Prediction: South Carolina 38 Eastern Illinois 0

Florida Atlantic (5-4) at Florida (8-4, 8-2 SEC)
Gainesville, Fla. • Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Steve Spurrier-Florida Field (88,548)
7:30 p.m. ET • SEC Network
Series: UF leads 3-0
Sirius: 81 • XM: 81
Spread: Florida -24.5
Vince’s View: This is about what QB Emory Jones looks like and if the Gators have improved defensively. Dan Mullen seems to figure things out when his teams have lower expectations.
Score Prediction: Florida 31 FAU 9

Georgia (8-2, 7-2 SEC) vs. Clemson (10-2)
Charlotte, N.C. • Bank of America Stadium (74,867)
7:30 p.m. ET • ABC
Series: UG leads 42-18-4
Sirius: 84 • XM: 84
Spread: Clemson -3
Vince’s View: Obviously, this is the elite game in college football featuring two college football playoff contenders. There are two Heisman Trophy contending quarterbacks on display in this one (both from California by the way) in Georgia’s JT Daniels and Clemson’s DJ Uiagalelei (oo-E-unga-luh-lay.) These are two of the best defenses in the country as well. They are both stacked with 4 and 5-star talent even if many aren’t familiar with the younger names. A healthy WR Justyn Ross makes a special play to make the difference in this one.
Score Prediction: Clemson 28 Georgia 24

Kent State (3-1) at Texas A&M (9-1, 8-1 SEC)
College Station, Texas • Kyle Field (102,733)
8 p.m. ET • ESPNU
Series: First meeting
Sirius: 211 • XM: 202
Spread: Texas A&M -29
Vince’s View: Another team that will have a new QB with promise on display in Texas A&M’s Haynes King. King chose A&M over Tennessee a few years ago. I think he’s a difference making talent. Spiller is the best RB in the league and the Aggies have an underrated stout defense.
Score Prediction: Texas A&M 45 Rice 9

ETSU (4-3) at Vanderbilt (0-9, 0-9 SEC)
Nashville, Tenn. • Vanderbilt Stadium (40,350)
8 p.m. ET • SECN+/ ESPN+
Series: VU leads 1-0
Sirius: 121 • XM: 203
Spread: -21.5
Vince’s View: The Clark Lea era begins with a game the Commodores should and need to win considering what’s to come in the SEC. It’s a massive building job there in the great city of Nashville.
Score Prediction: Vanderbilt 30 ETSU 6

LSU (5-5, 5-5 SEC) at UCLA (3-4)
Pasadena, Calif. • Rose Bowl (91,136)
8:30 p.m. ET • FOX
Series: First meeting
Sirius: 111 • XM: 191
Spread: LSU -4
Vince’s View: UCLA looked improved in Week 1’s blowout of Hawaii and it appears the talent is improving, but it’s not on LSU’s level. This will be a bounce-back year for the Tigers now that they’ve returned to the offensive system of two years ago. Maybe bigger than that is that they’ve moved on from Bo Pellini on defense. I’m surprised at the low spread.
Score Prediction: LSU 38 UCLA 21

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 6
Ole Miss (5-5, 4-5 SEC) vs. Louisville (4-7)
Atlanta, Ga. • Mercedes-Benz Stadium (71,000)
8 p.m. ET • ESPN
Series: First meeting
Sirius: 84 • XM: 84
Spread: Ole Miss 9.5
Vince’s View: I think the Rebels will be a little better on defense, and they better be if OM is to meet raised expectations. QB Matt Corral is a stud and Ole Miss has skill talent. Louisville should be a smidge better than last season but this Lane Kiffin bunch is better and fun to watch.
Score Prediction: Ole Miss 56 Louisville 28


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Jimmy’s blog: SEC coach says Smart needs to be smarter

Jimmy’s blog: SEC coach says Smart needs to be smarter

(This is the third in a three-part series on what SEC coaches say about other SEC teams. Today, comments on the SEC East, excluding Tennessee, which was Part One of our series.)

By Jimmy Hyams

The SEC has won 11 national championships in the past 15 years by four different teams.

It has won 14 since 1992 by five different teams.

Georgia isn’t one of them. Many people – including some coaches – believe Georgia is the best job in the SEC, considering its fertile recruiting base in the Peach State and surrounding area.

But the Bulldogs haven’t won a national title since Herschel Walker was running like Hercules as a freshman in 1980.

In five years, coach Kirby Smart has won one SEC title and played for the national title, but his overall record is no better than Mark Richt’s after his first five years in Athens.

Smart: 52-14. Richt: 52-13.

Could this be the year Georgia breaks through?

GEORGIA

Georgia’s offense sputtered much of last season until the Bulldogs inserted USC transfer J.T. Daniels into the lineup at quarterback.

The Bulldogs responded by averaging over 41 points in the last three SEC games.

Daniels suffered a torn ACL the year before and Georgia was timid about playing him.

“I don’t know if took Georgia that long to figure out that J.T. Daniels was the quarterback or it was because he was coming back from (knee surgery),’’ one SEC coach said. “But now the quarterback position is solidified and they’ve got good receivers and good running backs.

“I think Georgia should win the East because the East sucks. The SEC East in 2021 will be the worst it’s been in the last 25 years.

“With the talent he has, Kirby Smart should be playing in the SEC Championship game against Alabama and should make the College Football Playoffs. There’s no reason not to be there.’’

Georgia’s defense figures to be dominant again.

“They’ve got a good young defensive coordinator (Dan Lanning) who’s really good with kids, is a good teacher and the kids like him,’’ said one SEC coach. “And he’s got talent to work with.’’

One coach implied Smart needs to be smarter: “Kirby Smart’s biggest thing is he needs to get out of his own way and let his assistants coach.’’

FLORIDA

Dan Mullen secured Florida’s first East Division title in four years and had the Gators ranked No. 5 in the nation in December.

But Florida lost its last three games, allowing 48 points per game, and got blown out in the Cotton Bowl by Oklahoma.

Can the Gators repeat in the East?

“I don’t think Florida will be all that because they lost three damn good offensive players who will be good in the NFL: Kyle Pitts, Kyle Trask, and Kadarious Toney,’’ said one SEC coach.

The Gators will reload with Emory Jones at quarterback.

“Dan Mullen is one of the brightest offensive minds in college football,’’ one SEC coach said. “What he does is simple but he presents issues for a defense. He’s one of the top 2-3 quarterback developers in the country. He’s coached against Nick Saban and Kirby Smart for a dozen years. He has a system to move the ball and beat Alabama and Georgia.

“His Achilles’ Heel is his defense. I was shocked he didn’t get rid of (defensive coordinator) Todd Grantham. They played poorly on defense in the big games. And they had plenty of players on defense.’’

One coach as critical of Mullen’s recruiting efforts.

“Dan needs to pick up his recruiting and get a staff that gets big-time talent,’’ the coach said. “He needs to get difference makers. That’s what Alabama and Georgia and LSU have. When you sign difference makers you get into a different zone in recruiting.’’

KENTUCKY

Kentucky has one of the three worst in-state recruiting bases in the SEC footprint, but that hasn’t stopped Mark Stoops from fielding competitive teams good enough to beat Florida and Tennessee and make five consecutive bowls.

“I’m a big fan of Mark Stoops,’’ said one SEC coach. “I think he does as good a job as anybody in the SEC given his circumstances. Coach Stoops represents the University the right way; his players represent the right way and they play hard.

“Kentucky fans fill up the stadium. At Kentucky, as long as you put a product on the field the fans are proud of, you’re in good shape. Because it is not an easy job. It’s not a good football state. The best athletes play basketball.

“At Kentucky, you’ve just got to win eight or nine games. … Other than Vanderbilt in the SEC, Kentucky is the student-athlete model.’’

Kentucky won at least seven games four years in a row until the 2020 pandemic season.

“Last year was a disappointment (5-6),’’ one SEC coach said. “They were not what they thought they’d be on offense. (Former offensive coordinator) Eddie Gran did a really good job for three or four years, but as the head coach, you’ve got to make some tough decisions. Stoops had enough intelligence and judgment to make that change.

“When you’re the coordinator, the quarterback play comes on you. And the quarterback play hasn’t been good enough. And they lost their offensive line coach, John Schlarman (who died of cancer). He was the heart beat of that team.’’

MISSOURI:

Missouri won back-to-back East Division titles in 2013-14, but the Tigers have fallen on mostly hard times since then, not posting a winning record in SEC play.

Last year’s 5-5 mark in SEC games only was the most SEC wins since 2014.

“(Former coach) Gary Pinkel got Missouri to the SEC Championship game twice, which is an indictment on the SEC East,’’ one SEC coach said. “Eli (Drinkwitz) needs to get them back in that direction, because once you taste it, don’t tell the fans you can’t do it again.’’

One coach likes Drinkwitz’s offensive mind.

“When Eli Drinkwitz was at N.C. State (as offensive coordinator) he was a very innovative offensive coach,’’ the coach said. “At Missouri, his offense gave Alabama some technical issues (with 357 total yards, not counting sack yards), some schematic issues, but they didn’t have the firepower.

“Their offensive line was average. Their quarterback was average in a lot of respects. Their skill was pretty good. I don’t see the consistency to call (quarterback) Connor Bazelak anything above average.’’

One coach said Missouri, despite a win over LSU, made too many mistakes in Drinkwitz’s rookie season as head coach.

“I can remember Missouri playing some good halves, but they never put it all together and played a complete game,’’ one coach said. “They made untimely errors and self-inflicted wounds. They need to learn how to win in the SEC. In the SEC, you can’t beat yourself, bottom line.’’

One coach said the Tigers will be hard pressed to replace two star players.

“Missouri will miss linebacker Nick Bolton, who was very productive, very instinctive,’’ the coach said. “He made a lot of good plays. They will also miss Larry Rountree, their all-time leading rusher.’’

SOUTH CAROLINA

Will Muschamp began his career at South Carolina with promise, going 9-4 in Year Two.

Since then, the Gamecocks’ SEC record went from 4-4 to 3-5 to 2-8.

Muschamp was fired, replaced by Shane Beamer, son of the former highly successful coach at Virgina Tech, Frank Beamer.

“South Carolina is a complete train wreck,’’ one SEC coach said. “If you fire Will Muschamp to hire Shane Beamer, just keep Muschamp. (Athletic director) Ray Tanner gave Muschamp an extension and it cost the school a lot of money.

“Looking back, if a coach at Florida gets fired for taking down Florida, what in your mind makes you think he can make South Carolina better?’’

Another coach thinks South Carolina is in for a long rebuilding project.

“I think South Carolina is in a period of 40 years wandering in the dessert,’’ the coach said. “They need new athletic administration. They’ve got great facilities, the boosters are some of best in world. When Lou Holtz went 0-11, the South Carolina fans were behind him. They deserve better.’’

One coach said Carlina has underachieved on defense.

“South Carolina had the worst defense in the SEC, other than Ole Miss,’’ the coach said. “Look at all the players they’ve had drafted on defense — Jevon Kinlaw, D.J. Wonnum, Jaycee Horn, Ernest Jones, Isreal Mukuamu. It’s inexcusable how bad their defense has been.  And you (Muschamp) call yourself a defensive genius? And playing in the East, it’s not like you’re playing the best offenses in the country.

“Any change on defense from a coaching standpoint will be positive. They had NFL defense players the last two years and played as poorly on defense as anybody in league.’’

Said another coach: “South Carolina underperformed as bad as any team in the SEC the past two years. South Carolina has talent. Their running back (Kevin Harris) led the SEC in rushing. They had a good offensive line. They had NFL talent on defense.’’

VANDERBILT

Seven years ago, Vanderbilt was winning nine games in back-to-back years under James Franklin.

Since then, the Commodores have had two winless SEC records, two 1-7 conference seasons and not had a winning overall record.

Exit Derek Mason. Enter Clark Lea, a Vanderbilt alum.

“Vanderbilt is a tough job,’’ said one SEC coach. “It’s a great school. They need to commit to facilities to get higher level players.

“(Coach) Clark Lea played there, he understands the nature of the school. I don’t think Derek Mason completely understood Vanderbilt. If Clark Lea is as charismatic as James Franklin, that would help make it a good place, a hip place. The good news is he understands and knows the task ahead of him.’’

Vandy will build around Ken Neal, who had a productive freshman season.

“Ken Neal is a good player,’’ one coach said, “but he’s just a guy in the SEC. He reminds me of Jordan Rodgers, the kid they had a few years back. He’s a good quarterback but he’s not elite.’’


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Vince’s View: SEC Football 2021 Season Record Predictions including Vols trending up

Vince’s View: SEC Football 2021 Season Record Predictions including Vols trending up

KNOXVILLE, TN – August 17, 2021 – Running back Tiyon Evans #8 of the Tennessee Volunteers during 2021 Fall Camp practice at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

Here are my 2021 SEC Football season predictions with order of finish, conference record and overall record.

Check back on my “Vince’s View” blog page for future posts including weekly SEC football and NFL game predictions. Bookmark my blog page and check back often.


SEC East          SEC    All
Georgia             8-0     11-1
Florida               5-3     9-3
Kentucky           4-4     8-4
Missouri            4-4     8-4
Tennessee        3-5     6-6
South Carolina  1-7     4-8
Vanderbilt          0-8     3-9

SEC West          SEC    All
Alabama             8-0    12-0
Texas A&M         6-2    10-2
LSU                    5-3     9-3
Ole Miss             4-4     8-4
Auburn               4-4      7-5
Arkansas            2-6     5-7
Miss State          2-6     5-7

SEC Championship: Alabama over Georgia
College Football Playoff: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma

Vince’s View: My view of Tennessee has improved in preseason practice. I couldn’t pull the trigger on changing to 7-5, but I honestly thought about it. My 6-6 was closer to 5-7 than 7-5 for most of the summer. Now I think UT is close to 7-5. It’s a competitive, encouraging 6-6, even though that’s never good enough for some regardless of the circumstances.

Some really encouraging signs have me feeling stronger about Josh Heupel’s first outfit on Rocky Top. I think 6-6 will include some close, competitive games, giving some better teams some scares and a fun to watch offense that gives the team a puncher’s chance.

You can make a case for UT beating Pitt and knocking off either Missouri, Kentucky or Ole Miss. I couldn’t do both, so I have a loss to Pitt and a slight upset win at either Missouri or Kentucky for 3-5 in the SEC and 6-6 overall. I don’t view those three SEC games I listed as 50/50 games though, as some have described them, but they are within reach to win. Pitt is at home, but it’s a solid team with a veteran quarterback and some NFL talent. That’s closer to a 50/50 game. You could easily have a win over Pitt and 2-6 in the SEC instead, but showing some progress with a league road win over a good team will be a positive. The other two wins I have coming over South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

Quarterback Joe Milton and health each hold the two access cards to enter into a winning and big surprise season. I like Milton. I’ve said from early in camp that I thought he would be the starting quarterback. I think he’ll give UT’s offense the play-making it once had on broken plays with Josh Dobbs. With Milton’s elite arm strength, size and apparent consistency in practice, he has the upside to change the narrative for the Vols in 2021. There’s talent among the skill players, but there are so many unproven inexperienced players that there’s still a cause of concern. The offensive line can be solid, if protected by the offense, but it’s a dangerously thin unit. UT has depth issues in a lot of spots, so that’s where the health access card comes into play.

Defensively, the most improved group could be the d-line. That position room will be coached better under Rodney Garner, they have a veteran group and they’ll have two potential outstanding pass rushers in LEOs (DE/OLB) Byron Young and Tyler Baron elevating the interior players. I think Texas transfer ILB Juwan Mitchell will be outstanding, but there’s huge concerns at linebacker after that, especially in pass coverage and stature. Except for Baron, who is basically an End, no other linebacker is as big as Joe Milton with most not even close. The secondary is experienced and sound with the starting 5, but again, not deep.

Part of losing some of those close games could be the kicking game. The place kicking may be shaky and really frustrating.

Tennessee has some good players, but it needs difference-makers to emerge. It’s not obvious that it has any or enough of those until this staff can recruit enough of it’s own players and keep improving the roster.

As for the rest of the league, as boring as it is, I think Alabama is once again the best team. Georgia may have their best chance to knock off the Tide in the SEC Championship Game or in the College Football Playoff. They have an improved group of pass catchers, one of the best defenses in the country and a top-notch QB playing under a more aggressive OC. Alabama is still so loaded with talent with likely another special QB in Bryce Young. I think Florida hangs around again in second place in the East. Kentucky’s new QB in strong-armed Penn State transfer Will Levis could be a game changer for the Wildcats who, like Mizzou, have a lighter league schedule than most. I think Texas A&M will take that expected next step under Haynes King at QB and be right behind Alabama firmly in the CFB Playoff picture. LSU will bounce back big. Lane Kiffin’s high-octane offense and the Rebels will be improved as well. Schedules play a part in record predictions. Who do you play and when, before or after who? Those are all factors.

Enjoy the season!


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Jimmy’s blog: UT bill for NCAA investigation continues to escalate

Jimmy’s blog: UT bill for NCAA investigation continues to escalate

By Jimmy Hyams

The price-tag for hiring a law firm to conduct Tennessee’s internal investigation regarding potential NCAA football recruiting violations continues to grow.

According to documents obtained this week by The Sports Animal, UT has paid the firm of Bond, Schoeneck and King $856,179 through the month of July. The firm was hired in November.

The highest invoice was in January: $189,171.

The bill for July: $99,728.

UT officials have indicated there is no timetable for conclusion of the investigation, but UT athletic director Danny White did say recently that the NCAA has been involved with the process from the beginning and White hopes that will preclude the NCAA from conducting its own investigation, which would prolong the issue even longer.

It is not clear if UT will self-impose penalties once the law firm’s final report is sent to the NCAA.

Some have suggested that UT shouldn’t impose any penalties since the NCAA has apparently lost some of its enforcement power.

It’s worth noting that the law firm had discovered enough evidence for Tennessee to fire its head football coach and nine others in January, yet, eight months later, has not completed the investigation.

Here is a month-by-month billing from the law firm:

November: $12,876

December: $93,756

January: 189,171

February: $92,268

March: $109,096

April: $91,344

May: $77,211

June: $90,720

July: $99,728


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Jimmy’s blog: Despite talent loss, Alabama team to beat due to Saban

Jimmy’s blog: Despite talent loss, Alabama team to beat due to Saban

(This is the second in a three-part series on what some SEC coaches say about other SEC programs. Part One ran Monday about Tennessee. Part 2 is about the SEC West.)

By Jimmy Hyams

Alabama won its sixth national championship under Nick Saban, thanks to one of the most prolific offenses in college football history.

The Crimson Tide had a Heisman Trophy winner and two others that finished in the top six.

Bama had six players taken among the first 24 picks of the draft. The Tide lost its record-setting quarterback, its top two wideouts and its best running back.

Yet, many predict Alabama will repeat as national champs.

“Alabama did lose a lot,’’ said one SEC coach, “but this is what I see at Alabama: They didn’t lose Nick Saban and that’s the key to the drill. They always lose offensive coordinators but only one didn’t win an SEC Championship or play for a national championship.

“My point is, with Nick Saban back, Alabama is still Alabama. The players change, the offensive coordinators change, the defensive coordinators change, but they still have Nick.’’

True.

Saban has dominated the SEC like never before. Bear Bryant also won six national crowns at Alabama, but over a span of 25 years.

Saban has won six in 12 years. And there seems to be no end in sight.

Saban has retooled himself. From a grind-it-out, pro-style offense with a stout defense to a wide-open attack that exposes his defense, Saban has got it figured out. Each of his offenses the past three seasons have averaged over 45 points.

“Alabama lately has been more about offensive production and less about defense,’’ said one SEC coach. “In the last four years, they’ve had more offensive players drafted than defensive players.

“The offense keeps getting better and better and they play at a high level. And now they have (first-year offensive coordinator) Bill O’Brien, who is a brilliant mind. And (former NFL head coach) Doug Marrone on the offensive line. I bet it’s never happened in college where a school had two offensive coaches who were former NFL head coaches.’’

While Alabama’s offense has been superb in recent years, look for the defense to make a comeback. Talent abounds at each defensive unit.

“Christian Harris is a freak athlete,’’ said one SEC coach. “He’s the best linebacker in the country. And Will Anderson is an unbelievable kid and an unbelievable player (and pass rusher). They could win the Nagurski and Butkus awards.’’

AUBURN

Gus Malzahn won more games against Alabama (three) than any coach in the SEC – or the country — over the past eight years. But that didn’t keep him from getting fired.

Enter Bryan Harsin from Boise State. He’s not new to winning (76-24 in eight years) but he is new to the SEC.

“Bryan Harsin is old school,’’ one SEC coach said. “That will help Auburn.

“And they need somebody to make the quarterback better. The coaching of Bo Nix has been criminal, knowing his talent level. He’s not performed at half the level he’s capable of. Put him in a good system and coach him the right way and he can really be good. He’s got a good running back (Tank Bigsby) but he’s lost two good receivers (Anthony Schwartz and Seth Williams).’’

One SEC coach said Malzahn was too indecisive on play calling: “The problem with Auburn’s offense was Guz Malzahn was like a squirrel in the middle of the road: He could never make up his mind about who should run the offense.

One SEC coach praised the hiring of defensive coordinator Derek Mason, former head coach at Vanderbilt. But he said Mason doesn’t have much material to work with: “I don’t think Auburn has recruited that well the last few years. There’s no (defensive tackle like) Derek Brown, the linebackers are small and undersized, and the secondary is suspect.’’

 

LSU

After winning the 2019 national championship with one of the greatest offenses ever assembled, LSU stumbled its way to a 5-5 record, in part because of a lousy defense and in part because, coach Ed Orgeron admitted, the Tigers celebrated too much and for too long.

“(Defensive coordinator) Bo Pelini was a horrible hire for lots of reasons on a lot of fronts,’’ one SEC coach said of Pelini, who was fired after one season. “He wasn’t good the first time there and they brought him back anyway.’’

LSU allowed school records for points per game (34.9) and total yards (492). Mississippi State, Missouri and Ole Miss each scored at least 44 points. Auburn got 48. Alabama 55.

Defense wasn’t the only problem. The offense was inconsistent, scoring 7 against Texas A&M, 11 against Auburn, and 17 against Alabama.

“The offense was a disaster,’’ one SEC coach said. “They lost the young guy (Joe Brady to the NFL).’’

And despite losing Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Joe Burrow, LSU still had talent at quarterback, though Myles Brennan suffered a season-ending injury in Game. 3.

“They had three of the best five quarterbacks in the SEC (Brennan, Max Johnson, T.J Finley),’’ one SEC coach said. “Finley (who has transferred to Auburn) reminds me of JaMarcus Russell (former No. 1 overall pick from LSU). And Johnson beat Florida at Florida.  And Brennan averaged over 330 yards per game last year before he got hurt.

“All that being said, Ed Orgeron continues to recruit. That is his wheelhouse. When Ed won the national championship, that proves players win over coaches.’’

Another coach was appalled at LSU’s lackadaisical attitude.

“I watched some of their games last year and I was embarrassed by the way they played, with the lack of effort and toughness,’’ one coach said. “And the coaching staff never made any adjustments. You could see the frustration on Ed Orgeron’s face. I’m surprised he didn’t fight some of those guys.

“That’s the worst effort I’ve seen the talent play at LSU since the Gerry DiNardo days (1995-99).’’

One coach doesn’t give LSU any hope of rebounding: “I think LSU is a dumpster fire. (Athletic director) Scott Woodward will get stuff cleaned up. He won’t tolerate what’s been going on. They need to clean house.’’

TEXAS A&M

Texas A&M went 10-1, came close to making the College Football Playoff and had a top five ranking for the first time since 1939.

That seemed reason enough for the Aggies to give Fisher a raise and extension, even though he had a 10-year, $75 million contract.

A&M lost four-year starter Kellon Mond at quarterback and replaces him with talented freshman Haynes King. That shouldn’t be a problem, one SEC coach said.

“Jimbo Fisher is one of the top four or five quarterback developers in the country,’’ one SEC coach said. “Kellen Mond had a ceiling on him talent wise, but Jimbo did a great job with Mond. But Mond is the only quarterback Jimbo has had at A&M so he’s got to find a new one. They’ve got a great running back (Isaiah Spiller) and great receivers.’’

Another coach praised Fisher: “Jimbo’s got a great offensive mind. He could be a coach that beats Nick Saban because Jimbo knows (Saban’s) defense.’’

Offense isn’t A&M’s only strong suit. The defense could be one of the SEC’s best.

“Jimbo’s got the best defensive coordinator (Mike Elko) in the league schematically and adjustment wise,’’ one SEC coach said. “He coaches his front better than anybody in the league and they play the best technically. Elko is to A&M what Dave Aranda was to LSU. A&M always plays good defense; they don’t ever have a bad day.’’

Still, can the Aggies match last season’s success?

“It will be hard for A&M to match last year’s 9-1 (regular-season) record when you lose your quarterback, but with that being said, the West has only one team that is a legit top 10 team: Alabama. That gives him a chance,’’ one SEC coach said.

“This year and next year are big for Jimbo. He will either take it to the next level or get fired before his contract runs out.’’

OLE MISS:

Ole Miss scored its way to a 5-5 record. The Rebels piled up at least 42 points in five games (including 48 against Alabama) but lost two of them.

Put it this way, you know your offense is good when Nick Saban accuses you of stealing defensive signals.

“(Offensive coordinator) Jeff Lebby is the reason they had such a great offense last year,’’ one SEC coach said. “He did a remarkable job with the quarterback (Matt Corral). They lost Elijah Moore and the tight end (Kenny Yeboah). And they fired the offensive line coach after they led the SEC in rushing with average players.’’

The offense should again be explosive. But what about the defense?

“Ole Miss is so bad on defense,’’ one SEC coach said. “I think (defensive coordinator) D.J. Durkin is average. They were awful on defense last year and never adjusted. The good news is, they can’t get any worse. You could put Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs out there and they will be better.’’

One SEC coach said the Rebels have a stud defender.

“Their defensive end Sam Williams, that S.O.B is a legit first-round NFL draft choice,’’ one SEC coach said. “The guy is a freak show. He could be one to watch in the SEC. He is a phenomenal talent. He’s 6-3, 260 and runs a 4.6 straight line. He’s a powerful guy and he knocks people on their ass. But he will take plays off and go to lunch. If he played every down, he could play on Alabama’s defense, and Ole Miss doesn’t have a lot of those.’’

Otherwise, the defense has a personnel issue, one coach said: “Their back end (secondary) is embarrassing. Their front is embarrassing. The linebackers are average.’’

MISS STATE:

The Bulldogs torched LSU’s secondary in scoring a 44-34 victory over the defending champions in last season’s opener. State didn’t score more than 24 points in the next eight games.

The Bulldogs finished the season averaging a paltry 21.4 points per game.

“A lot of people think Mike Leach is great,’’ one SEC coach said, “but in the SEC, teams figured out how to stop the dink and dunk. He’s got to come up with a run game and alternative pass game against eight-man drops. The eight-man drop killed them last year. It messes up all their routes.

“Everything for Leach on offense is spacing. If he (Leach) reads (zone) coverage, he runs space routes; if he reads man, he runs rub routes.

“The SEC plays more man (defense) than the Pac-12 so you’ve got to go to your second and third reads. I think Leach needs a more athletic guy to do that. His system is not very complicated. It’s pitch and catch. That’s his run game. I think Mississippi State needs to run more. Leach needs a more athletic quarterback so the quarterback run game is more of a threat.’’

The quarterback is Will Rogers, who started the last six games last season, passing for 1,976 yards and 11 touchdowns while hitting 69.1 percent.

“Their quarterback, Will Rogers, I think he’s what Leach wants to run the offense,’’ one SEC coach said. “He makes the right decisions. At Washington State, Leach had cerebral guys. And Rogers is a better athlete than some think.’’

Another coach said don’t count Leach out:  “Leach is dumb like a fox. He’s brilliant because of his education (law degree). He reads people in situations well.’’

ARKANSAS

Arkansas went two years without winning a conference game, and had won just one in three years.

Coach Sam Pittman inherited a culture of chaos.

But in his debut, the Hogs led No. 4 Georgia at halftime, beat upstart Mississippi State in the second game, got robbed by officials against Auburn in the third game, then beat Ole Miss in Game Four.

Suddenly, Arkansas was a tough out.

While the Hogs won just one more game, they threatened No. 8 Texas A&M, scored 35 on Florida, lost by a field goal to LSU and fell by two to Missouri.

“I think it could be argued Sam Pittman did as good a job coaching a first-year team as anyone in recent SEC history because they were not very good before Sam got there,’’ said one SEC coach. “They hadn’t won an SEC game in two years and won just one in three years.

“Sam is team-builder type guy. He’s a quality human being. Players play hard for him. He can recruit. He’s one of the few authentic, personable and believable head coaches in the SEC. He cares about his players.’’

Pittman cares about his coaches, too. He has assembled a staff that, arguably, has one of the best offensive and defensive coordinator combinations in the SEC.

“(Defensive coordinator) Barry Odom did a really good job with the talent he had,’’ one SEC coach said. “He had only one draftable player. His defense played more physical and with better effort.’’

The offense was a mix.

“Kendal Briles is a fast-pace offensive coordinator who went up tempo at Baylor,’’ said one SEC coach. “Pittman likes to run the ball, play smash-mouth football and beat you up. They did a good job blending those two systems last year.

“If they get the type quarterback Briles wants and incorporate the fast tempo and run game, it will make it hard on defenses.’’

It will also make it hard if quarterback KJ Jefferson comes through.

“They won (three games) with Feleipe Franks, who’s like a schizophrenic quarterback who can play really well, then get you beat,’’ said one SEC coach. “If they get a quarterback, look out.’’

One coach noted it’s hard to win at Arkansas: “Arkansas is a hard state to recruit. You’ve got to get juco guys out of Texas and Louisiana.’’


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Jimmy’s blog: Butler vows DL will be UT’s most improved unit

Jimmy’s blog: Butler vows DL will be UT’s most improved unit

By Jimmy Hyams

There’s a lot of blame to go around when you go 3-7, get blown out at home by Kentucky, fall to a 3-win Arkansas team and score fewer than 20 points in six games.

Tennessee’s quarterback play was poor last year. The offensive line underachieved. The pass rush was sporadic. The secondary was riddled with holes. And the defensive line didn’t play up to its ability.

It’s the latter that bothers defensive tackle Matthew Butler, and he’s vowed to fix it.

Butler had two defensive line coaches least year: Jimmy Brumbaugh, who was fired after four games, and head coach Jeremy Pruitt, who appeared to let graduate assistants do some instructing.

The results were not good, but not as futile as you might think.

Tennessee’s run defense ranked fifth in the SEC (141.6 yards per game). It held three opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing — Florida got 19. Only one team (Kentucky) had more rush yards than pass yards. And only one team (Texas A&M) rushed for more than 200 yards.

On the surface, that doesn’t look too bad. But in reality, the front four didn’t perform like it needed to – like it did the seasons before under defensive line coach Tracy Rocker.

Butler, who has had six position coaches, vows that the defensive line will be the most improved unit on the team.

“We’ve made leaps and bounds since the spring,’’ Butler said. “And we’re going to continue to take leaps and bounds. That’s a goal of ours.’’

There are two primary reasons for Butler’s optimism: New defensive line coach Rodney Garner and a veteran group of defensive linemen that includes five seniors.

“First of all, I’ve loved every single dude that has come in and out of our room,’’ Butler said. “Those are my guys. It’s like my family away from my family. We do things together, we talk all the time, cracking jokes and acting plain foolish sometimes.

“The guys that left (transferred) everyone has their own situation. But the guys that are here now, we’ve got to make it happen. Not just make it happen, but really make it happen. Like we have some really good guys in that room. We’re going to step up, we’re going to be the rock of the defense.’’

Their leader is Garner, a veteran SEC coach who has sent a plethora of players to the NFL and who recruited four key players that helped Tennessee win the 1998 national championship.

What has Garner meant to the defensive linemen?

“Oh, he means a lot.’’ Garner said. “We all know who coach Garner is, from his past. He is a dude. He’s the dude. He’s the best of the best, so you go in there and listen to what he says. You apply it to your game right away, no ifs, ands or butts about it, because you know it works. It’s been amazing.’’

Butler describes Garner as a fiery coach on the field but one that loves the players off the field and wants them to be well-rounded individuals.

Butler admitted that going through the carousel of defensive line coaches over the past four years “has to impact you in some ways,’’ naming the multitude of coaches who have tutored him.

“Now that we have the best coach with us in the country,’’ Butler said, “what else can you really ask for.’’


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VFL in the NFL Update: Final roster cuts to 53 drop active Vols to 20 with 5 more on IR; full list and breakdown

VFL in the NFL Update: Final roster cuts to 53 drop active Vols to 20 with 5 more on IR; full list and breakdown

Seahawks DE/OLB Darrell Taylor / Credit: Seahawks Media Site

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

Final roster cuts are all in. NFL teams had to get down to 53-player rosters on Tuesday in preparation for the start of the 2021 season.

Here’s an updated list of University of Tennessee players in the National Football League, as well as players that were once at UT and other Knoxville area players.

Look for constant VFL in the NFL updates here on my blog “Vince’s View.” Bookmark my blog page and check back often.

This update does not include coaches with U. of Tennessee ties on NFL coaching staffs or in front office positions around the league. I will list those in a separate post here on my blog.

Depth chart positions are from our friends at Ourlads NFL Scouting Services. As teams reveal their own “unofficial” depth charts, we’ll adjust those positions to what the teams list. Many haven’t done so yet for the season opener and the 53-player roster.


Recent Transactions
TE Dom Wood-Anderson released by Seahawks
WR Josh Malone released by Jets
TE Jason Croom placed on IR by Eagles
TE Eli Wolf (ex-Vol) released by Ravens

Tuesday Cutdown Day Transactions
RB John Kelly released by Browns
DB Nigel Warrior released by Ravens
DT Reginald McKenzie released by Bengals
TE Alex Ellis released by Raiders
DT Kendal Vickers released by Raiders
TE Ethan Wolf released by Saints
DB Bryce Thompson placed on IR by Saints
QB Joshua Dobbs placed on IR by Steelers
OT Ja’Wuan James placed on non-football IR by Ravens
RB Nathan Cottrell (local non-UT) released by Jaguars
OG Nathan Gilliam (local non-UT) released by Chargers

*Note: Some of these released players will be brought back to practice squads. He’ll track those and list them in future updates as well.


Notes and Numbers On UT Players
*20 U. of Tennessee players on final 53-player NFL rosters to start season
*2 rookie VFLs are currently on active rosters (T. Smith & J. Palmer)
*New Orleans has most current UT players on active rosters with 3

*WR & DL are the largest positions represented with 4
*15 of the 32 teams have a UT player on rosters
*There are 5 players that were once at U. of Tennessee but then transferred
*There are 4 players that didn’t attend UT, but have Knoxville/East TN ties
*6 players that went to high school in the Knoxville area are on current rosters (A. Rodgers, B. Colquitt, L. Smith, H. Smith, R. Cobb, T. Higgins)


Tennessee Volunteers On 53-Player NFL Rosters as of 9/1/21 (20)
x = Rookie
AFC East (3)
CB – Justin Coleman (27) Miami Dolphins – starting CB
P – Michael Palardy (5) Miami Dolphins – starting P
FB – Jakob Johnson (47) New England Patriots – starting FB
NONE – Buffalo Bills, New York Jets

AFC North (2)
DT – Malik Jackson (97) Cleveland Browns – starting LDT
DB – Cameron Sutton (20) Pittsburgh Steelers – starting RCB
NONE – Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals

AFC South (2)
TE – Luke Stocker (85) Tennessee Titans – 3rd team TE
LS – Morgan Cox (46) Tennessee Titans – starting LS
NONE – Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars

AFC West (3)
LB – Alexander Johnson (45) Denver Broncos – starting ILB
OL – Trey Smith (65) Kansas City Chiefs – x – starting RG
WR – Joshua Palmer (5) Los Angeles Chargers – x – backup WR
NONE – Las Vegas Raiders

NFC East (1)
DE – Derek Barnett (96) Philadelphia Eagles – starting RDE
NONE – Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Washington Redskins

NFC North (2)
LB – Jalen Reeves-Maybin (44) Detroit Lions – backup ILB
P – Britton Colquitt (2) Minnesota Vikings – starting P
NONE – Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers

NFC South (4)
WR – Cordarrelle Patterson (84) Atlanta Falcons – backup WR & starting KR
RB – Alvin Kamara (41) New Orleans Saints – starting RB
DT – Shy Tuttle (99) New Orleans Saints – 3rd team NT
WR – Marquez Callaway (12) New Orleans Saints – starting WR
NONE – Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West (3)
CB – Emmanuel Moseley (41) San Francisco 49ers – backup LCB
WR – Jauan Jennings (15) San Francisco 49ers – 3rd team WR
DE – Darrell Taylor (52) Seattle Seahawks – starting LEO “DE-OLB”
NONE – Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams


Not on 53-Player Rosters – Reserve Lists (5)
CB – Bryce Thompson (31) New Orleans Saints – x
TE – Jason Croom (81) Philadelphia Eagles
QB – Joshua Dobbs (5) Pittsburgh Steelers
OT – Ja’Wuan James (60) Baltimore Ravens
DE – Kyle Phillips (93) New York Jets

UT Players In The NFL On 53-Player Rosters By Position (20)
QB – 0
RB – 1
WR – 4
TE – 1
FB – 1
OL – 1
DL – 4
LB – 2
DB – 3
P – 2
PK – 0
LS – 1


One-Time Vols That Transferred To Other Schools On NFL Rosters (5)
x = Rookie
TE – Lee Smith (85) Atlanta Falcons (Powell HS/U. of Tennessee/Marshall) – backup TE
P – Tommy Townsend (5) Kansas City Chiefs (U. of Tennessee/Florida) – starting P
QB – Nathan Peterman (3) Las Vegas Raiders (U. of Tennessee/Pitt) – 3rd team QB
WR – Preston Williams (18) Miami Dolphins (U. of Tennessee/Colorado St) – backup WR
WR – Jalen Hurd (14) San Francisco 49ers (U. of Tennessee/Baylor) – 3rd team WR

Active Knoxville Area Players That Didn’t Play At UT on NFL Rosters (4)
x = Rookie
WR – Tee Higgins (85) Cincinnati Bengals (Oak Ridge HS/Clemson) – starting SWR
WR – Amari Rodgers (8) Green Bay Packers (Catholic HS/Clemson) – x – 3rd team WR
WR – Randall Cobb (18) Green Bay Packers (Alcoa HS/Kentucky) – backup WR
S – Harrison Smith (22) Minnesota Vikings (Catholic HS/Notre Dame) – starting SS

Find more of my broadcasting work at VinceSports.net

Jimmy’s blog: One SEC coach says Heupel inherited a `mess’

Jimmy’s blog: One SEC coach says Heupel inherited a `mess’

By Jimmy Hyams 

Tennessee has had eight losing season in the past 13 years.

The Vols haven’t been relevant in the SEC East Division race but once since 2007.

Some 37 players have hit the transfer portal since the start of last season (including three quarterbacks), a dozen wound up at Power 5 schools, four more were released from their National Letter of Intent and two more retired from the game due to injury.

“It’s going to take a while for Tennessee to get back to Tennessee,’’ said one SEC coach, speaking on the condition he not be identified.

“Tennessee fans need to be patience with Josh Heupel because Heupel inherited a mess, like Jeremy Pruitt inherited a mess, like Butch Jones inherited a mess.’’

A mess.

That’s what Tennessee football has been for much of the past 13 years.

A once-proud program hasn’t been able to compete with the elite in the SEC.

Tennessee hasn’t beaten Alabama since 2006, has one win over Florida since 2004 and just two wins over Georgia since 2009.

Ouch.

“Fans will need to be patient,’’ one SEC coach said. “Tennessee hasn’t been Tennessee since the year (2007) before (Phillip) Fulmer got fired (2008).’’

Tennessee fans are tired of being told to exercise patience, but it’s not Heupel’s fault he inherited a mess with a depleted roster.

So, Can Heupel get the job done at Tennessee?

“I like Josh Heupel,’’ one coach said. “He is going to be good on offense. My concern with Josh is his ability to recruit in an SEC environment. He has no clue.

“Hiring (defensive line coach) Rodney Garner helps because he’s one of founding fathers of SEC recruiting.’’

While Heupel is expected to call plays, he has entrusted his defense to Tim Banks, who was hired from the Penn State staff.

“I don’t know much about (defensive coordinator) Tim Banks,’’ one coach said. “It will be interesting to see what he can do with what he has. I know many (defensive players) entered the transfer portal.’’

Despite Tennessee’s myriad of coaching changes, the Vols have continued to recruit at a decent level, averaging out at about a 15 ranking over the past decade. But that hasn’t translated on the field or in the national regular-season polls.

“Tennessee is like a stock that everyone is hoping will be a 10 but it’s down to an 8.5,’’ one coach said.

That might be generous.


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WATCH: Vince’s View on the NFL with analyst Solomon Wilcots on Vols Smith, Callaway & Kamara; 3 team breakdowns

WATCH: Vince’s View on the NFL with analyst Solomon Wilcots on Vols Smith, Callaway & Kamara; 3 team breakdowns

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

I had the pleasure to catch-up with outstanding NFL analyst Solomon Wilcots. See that interview and podcast below.

Solomon works for SiriusXM NFL Radio Channel 88 and Pro Football Focus. He spent many years as an NFL game analyst for CBS.

He’s a spokesperson for Operation Expanded Testing and we discussed that with him including some of these details below the interviews:

About Operation Expanded Testing:

OET is a no-cost program coordinated by the HHS and the DoD to provide K-12 schools, prisons, homeless shelters, and historically black colleges and universities with COVID-19 surveillance testing.  Affinity Empowering implements these testing programs.

  • What is Operation Expanded Testing?
  • Operation Expanded Testing is a federal, no-cost program to provide COVID-19 surveillance testing to schools and community organizations.
  • Who is eligible to enroll in the program?
  • Operation Expanded Testing is open to K-12 schools, prisons, homeless shelters, and historically black colleges and universities.
  • Why is COVID-19 testing so important to student athletic programs?
  • Athletes can be in close contact with each other and with different schools.
  • The CDC recommends student athletes get tested for COVID-19.
  • Our number one priority is getting students in the classroom and on the field.
  • How can parents, coaches and school administrators get more information and sign up for OET? Is it difficult?
  • It’s as easy as logging onto affinitytesting.com or calling 1-844-631-0469.

Solomon Wilcots – SiriusXM NFL Radio / Credit: 99.1 The Sports Animal

Jimmy’s blog: Mack likes 1-2 punch at running back

Jimmy’s blog: Mack likes 1-2 punch at running back

By Jimmy Hyams

Tennessee’s top two running backs in 2020 hit the transfer portal.

Eric Gray figures to split time at Oklahoma with Kennedy Brooks.

Ty Chandler figures to start for Mack Brown at Oklahoma.

While that’s a blow to UT’s backfield, the Vols could still feature two productive running backs in Josh Heupel’s high-octane offense.

Jabari Small and Tiyan Evans have separated themselves from the running back pack and could rank in the middle of the SEC’s ground game duos.

“Those two have really been a good one-two punch throughout fall camp,’’ said Tennessee running backs coach Jerry Mack.

Small (5-11, 206) has the most experience of the backs, carrying 26 times last year.

“Jabari, obviously, is a little bit smaller, little bit shiftier,’’ Mack said. “Has some experience playing the receiver position. So he can do a lot of things as far as his repertoire.’’

In fact, Small has had several relatives play receiver in the SEC and the NFL. And he played some receiver in high school. He could line up in the slot.

Evans (5-11, 220) is a junior college transfer who missed the spring due to injury.

“He’s been a really pleasant surprise,’’ Mack said. “We always knew that Tiyon had some strength levels that some of those younger backs didn’t have.’’

Mack said Evans runs with “power’’ between the tackles, has “great ball skills’’ and returned kickoffs in junior college.

“The biggest thing that I’ve been really shocked at is the way he runs outside the zone,’’ said Mack, comparing Evans to Hall of Fame running back Terrell Davis. “He has a real knack and a great feel for it.’’

Asked if Evans could be a short-yardage back, Mack said yes, and more.

“I think Tiyon can do it all, to be honest with you,’’ Mack said. “Not just short-yardage (but) an every-down back, whether it’s first or second down.’’

Asked if he’d like to get Small and Evans on the field at the same time, Mack said: “I would love to. I would love to. … That 1-2 combination on the field at the same time, I think that would be really cool.’’

Mack said Evans has the skill set to play all three downs. He also said UT recruits all-purpose backs that you don’t have to take out of a game.

UT likes to pass to backs out of the backfield and “we’ve got some guys that have elite ball skills.’’

One of them might be speedster Jaylen Wright, a freshman who said he’s been hand-timed in 4.28 seconds over 40 yards.

Mack complimented Wright’s progress since the early enrollee went through spring drills, and said he’s grown “leaps and bounds’’ over the last six practices.

“When things didn’t go quite the way he wanted them to in practice in the spring, we saw an emotional Jaylen Wright,’’ Mack said. “In this fall camp, he hasn’t been that emotional at all. He has taken heed to what Coach (Josh Heupel) talks about in putting that play behind you and moving on to the next play.’’

Dee Beckwith, a former quarterback, has unusual size for a running back: 6-foot-5, 227 pounds.

Mack said Beckwith’s size helps him in pass protection, but a disadvantage is “playing with great pad level … because they’re a big target for linebackers and safeties running through the middle.’’

Mack said Len’Neth Whitehead has had a “good camp’’ and brings “physicality’’ to the run game as a former linebacker. Whitehead also must learn to run with a lower pad level, Mack said.

Prediction: Small and Evans will combine for over 1,600 yards from the line of scrimmage — rushing and receiving.


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VFL In The NFL Update: Week 1 of Preseason; 33 U. of Tennessee players & 12 with local ties

VFL In The NFL Update: Week 1 of Preseason; 33 U. of Tennessee players & 12 with local ties

Chiefs OL Trey Smith / Credit: Chiefs Media Site

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

Here’s an updated list of University of Tennessee players in the National Football League, as well as players that were once at UT and other Knoxville area players. This is during Week 1 of the 2021 NFL Preseason.

Look for constant VFL in the NFL updates here on my blog “Vince’s View.” Bookmark my blog page and check back often.

This update does not include coaches with U. of Tennessee ties on NFL coaching staffs or in front office positions around the league. I will list those in a separate post here on my blog.

Rosters are currently at a max of 90. Teams must cut down to 85 players by August 17, 80 players by August 24 and the final roster limit of 53 players for the season by August 31.

Depth chart positions are from our friends at Ourlads NFL Scouting Services.


Notes and Numbers On UT Players
*33 U. of Tennessee players on expanded NFL rosters
*3 rookie VFLs are currently on rosters (T. Smith, J. Palmer & B. Thompson)
*New Orleans has most current UT players with 5

*DL is the largest position represented with 7
*19 of the 32 teams have a UT player on rosters
*There are 6 players that were once at U. of Tennessee but then transferred
*There are 6 players that didn’t attend UT, but have Knoxville/East TN ties
*7 players that went to high school in the Knoxville area are on current rosters (A. Rodgers, B. Colquitt, L. Smith, H. Smith, R. Cobb, T. Higgins, N. Gilliam)


Tennessee Volunteers On 90-Player NFL Rosters as of 8/14/21 (33)
x = Rookie
AFC East (5)
CB – Justin Coleman (27) Miami Dolphins – starting CB
P – Michael Palardy (5) Miami Dolphins – starting P
FB – Jakob Johnson (47) New England Patriots – starting FB
WR – Josh Malone (83) New York Jets – 3rd team WR
DE – Kyle Phillips (93) New York Jets (PUP list)
NONE – Buffalo Bills

AFC North (7)
DB – Nigel Warrior (39) Baltimore Ravens – 3rd team FS
OT – Ja’Wuan James (60) Baltimore Ravens – backup RT
DT – Kahlil McKenzie (69) Cincinnati Bengals – 4th team NT
RB – John Kelly (49) Cleveland Browns – 5th team RB
DT – Malik Jackson (97) Cleveland Browns – starting LDT
DB – Cameron Sutton (20) Pittsburgh Steelers – starting RCB
QB – Joshua Dobbs (5) Pittsburgh Steelers – 4th team QB

AFC South (2)
TE – Luke Stocker (85) Tennessee Titans – 3rd team TE
LS – Morgan Cox (46) Tennessee Titans – starting LS
NONE – Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars

AFC West (5)
ILB – Alexander Johnson (45) Denver Broncos – starting ILB
OL – Trey Smith (65) Kansas City Chiefs – x – starting RG
WR – Joshua Palmer (5) Los Angeles Chargers – x – 4th team WR
DE – Kendal Vickers (93) Las Vegas Raiders – 4th team DT
TE – Alex Ellis (81) Las Vegas Raiders – 6th team TE

NFC East (2)
DE – Derek Barnett (96) Philadelphia Eagles – starting RDE
TE – Jason Croom (81) Philadelphia Eagles – 6th team TE
NONE – Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Washington Redskins

NFC North (2)
OLB – Jalen Reeves-Maybin (44) Detroit Lions – 3rd team ILB
P – Britton Colquitt (2) Minnesota Vikings – starting P
NONE – Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers

NFC South (6)
WR – Cordarrelle Patterson (84) Atlanta Falcons – backup RB & starting KR
RB – Alvin Kamara (41) New Orleans Saints – starting RB
DT – Shy Tuttle (99) New Orleans Saints – starting NT
WR – Marquez Callaway (12) New Orleans Saints – backup WR
CB – Bryce Thompson (31) New Orleans Saints – x – 4th team RCB
TE – Ethan Wolf (86) New Orleans Saints – 4th team TE
NONE – Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West (4)
CB – Emmanuel Moseley (41) San Francisco 49ers – backup LCB
WR – Jauan Jennings (15) San Francisco 49ers – 4th team WR
DE – Darrell Taylor (52) Seattle Seahawks – starting LEO “DE-OLB”
TE – Dom Wood-Anderson (49) Seattle Seahawks – 6th team TE
NONE – Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams


Recent VFLs in the NFL that are not currently on rosters
LB – Daniel Bituli
DB – Rashaan Gaulden
QB – Tyler Bray
DT – Dan McCullers
P – Dustin Colquitt
OG – Zach Fulton (retired)
TE – Jason Witten (retired)


UT Players In The NFL By Position (33)
QB – 1
RB – 2
WR – 5
TE – 5
FB – 1
OL – 2
DL – 7
LB – 2
DB – 5
P – 2
PK – 0
LS – 1


One-Time Vols That Transferred To Other Schools On NFL Rosters (6)
x = Rookie
TE – Lee Smith (85) Atlanta Falcons (Powell HS/U. of Tennessee/Marshall) – backup TE
TE – Eli Wolf (87) Baltimore Ravens (U. of Tennessee/Georgia) – 3rd team TE
P – Tommy Townsend (5) Kansas City Chiefs (U. of Tennessee/Florida) – starting P
QB – Nathan Peterman (3) Las Vegas Raiders (U. of Tennessee/Pitt) – 3rd team QB
WR – Preston Williams (18) Miami Dolphins (U. of Tennessee/Colorado St) – 5th team WR
WR – Jalen Hurd (14) San Francisco 49ers (U. of Tennessee/Baylor) – 3rd team WR


Active Knoxville Area Players That Didn’t Play At UT on NFL Rosters (6)
x = Rookie
WR – Tee Higgins (85) Cincinnati Bengals (Oak Ridge HS/Clemson) – starting SWR
WR – Amari Rodgers (8) Green Bay Packers (Catholic HS/Clemson) – x – 4th team WR
WR – Randall Cobb (18) Green Bay Packers (Alcoa HS/Kentucky) – backup WR
RB – Nathan Cottrell (31) Jacksonville Jaguars (West HS/Georgia Tech) – 3rd team RB
OL – Nate Gilliam (65) Los Angeles Chargers (Farragut HS/Wake Forest) – 3rd team C
S – Harrison Smith (22) Minnesota Vikings (Catholic HS/Notre Dame) – starting SS


Find more of my broadcasting work at VinceSports.net

Jimmy’s blog: Heupel to meet Friday with Maurer about future

Jimmy’s blog: Heupel to meet Friday with Maurer about future

By Jimmy Hyams

Tennessee quarterback Brian Maurer didn’t practice Wednesday and didn’t scrimmage Thursday morning after tweeting Tuesday night that “they took my dream away after four days.’’

But coach Josh Heupel on Thursday left open the door for a return.

“We had an initial conversation with him a few days ago as far as reps and how those things were going to be divided up,’’ Heupel said. “No further update on him. We’ll have a conversation with him during the off day (Friday).’’

Asked directly if Maurer is no longer on the team, Heupel said: “I told you I’d give you guys an update after the off day.’’

Maurer, apparently, was upset with what Heupel said regarding practice reps.

Meanwhile, Heupel said Michigan transfer Joe Milton did well during his first scrimmage as a Vol. He joined the team after spring practice.

“I thought he managed things well inside the pocket,’’ Heupel said.

But he also liked much of what he saw from the other quarterbacks: Hendon Hooker and Harrison Bailey.

“I thought all of them did a great job taking care of the ball and were efficient in calling it, for the most part,’’ Heupel said.

He also said the quarterbacks’ decision-making on the run game and pass game was “pretty solid.’’

But, he said, “We didn’t string things together the way we want to or need to.’’

Heupel had high praise for the defense.

“I thought the defensive side of the football was extremely physical, changed and disrupted the offensive front,’’ Heupel said. “Played on the other side of the line of scrimmage and tackled extremely well. You didn’t see many missed tackles during the course of play.’’

That’s extremely encouraging for a unit that many feel will struggle to contain the top offenses in the SEC. The defense was also ravaged by players transferring, leaving little depth.

The Vols do have some talented players on defense, led by pass rusher Byron Young and Tyler Baron, tackles Matthew Butler and Aubrey Solomon, and defensive backs Alontae Taylor and Theo Jackson. That doesn’t include six that UT signed out of the transfer portal.

Heupel is pleased with the progress of the defense from the end of the spring to the first day in pads during summer camp.

“It’s a different group,’’ Heupel said. “It’s different on the practice field, the physicality, playing upfield, disrupting and changing the line of scrimmage. Consistency, work habits, the ability to learn and play for the guy next to them and do it right. The accountability in the room is completely different. That’s why it will be different on the field, too.’’

Heupel said a huge percentage of the offensive and defensive systems have been installed, but he said that is an ever-growing process.

“As you go through the course of a season,’’ he said, “you will continue to grow and evolve and find ways to attack people on the other side of the line of scrimmage as you game plan. There’s no set playbook (as in) this is all we do and only what we do. You’ve got to continue to evolve as the game changes, as your opponent changes and as you find out more about your personnel.’’

Heupel said Darnell Wright has done well at left tackle.

“I think Darnell is really natural on the left side,’’ Heupel said. “He’s athletic. He has the ability to bend. Has a chance to be an elite pass protector.’’

Heupel said he feels good about Wright and right tackle Cade Mays.

Heupel also said offensive lineman K’Rojhn Calbert, who suffered a torn bicep in practice last week, has had surgery and will be out an extended period of time.

 

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WATCH: John McClain & John Wilkerson talk Peyton Manning’s HOF induction

WATCH: John McClain & John Wilkerson talk Peyton Manning’s HOF induction

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

From the first-ever Sports Animal Sports Fest at the Knoxville Expo Center, I had a chance to talk with John McClain of the Houston Chronicle and SportsTalk co-host John Wilkerson (from Canton,) about VFL Peyton Manning’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Watch that cool conversation below!

John Wilkerson, John McClain & Vince Ferrara / Credit: 99.1 The Sports Animal

Jimmy’s blog: Heupel has different approach as player’s coach

Jimmy’s blog: Heupel has different approach as player’s coach

By Jimmy Hyams

HOOVER, Ala. — Former Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt fancied himself as a player’s coach.

After his first year, when it was apparent some of his Tennessee team’s didn’t play hard, Pruitt didn’t blame them. He blamed himself.

He said he didn’t build a good enough relationship with the players so they would play hard for him.

Heupel is considered a player’s coach.

But his approach is different from Pruitt’s.

Pruitt’s idea of getting close to players was to help them achieve their goal of playing in the NFL.

It was all business.

Heupel wants to help his players get to the pros. But he also wants them to have some fun.

Thus, he’s had impromptu dodgeball or kickball games, or bowling outings.

That’s not a bad way to mix up the grind of the football experience.

“I just think connection is so important,’’ Heupel said. “Relationships are so important in anything you do. You need to spend time together.

“You win a national championship, that’s awesome,’’ said Heupel, who won one as a player at Oklahoma. “That’s fun. It’s worth every price that you pay to go after it.

“At the same time, when you’re done with it, those experiences and the people you’re with  matter just as much as hoisting the national championship trophy.’’


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Jimmy’s blog: Heupel unsure of NCAA probe’s timetable

Jimmy’s blog: Heupel unsure of NCAA probe’s timetable

By Jimmy Hyams

HOOVER, Ala. — The Michael Glazier law firm began its internal investigation of Tennessee’s recruiting violations nine months ago.

Two months in, a head coach was fired, 10 support staff were relieved and an athletic director was replaced.

With all that collateral damage, you would think the internal probe would be nearing an end.

Not necessarily.

The law firm’s tab has exceeded $700,000.

The Vol Nation’s anxiety has exceeded patience.

No one seems to know how far along the investigation is, when it might end, when the law firm will submit its report to the NCAA and when the NCAA will act – provided there is an NCAA in the next few months.

Not even Tennessee coach Josh Heupel has a clue.

Asked if he knows a timetable for the probe to conclude, Heupel told the Sports Animal at the SEC Football Mefdia Days: “I don’t. I’m not involved in those conversations right now.’’

But don’t you want to know?

“I get some feedback,’’ he said. “You know, I don’t think we’re at a landing spot right now, you know what I mean, where there’s certainty about moving forward on a certain day.’’

The only thing certain about the NCAA timetable is uncertainty.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey addressed the lengthy delays of cases, some that took five years and longer to adjudicate.

“Those accused of violations deserve a fair and timely outcome, especially for high-profile cases,’’ Sankey said.

In Tennessee’s case, it spears the law firm is dragging its feet in an effort to run up its legal bill.

If you had enough information in two months to clean house of a football staff, why haven’t you completed your investigation six moths later?

NCAA officials were present via zoom to observe the interviews of those involved.

Seems to me that the Glazier team should have finished this probe by now, submitted the report and allowed the NCAA to act on whether to accept the internal findings.

Then, UT could self-impose penalties that the NCAA would accept or reject or amend.

Instead, Glazier seems to be working at a glacier’s pace.

And that isn’t doing Tennessee any favors.


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Jimmy’s blog: Not all athletes will cash in on NIL

Jimmy’s blog: Not all athletes will cash in on NIL

By Jimmy Hyams

HOOVER, Ala. — Alabama quarterback Bryce Young hasn’t started a college game, but he could start making over $900,000 as he cashes in on Name, Image and Likeness opportunities.

A Miami fitness facility owner is paying Hurricanes to promote his gym. Rival SEC players are pushing Milo’s sweet tea. A Tennessee player who owns a multimillion-dollar landscape business has hired teammates to peddle his product on social media.

Hundreds of student-athletes will make thousands of dollars because of NIL.

But not all.

Tennessee senior defensive back Alontae Taylor will not pursue revenue from NIL. Neither will Georgia quarterback J.T. Daniels or Georgia defensive lineman Jordan Davis.

“I actually haven’t tapped into Name, Image and Likeness a lot,’’ Taylor said during a session at the SEC Football Media Days. “Right now, my focus is on camp and getting ready for the season.

“It’s kind of late, me being a senior, kind of late down the road for me. …. Do I plan on (pursing NIL)? I don’t have an answer for that. But right now, my focus is on camp and this team and making sure we are where we need to be.’’

Taylor said he’s had a “couple of offers’’ but he wants to “focus on my body and make myself get better for the team.’’

Taylor said he already has a “lot to balance’’ this season: Football, academics, leadership councils.

Taylor did acknowledge that “some of our guys are running with that … and I’m really excited for those guys. I’ve talked to those guys about doing what they’re supposed to do. Make sure you check all the boxes that need to be checked, so that you don’t run into any problems down the road. … Be safe, be careful and make sure they do the best they can.’’

Georgia’s Davis said NIL is a “distraction’’ and he, like Taylor, wants to focus on football.

“Absolutely not,’’ Davis said when asked if he had an NIL deal. “I’ve kinda stayed away from that. I deleted social media so I don’t really have anything going for me.

“But I’m really proud of the players that are doing something and providing for their family.’’

Why avoid NIL?

“It’s a distraction and confusing,’’ Davis said. “A lot of rules and stipulations. … It’s more about football than Name, Image and Likeness for me.’’

Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said players pursuing NIL could also lead to better behavior by players building a brand.

“Absolutely it has a chance to change everybody’s decisions that they’re making, absolutely,’’ Heupel said. “It changes the game.’’

Heupel said players need to be “cognizant of the decisions they’re making and understand that they’ve creating a brand, a resource for themselves so when football ends, they’re ready to attack life.’’

Heupel  said he and his staff are “constantly trying to educate them about positive posts and tweets and negative posts and tweets and what the perception of them is.’’


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Jimmy’s blog: Taylor predicts Tennessee defense will rank No. 1

Jimmy’s blog: Taylor predicts Tennessee defense will rank No. 1

By Jimmy Hyams

HOOVER, Ala. – Tennessee’s defense struggled mightily last year.

The Vols surrendered over 30 points per game, allowed at least 30 points to six teams, gave up over 400 yards per game, and ranked 11th in the SEC in pass defense.

That’s not a recipe for success. Or optimism.

But Tennessee senior cornerback Alontae Taylor has unyielding faith in a unit that couldn’t prevent the Vols from going 3-7.

“My expectation for this defense is really, really high,’’ Taylor said at SEC Football Media Days on Tuesday. “I expect us to be the no. 1 defense in the country in the run game and pass game. Interceptions, whatever it may be. Turnovers.

“That might sound a little cliché, but me being a leader and saying what the defense has done in past and what it could possibly do as for as improving, I wouldn’t sell us short.’’

Taylor’s bold comments come despite the Vols being hit hard by defensive departures. Linebacker Henry To’o To’o transferred to Alabama. Linebacker Quavaris Crouch transferred to Michigan State. Safety Key Lawrence transferred to Oklahoma. Linebacker Deandre Johnson transferred to Miami.

Five other defensive players left for various reasons.

“We got hit hard on defense by the transfer portal,’’ said UT coach Josh Heupel, who noted that the Vols brought in, from the portal, two defensive linemen, two linebackers and two defensive backs.

Not only will Tennessee have new faces on defense, the defensive coordinator is a new face: Tim Banks, hired from the Penn State staff.

So why is Taylor so bullish on the Vols’ defense.

“We had a lot of guys come back,’’ Taylor said. “We lost (cornerback) Bryce Thompson (early to the NFL draft) which was a big bust to our defense. But we’ve got really great corners that stepped up. Got more depth in the cornerback room. I have a lot of faith in those guys. … We’ve just got to get more turnovers and be more passionate in what we do.’’

Tennessee’s pass defense was porous a year ago, and anything but opportunistic. It allowed 15 touchdown passes while picking off just five passes. Opponents completed 68.2% of their passes – 13th in the SEC.

How can Tennessee take a step forward on defense?

“It really comes down to confidence,’’ Taylor said. “We’ve got to make sure we’ve got good confidence in ourselves and fly around and know the defense and the playbook.

“This playbook is a little different than last year’s playbook. With that, we can play a little faster, play a little quicker, stay confident and fly around to the ball.’’


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Jimmy’s blog: Heupel polled players about morning workouts

Jimmy’s blog: Heupel polled players about morning workouts

By Jimmy Hyams

HOOVER,, Ala.– When Tennessee reports for its first summer practice Aug. 4, it won’t be in the afternoon.

Tennessee coach Josh Heupel confirmed our earlier report that the Vols will engage in morning practices with players arriving at the complex at 7:30 a.m.

Heupel said when he arrived at UT, he had casual dialogue with the team about “things that matter most.’’

Part of the discussion involved practice times.

“Having done it both in the afternoon and morning,’’ Heupel said, “our players were interested in it. We talked about my experiences and our staff’s experiences with it and some of the benefits that come with it.’’

Those benefits outweighed the negatives and led Heupel to schedule morning workouts.

UT hasn’t had consistent morning practices in nine years.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey mentioned Monday that only six of the 14 SEC schools have reached the 80% vaccination threshold the league desires.

“We’re just below the threshold,’’ Heupel said. “It’s attainable for our football team as we go forward.’’

What is Heupel’s message to the players about vaccination?

“It’s an individual decision for everybody, right?’’ Heupel said. “It’s personal health, right?  I think you need to educate players to the benefits, right? And have a real conversation … about what the reality is.’’

Regarding Name, Image and Likeness, Heupel tells his players ‘’don’t forget why you’re here. It’s true when you’re 18 to 22 years old. It’s true when you’re 43, like I am. Don’t ever lose sight of what your priorities are.’’

Heupel said he expects his four quarterbacks to engage in heated competition this summer with some quarterbacks earning more reps and some losing some reps.

Asked about bringing in Michigan transfer quarterback Joe Milton after spring ball ended, Heupel said: “Competition is the greatest friend of any coach.’’

Heupel said Milton has a strong arm, is an accurate passer, is bright, has caught on to the system and has the mobility to beat you with his feet.

But that doesn’t’ ensure he will beat out Harrison Bailey or Hendon Hooker or Brian Maurer.

Heupel’s message to the quarterbacks?

“Go out and earn it,’’ he said. “It’s really critical your quarterback earns the right to be the starter. I think it’s important for the 114 other guys on the roster that they see the guy has earned it.’’


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Jimmy’s blog: UT official `optimistic’ NIL will work

Jimmy’s blog: UT official `optimistic’ NIL will work

By Jimmy Hyams 

Cameron Walker said he usually is not an optimist.

He sees pitfalls and potential problems with new ventures.

But when it comes to Name, Image and Likeness for student-athletes, Tennessee’s Deputy Athletic director for Competitive Excellence has a different viewpoint.

“I’m not normally optimistic,’’ Walker said during a zoom call with media Friday morning. “But I see bright spots and positives coming out of this.’’

He said UT’s job isn’t to provide a list of “don’ts’’ but to say “this is how it’s done properly’’ and then to “encourage them to make the best business decision.’’

Some Tennessee student-athletes have already launched methods to make money.

Tennessee’s role has been to “empower and educate’’ the student-athletes, Walker said. Educating fans and boosters is also a priority.

Walker did admit “we will make some corrections along the way,’’ and there will be “growing pains’’ and there could be “discord in the locker room’’ if an athlete makes considerably more than another.

But Walker also said UT has some “incredibly bright and smart’’ student-athletes and “a lot of them have a plan. … They will surprise us in a variety of ways’’ as to how they will make money.

Walker, hired in January, said many of the NIL measures were in place at Tennessee before he arrived to help student-athletes. UT has one primary goal: “How can we put the student-athlete in the best position possible to expand their personal value … and to do it smartly.’’

Walker cautioned that student-athletes shouldn’t take the first offer. They should proceed with caution and determine if they want a short-term or a long-term benefit.

“Every decision opens doors or closes doors,’’ Walker said. “Our aim is to educate them to ask the right questions.’’

The scope of how they can use their NIL to make money is far reaching, but they are not allowed to make money off gambling sites.

They can also seek endorsements and advertising from other student-athletes to promote their business.

They must file taxes for earnings, if required, and they can get help from classes offered by UT’s college of business.

Athletes are allowed to hire agents.

Athletes may use the UT logo with permission and depending how it is used. “It’s on a case-by-case basis,’’ Walker said.

Walker said there is no limit on what an athlete could get paid for signing an autograph or making a speaking engagement.

Many have concerns that a booster could pay $100,000 for an autograph, thus leading to prospective recruits wanting to attend that school in hopes of landing a similar deal.

There are potential conflicts of interest. UT is a Nike school. A player who promotes another brand can’t wear that brand on the field, but could endorse that brand in a photo shoot.

Before implementing its plan, UT talked to the SEC, the NCAA and other schools.

“Most of the questions (from athletes) are, `I can really do this right?’’’ Walker said. “That’s basically the bulk of it at this point. I’m incredibly impressed with some of the questioned we get and the foresight as they look to build their brand.’’


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Jimmy’s blog: Vitello said he’s reached `verbal agreement on some things’ at UT

Jimmy’s blog: Vitello said he’s reached `verbal agreement on some things’ at UT

By Jimmy Hyams

Tennessee baseball coach Tony vitello said he has reached a “verbal agreement with some things,’’ a strong indication he will return to Rocky Top next season, Vitello said Monday on WNML’s SportsTalk radio show.

“There’s a lot going a lot going on with what we’re trying to do with the facilities. I can tell you there’s been constant communication with the administration, which is nice. Also there’s a lot of kicking the can down the road a little bit, if that makes sense.’’

Vitello said he would like to enlarge 4,500-seat Lindsey Nelson Stadium with skyboxes and/or seats down the third-base line. He would also like some infrastructure improvements and more money for his staff.

Vitello didn’t want to negotiate a new deal during the season so as not to be a “distraction’’ to the team or staff.

“The healthiest thing for anyone involved with the Vol Nation was for some things to get moved down the road, so maybe things happen later than some expected,’’ Vitello said.

“There’s progress being made every day.’’

Vitello did not indicate a time frame for signing a new deal. Sources said Vitello could make between $1.2-to-1.5 million per year with an extension that would take him through the 2026 season.

When it was suggested Tennessee fans might have been happier than LSU fans that the Tigers hired Arizona coach Jay Johnson, Vitello chuckled.

“I appreciate you saying that,’’ vitello said. “because what I got in there I think was a compliment and what I also got in there was disgruntled LSU fans, and we’ll take that any day of the week.’’

Obviously, with LSU hiring Jay Johnson of Arizona, that lessoned the chances of Vitello leaving UT.

It’s not a given that Vitello would have taken the LSU job if offered, considering the amount of pressure that goes with the territory.

Vitello was a hero for getting UT to the CWS. Former LSU coach Smoke Laval went to two College World Series and was fired because he didn’t win one. In 15 years at LSU, Paul Mainieri won one national championship and went to five CWS, but that was a disappointment to many of the Tiger faithful, who saw Skip Bertman win five CWS in 10 years.

Texas A&M had Vitello high on its list, but the feeling wasn’t mutual.

Vitello didn’t argue with the notion that Tennessee had a disappointing end to a great season, going 0-2 in the CWS.

“Everyone was a little bitter about how things went in Omaha,’’ Vitello said. “It may sound like a loser’s mentality … I feel you’ve got to get there first to play your best.’’

Vitello said his team is looking for a theme for next year, the “Last Dance’’ theme of the Chicago Bulls under Phil Jackson.

“Our goal is to win one game in Omaha next year,’’ Vitello said. “Obviously, you’d like to win two, but you can’t win the second if you don’t win the first.’’

UT had a remarkable season. The Vols won the SEC East Division, made Omaha for the first time since 2005, had more wins (50) than any team in the CWS field, lost only two SEC series (at home to No. 1 Vanderbilt and later No. 1 Arkansas), had seven walk-off wins and hit six grand slams.

UT even had a watch party outside of Lindsey Nelson Stadium, for crying out loud.

Vitello has instilled a new energy in Tennessee baseball that was absent for more than a dozen years.

And if there is concern that Vitello can sustain his success at UT, remember, the Vols were 15-2 last year before the pandemic shuttered the season, with perhaps a more talented roster than the one that just went to the CWS.

Also, the state of Tennessee is loaded with talented baseball players, and Vitello is an ace recruiter.

There’s no reason to think Vitello can’t sustain success.

Of course, when you’ve tasted the CWS, expectations rise. They also rise when you get a lucrative contract. Just ask Rick Barnes. While Barnes probably doesn’t feel any added pressure, fan unrest occurred last season when the talented Vols were eliminated in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by relatively obscure Oregon State, which had to win the Pac-12 tournament to make the field.

“It was pretty cool what happened last year,’’ Vitello said, “and I think it can get even better.’’


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Vince’s View from Omaha with Vols at CWS – Day 4

Vince’s View from Omaha with Vols at CWS – Day 4

NC State vs. Vanderbilt / Credit: Vince Ferrara

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

Monday was Day 4 for me here at the College World Series. Here’s what it looked like from “Vince’s View.”

99.1 THE Sports Animal’s coverage of the Vols in the College World Series in Omaha is presented by: Senior Benefit, AG Heins Company, Bobcat of Knoxville, Mercedes Benz of Knoxville and Chattanooga Whiskey.

Vince’s CWS Trip Day 4

*Buffet style breakfast in the team serving room

*Full day of sponsored reports from Omaha on 99.1 THE Sports Animal starting with The Starting Lineup as well as NewsTalk 98.7 and WIVK in morning and afternoon drive

Vince Ferrara / Credit: 102.5 The Game

*Radio reports from Omaha for stations in Nashville and Florence, AL

*Lunch at Addy’s Sports Bar…fantastic “Char Buffed” wings that are chargrilled, smoky with a hint of buffalo sauce!

*The Vols practiced late in the afternoon back at Creighton University

*Started prep for Tennessee’s opponent on Tuesday in an elimination game Texas

*Returned to TD Ameritrade Park and enjoyed a fabulous pitching duel between Jack Leiter (15 Ks for Vandy) and Sam Highfill/Evan Justice (2 hits allowed for NC State) in a 1-0 Wolfpack win sending them to the semifinals at 2-0.


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Vince’s View from Omaha with Vols at CWS – Day 3

Vince’s View from Omaha with Vols at CWS – Day 3

Vols PBP Voice John Wilkerson / Credit: Vince Ferrara

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

Sunday, Gameday for Tennessee, was Day 3 for me here at the College World Series. Here’s what it looked like from “Vince’s View.”

99.1 THE Sports Animal’s coverage of the Vols in the College World Series in Omaha is presented by: Senior Benefit, AG Heins Company, Bobcat of Knoxville, Mercedes Benz of Knoxville and Chattanooga Whiskey.

Vince’s CWS Trip Day 3

*Gameday breakfast in the team serving room

*This amazing fan gathering in the lobby as John Wilkerson and I walked out of the elevators to head out to the ballpark

*Get to the stadium, our first setup in the radio booth for Tennessee with this view

*Had some nice visits from Knoxville media here to cover the game, as well as ESPN’s Tom Hart, that stopped in to say hello to us

*The game…obviously was a struggle for Tennessee in a 6-0 loss to Virginia

*Postgame from Tony Vitello and Connor Pavolony

*We visited the grounds of the old, legendary Rosenblatt Stadium with cool makings of the exact locations of the bases and the mound

Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse / Credit: Vince Ferrara

*John and I took three tries at a postgame steak dinner, starting with “The Drover” that everybody has recommended (2+ hour wait) then 801 Chophouse (2+ hour wait) then finally lucked out and found Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse, with no wait, which was excellent

*We heard a lot about Ted & Wally’s Ice Cream, so we took a walk downtown to crush some fantastic ice cream


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Vince’s View from Omaha with the Vols at CWS – Day 2

Vince’s View from Omaha with the Vols at CWS – Day 2

TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha at CWS / Credit: Vince Ferrara

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

Saturday in Omaha was my first full day here at the College World Series. Here’s what it looked like from “Vince’s View.”

99.1 THE Sports Animal’s coverage of the Vols in the College World Series in Omaha is presented by: Senior Benefit, AG Heins Company, Bobcat of Knoxville, Mercedes Benz of Knoxville and Chattanooga Whiskey.

Vince’s CWS Trip Day 2

*First station report on Saturday SportsTalk with Joel Silverberg and Eric Cain

*Buffet breakfast with the team at the hotel

*Gym workout where some players/coaches/staff were putting in strong work

*Walked several long blocks from the hotel to TD Ameritrade Park

*Had fun watching Game 1 of the CWS between NC State and Stanford, won by the Wolfpack 10-4

*NC State had, by far, the larger and louder fan base

*Walked around the press facilities to take in the locations and operations for our game on Sunday

*Visited with Texas Longhorns longtime play-by-play voice Craig Way and talked about the possibility of UT vs. UT Tuesday

*Watched some of the game from the press box that was spacious with mostly good views

*Mic’d-up home plate umpire Travis Katzenmeier had his mic on in the press box when he said “Oh, f***” loud and clear causing the press box to erupt in laughter. He had a bounce and skip past the catcher and hit him in the crotch-el/groin-ish region. You may have seen the video. We got the audio of his reaction in the press box.

*Attendance for Game 1 was 22,193 and seemed every bit of that

*Walked around the entire stadium because the concourse circles the ballpark for full fan access, which is a super cool element

*Sat in an empty seat in Section 101 enjoying some of the game with a great view and taking in some Vitamin D sunshine. Here’s what that looked like.

*Some ballpark observations…a huge video board with lots of great information for fans on every player, very spacious dugouts, tons of foul territory, a big X in the outfield grass, a neat view of CHI Medical Center beyond right field, a feel of a bigtime stadium, lots of fan energy with many different teams represented including Vols fans, water fountains with lines of people waiting to refill their water bottles and more. Most importantly, it had spacious, fan-friendly seating with reasonable leg room and wide enough seats.

*They have people with giant flags sticking out from backpacks high in the air called Event Ambassadors to help fans with questions

*Walked the outside of the stadium and saw the famous statue out front and many of the other structures embodying the Omaha city tradition

*Saw this cool slow motion video shot by my partner John Wilkerson who watched Tennessee go through a practice at nearby Creighton University

*Had a fantastic dinner from Lighthouse Pizza & Fries

*Continued preparation for Tennessee vs. Virginia Sunday at 2pm ET, 1:45pm airtime on 99.1 The Sports Animal AND 12 more Vol Network affiliate stations in 9 Tennessee cities, which has grown greatly this postseason

*Enjoyed a great game between Vanderbilt and Arizona, which included an excellent start from one-time, one-year Vol, Chase Silseth. The Commodores won 7-6 in 12 innings. Vandy will face NC State Monday night while Arizona takes on Stanford in an All-Pac 12 elimination game Monday afternoon.


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Vince’s View from Omaha with the Vols at CWS – Day 1

Vince’s View from Omaha with the Vols at CWS – Day 1

UT Baseball Team Photo / Credit: John Wilkerson

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

The University of Tennessee’s incredible baseball season full of “first time since” accomplishments has led to the Vols first College World Series appearance since 2005.

As a part of the Vol Network broadcast, alongside the legendary longtime voice of UT Baseball John Wilkerson, Tennessee’s season has led to a first for me, ever…the College World Series in Omaha.

Check on a bucket list item.

99.1 THE Sports Animal’s coverage of the Vols in the College World Series in Omaha is presented by: Senior Benefit, AG Heins Company, Bobcat of Knoxville, Mercedes Benz of Knoxville and Chattanooga Whiskey.

Friday was travel day for me and my first day in Omaha. Here’s what Friday looked like from “Vince’s View.”

Vince’s CWS Trip Day 1

Vince’s dog Daphne resting after a day of fun / Credit: Marina McLaughlin

*Leaving my precious rescue dog Mini Goldendoodle, Daphne, for more than half a day for the first time since I adopted her last October was tough but my neighbor is taking great care of her with pictures to show it.

*Headed to McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville to start my journey

*Being a little stressed boarding an airplane for the first time in years and years…maybe 7 or 8

*Taking some deep breaths, talking to some passengers on the short flight connecting to Atlanta and doing some CWS prep eased the stress and made the flight easy to manage

*Talking to Vols fan Sam after the flight about Tony Vitello

*Downing a Kosher Dog from Five Guys at Atlanta International Airport during my two-hour layover

*A longer flight to Omaha that went fairly quickly and smoothly

*Appreciative of the hotel shuttle to take me to the Tennessee team hotel where I’m staying.

*Joining John Wilkerson on SportsTalk for the last hour and a half of the show

*Doing some station work from the hotel

*Dinner with John Wilkerson at DJ’s Sports Bar downtown

*Seeing some Vols players at a convenience store down the street (well behaved and polite of course)

Notable Happenings From Friday

*Vols head coach Tony Vitello was named National Coach of the Year by both NCBWA and Perfect Game…yes, he wasn’t SEC Coach of the Year by some outlets, as many believed he should have been but this is scoreboard

*Vols team, that’s been practicing at Creighton University, practiced at TD Ameritrade Park for the first time

*Took a team photo outside in their sharp practice jerseys

*Tennessee coach Tony Vitello spoke at the NCAA Press Conference and confirmed what many of us expected, that Jr. RHP Chad “Cheese” Dallas (11-1, 4.10 ERA) would get the ball to start vs. Virginia on Sunday

*Virginia coach Brian O’Connor named Friday guy Andrew Abbott (8-6, 3.04 ERA) as their starter vs. Tennessee

*Evan Russell spoke at UT’s Media avail held by the NCAA and said this season has made him think a little about how good it would be to return next season with another year of eligibility but said he would wait until after the season to make a final decision


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Jimmy’s blog: White will consult Vitello on where to play games

Jimmy’s blog: White will consult Vitello on where to play games

Jimmy Hyams

Danny White might be a new athletic director at Tennessee, but he knows how things work in the Vol Nation – and college athletics in general.

No. 1, he knows he has to figure out a way to keep baseball coach Tony Vitello from being poached by another school or White’s approval rate will dip drastically.

No. 2, he knows who to listen to when it comes to important baseball decisions.

Knoxville appears on the verge of building an 8,000-seat multipurpose facility downtown. Many have speculated that venue is where Tennessee will play SEC games while playing non-SEC games on campus.

During a Zoom call with the media Wednesday, White was asked which he is committed to.

“I’m committed to whatever our baseball coach says gives us the best opportunity to recruit and develop players to the best of their ability,’’ White said.

“We are the No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the No. 3 team in the country. That’s pretty good. I’m going to listen to the person responsible for putting us in that position, and that’s Tony Vitello.’’

Brilliant answer.

White said he would not scrap previous renderings of Lindsey Nelson Stadium expansion because he said he could learn from them, but he is not opposed to putting his imprint or that of Vitello or an architect’s into finding the “right formula’’ for the baseball park.

“We know the stadium needs to be bigger,’’ White said.

Asked if boosters have stepped up to help pay for a raise for Vitello and/or his staff, White said “I’ve had great conversations with donors in investing in Lindsey Nelson Stadium.’’

White said he has had conversations for several months with Vitello about his contract and stadium improvements.

Vitello makes $600,000 a year (minus the paycut he took during Covid) and his deal runs through 2024.

A source said LSU was willing to pay Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan double his pay of $1.2 million to $2.4 million, and that LSU has cooled on O’Sullivan.

If LSU pursues Vitello and offers big bucks, how high is Tennessee willing to go?

Regarding other topics:

*White said he isn’t at liberty to say that Neyland Stadium will be at 100% capacity, but would be “surprised’’ if that isn’t the case, since baseball is already at 100%.

*White said it was “smart’’ to involve the NCAA “every step of the way’’ in UT’s internal investigation (led by attorney Mike Glacier) but he said he couldn’t put a timetable on when probe will be complete.

*White said the first two projects UT will undertake facility wise are renovations to Neyland Stadium, including lower West club seats behind the UT bench with premium amenities and a video board for fans on the South side of the stadium with a sports bar, party dec


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Jimmy’s blog: Neuheisel loves Milton’s arm but says QB must expand game

Jimmy’s blog: Neuheisel loves Milton’s arm but says QB must expand game

(This is the third in a three-part series from a recent interview with former Power 5 head coach and CBS analyst Rick Neuheisel on SportsTalk radio The Sports Animal, 99.1 FM, 990 AM. Part Three is about UT dipping into the transfer portal.) 

By Jimmy Hyams

You no longer construct a college roster by just signing high school prospects.

You fill it out with other college players from the transfer portal.

In Tennessee’s case, the Vols have lost over 25 in the portal but signed five, including a quarterback, a wide receiver, a linebacker and two defensive linemen.

Rick Neuheisel, the CBS analyst and former Power 5 head coach, is intrigued by UT landing Michigan quarterback transfer Joe Milton of Orlando.

Milton made five starts at Michigan, was benched, then transferred.

What is Tennessee getting in the 6-foot-5, 243-pound Milton?

“A great athlete,’’ Neuheisel said.

“He’s a 6-5 kid with a howitzer of a throwing arm.’’

Neuheisel said Milton debuted for Michigan last year with an impressive performance against Minnesota, and you say “holy smoke, there’s our guy.

“But the problem is, when you ask him to be more dimensional as a quarterback, he has to have more dimension in the type throws he delivers. I don’t see a lot of trajectory throws where he drops it in over a linebacker or on a post corner or hits a receiver down the sideline with a back shoulder throw.

“I just see high velocity throws.’’

Milton will have to add to his arsenal if he wants to be Tennessee’s quarterback.

Neuheisel said Milton is like former LSU quarterback T.J. Finley, another strong-armed thrower.

“They’re like relief pitchers,’’ he said. “They come in in the ninth and get you out with fastballs. But if you ask them to be a starting pitcher, they got to have more than that. You’ve got to have ways to finesse (the opponent). That will be the biggest challenge for Joe Milton in this get-it-out-of-your-hands fast offense of Josh Heupel.’’

Neuheisel thinks linebacker Juwan Mitchell, a transfer from Texas, will make an immediate impact.

“I think he’s going to be your leading tackler at Tennessee,’’ Neuheisel said. “The guy is a sideline-to-sideline guy. I’m surprised he’s leaving Texas.’’

Mitchell led the Longhorns in tackles last season.

Another UT quarterback, Hendon Hooker, transferred from Virginia Tech. He had a solid spring and is competing for the starting job.

“I love Hendon Hooker,’’ Neuheisel said. “I don’t know that he fits the Heupel offense because his legs are his chief weapon. It will be interesting to see how they try to incorporate his legs (into the offense).

“If they can add some run threat, which … creates 11-on-11, rather than 10-on-11, then Hendon Hooker will be really valuable.’’

Neuheisel said Mississippi State receiver transfer DaVonta Peyton, who played last year in Mike Leach’s Air Raid, will “understand spacing. That will help in terms of learning coach Heupel’s offense quickly because the Air Raid isn’t unlike what coach Heupel is doing.’’

Neuheisel said Southern Cal defensive line transfer Caleb Tremblay was on a deep and talented Trojan d-line and should fit in well with UT.


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Jimmy’s blog: Neuheisel says Heupel has done `excellent job’

Jimmy’s blog: Neuheisel says Heupel has done `excellent job’

By Jimmy Hyams

(This is the second in a three-part series from recent interview with former Power 5 head coach and CBS analyst Rick Neuheisel on SportsTalk radio The Sports Animal, 99.1 FM, 990 AM. Part Two is about Josh Heupel’s system and the rebuilding job he faces.)

In the past 13 years, Tennessee has had eight losing seasons and two winning records in SEC play.

It has lost over 25 players to the transfer portal. It has released four players from the most recent National Letter of Intent signing.

It has had six coaches since 2008 and five athletic directors.

It has been described by more than one coach as a “dumpster fire.’’

Josh Heupel faces a monumental rebuilding job under much greater scrutiny than he faced while leading Central Florida to a 29-9 record in three years.

He has already suspended six players.

He has signed five from the transfer portal and garnered four commitments from three-star prospects.

So he’s he doing?

“Josh has done an excellent job,’’ said CBS analyst Rick Neuheisel.

Heupel learned from his days as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma and developed Drew Lock at Missouri into a second-round NFL draft pick, Neuheisel said.

His system takes advantage of the numbers in the run game and pass game.

“Heupel is aptly named because he likes to go hyper drive,’’ Neuheisel said. “It is going to be fast. Don’t get a hot do at Neyland or you’ll miss a few plays.’’

UT fans got a taste of the warped speed attack during the spring game as the Vols tried to snap the ball with about 30 seconds left on the 40-second play clock.

Neuheisel is confident Heupel will be a productive offense on the field because it’s easier to score points with average talent that stop teams with average defensive talent.

“You can survive offensively with average talent because of your scheme,’’ Neuheisel said. “You watch Army and Navy do it every year. There are lots of ways to create triple options.

“But you can not survive without talent on defense. You’re going to run into teams that even if the X and Os are crazy, somebody will out-athlete you on the field.’’

Neuheisel expects Heupel to run a lot of plays to his side of the field so they can go faster. He also expects few substitutions because then the defense can sub and slow things down.

Neuheisel also expects Heuple to take his fair share of shots downfield.

“Having coached (against Tennessee) at Rocky Top,’’ he said, “I know Volunteer fans love the deep ball.’’

Neuheisel said athletic director Danny White hiring Heupel indicates White will be patient with his coach and the program.

“That’s signaling we can do this the right way,’’ Neuheisel said. “We can put it together and build something sustainable rather than just try to get a quick fix and get to a bowl game this year.

“Let’s make sure we put things together that for the long haul and the Rocky Top nation can enjoy football the way they remember it.’’


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Jimmy’s blog: Neuheisel likes UT players taken in draft

Jimmy’s blog: Neuheisel likes UT players taken in draft

By Jimmy Hyams

(This is the first in a three-part series from a recent interview with former Power 5 head coach and CBS analyst Rick Neuheisel on SportsTalk radio The Sports Animal. Part One is about UT players taken in the most recent draft.)

Tennessee had only two players taken in the most recent NFL draft, but CBS analyst Rick Neuheisel thinks both will make a huge impact with their pro teams.

Receiver Josh palmer, who never had a 500-yard or five-touchdown season at Tennessee, was the 77th overall pick in the draft, going to the Los Angeles Chargers in the third round.

Trey Smith, despite a decorated college career, went in the sixth round to Kansas City due to medical concerns.

“Josh Palmer, to me, is an excellent receiver,’’ Neuheisel said on SportsTalk last week.

Neuheisel pointed out that Palmer made big-time catches against defensive backs at Georgia and Alabama.

“He’s a 50-50 ball catcher,’’ Neuheisel said, “but he probably tips the scales in 65-35 in favor of him because of his athleticism.

“He’s a guy that was a product of inconsistent quarterbacking.’’

If Tennessee had better quarterback play during Palmer’s career, Neuheisel thinks Palmer could have been drafted higher.

Neuheisel thinks Palmer landed in a perfect situation, as quarterback Justin Herbert set an NFL rookie record for touchdown passes in a season, and two veteran receivers – Mike Williams and Keenan Allen – will take pressure off Palmer to produce immediately while also serving as tutors.

“Josh Palmer might find himself in the conversation for Rookie of the Year before you know it,’’ Neuheisel said.

The former head coach at Colorado, Washington and UCLA is equally high on Smith, who suffered from blood clots in 2018 but didn’t miss any playing time the last two years.

“I think the Kansas City Chiefs got a steal,’’ Neuheisel said. “They’ve got to be elated that they got somebody of that talent at that point in the draft.’’

The lone issue with Smith is whether the college regimen that allowed him to play will be suitable for NFL teams.

“We all keep our fingers crossed that Trey is healthy and past the medical issues that have plagued him,’’ Neuheisel said. “Obviously, that’s the reason he fell to the sixth round. A lot of teams were unwilling to take the risk, given that they’re not sure exactly what his long-term prognosis is.’’

The fact that Tennessee has had just 13 players drafted in the past seven years is an indication of how far the program has fallen, when you consider Alabama had 10 players taken in the most recent draft, six in the first round.

Tennessee has had six first-rounders in the past 13 years.

“It’s a huge barometer,’’ Neuheisel said of the draft. “Absolutely a huge barometer.’’


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Vince’s View: Charles Davis helps analyze Vols rookies on NFL teams

Vince’s View: Charles Davis helps analyze Vols rookies on NFL teams

KNOXVILLE, TN – OCTOBER 17, 2020 – Offensive lineman Trey Smith #73 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the Kentucky Wildcats and the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

It was a quiet NFL Draft, once again, for the University of Tennessee football program.

Two Vols were drafted and one has been signed, at the moment, as an undrafted free agent.

WR Josh Palmer was selected by the Los Angeles Chargers in the 3rd Round (#77 overall.) OL Trey Smith fell all the way to the 6th round when he was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs (#226 overall.) DB Bryce Thompson signed with the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent.

With the help of the Tennessee football VFL and elite broadcaster for CBS & NFL Network, Charles Davis, we’ve shared our opinions on the team and player fits for Palmer, Smith and Thompson here in my blog, “Vince’s View,” on 991TheSportsAnimal.com.

Thanks to Charles, who shared his thoughts on the Tennessee Volunteers with me to pass along to the fans exclusively for my blog.

WR Josh Palmer – Los Angeles Chargers

Charles Davis on Josh Palmer
“Fits what the other WRs look like for the Chargers (Keenan Allen/Mike Williams)…strong, physical, and can play over the top. Chargers have long had “small forwards” as WR’s (Phillip Rivers loved those types), and Palmer looks the part. QB Justin Herbert has even more “catch radius” available to him now.”

Vince’s View on Josh Palmer
I love this fit for Palmer. Keenan Allen (100 catches in 2020) and Mike Williams (48 catches) are the top two guys. After that, there’s room to upgrade the wide receiver room, so the opportunity to rise quickly is there for Palmer. Jalen Guyton (28 catches) and Tyron Johnson (20 catches) provide the toughest competition for the 3rd and 4th WR spots. Joe Reed, KJ Hill, Jason Moore, John Hurst and Eli Stove (UDFA out of Auburn) are the rest of the Chargers receivers.

Palmer brings position versatility at WR. You can play him outside or in the slot where you can get him in some favorable matchups against either smaller or slower defenders. Most importantly, Palmer has a potential future superstar quarterback throwing him the football versus the massive struggles by a bunch of QBs at Tennessee.

Palmer joins former UT DC Derrick Ansley, now Chargers secondary coach in LA. Head coach Brandon Staley is a former Vols football GA under Derek Dooley in 2012. Knoxville native OL Nathan Gilliam (Farragut HS and Wake Forest) is also now his teammate.

Trey Smith – Kansas City Chiefs

Charles Davis on Trey Smith
“Kansas City does a nice job evaluating and coaching young talent. I believe they feel that they got a steal by getting a 2nd round talent in the 6th. The competition has ratcheted up in KC along the offensive line. Smith’s intelligence and toughness will put him right in the mix. Remember, Kansas City drafted, developed and started a future doctor (Laurent Duvernay-Tardif) at guard on their Super Bowl title team.”

Vince’s View on Trey Smith
With the slide to day three in the draft, Smith will surely play with an even bigger chip (or boulder) on his shoulder than normal. He’s also going to a quality, winning franchise with all kinds of talent. That doesn’t mean he can’t win a starting job.

Smith played guard the last two seasons with the Vols and is projected as a guard long-term in the NFL. However, Smith, if more medical testing checks out, will compete for the starting right tackle spot in the completely overhauled Chiefs offensive line. Surprised? Here’s why.

KC will have a completely new starting five o-line from the team that lost in the Super Bowl with all the injuries, departures and desperate need to upgrade. Enter Orlando Brown (from Baltimore) as the starting LT, Joe Thuney (from New England) as the starting LG, Austin Blythe (from LA Rams) as the starting C and Kyle Long (out of retirement) as the starting RG. There’s already quality depth at guard as well with Dr. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif back from his opt-out. You add Nick Allegretti (last year’s starter at LG in the Super Bowl) and Andrew Wylie (Super Bowl starter at RT) who moves back inside at guard. There’s some depth at guard. Right tackle is the most open position on that line. Mike Remmers (backup last season and Super Bowl starter at LT) and Lucas Niang (2020 3rd round pick) provide the competition for Trey Smith at that RT spot.

The Chiefs know Smith can play tackle. They’ve evaluated him at that position plenty. They are comfortable with him playing there. He can begin at RT, at least short-term, to give them their best five linemen. I think he can do it, so watch for Smith to compete his butt off and have a great shot to start. Obviously, injuries to KC’s guards or health setbacks for Smith could alter those plans along the way.

Bryce Thompson – New Orleans Saints

Charles Davis on Bryce Thompson
“The Saints are looking for a starter opposite Pro Bowl CB Marshon Lattimore. They drafted Paulson Adebo from Stanford in the 3rd and signed Malcolm Jenkins in free agency. The competition will be stiff, but he has a shot, especially if he can play in the slot.”

Vince’s View on Bryce Thompson
The Saints have a proven track record of production from undrafted free agents. That success includes players from the University of Tennessee, like DT Shy Tuttle (potential starter) and WR Marquez Callaway (now possibly 2nd team.) TE Ethan Wolf is also with the Saints as an UDFA. The common thread with what worked with those guys is opportunity with low numbers at a need position. Thompson walks into that in the secondary, specially at cornerback.

As Charles pointed out, there’s proven vets and a fairly high draft pick in that group, but the numbers at CB aren’t deep. The other corners, besides the ones Charles mentioned, that Thompson will compete with are: Patrick Robinson, Keith Washington Jr., Grant Haley and UDFA signee Lawrence Woods. That’s it. If the Saints play Jenkins at SS then that might free up that position a little more. Thompson’s position versatility to play outside corner, Star DB or safety adds to his value. It’s an excellent landing spot for Thompson.

It’s possible his draft stock may have improved a little by returning to UT this season. How would he produce in the new Banks defense that may struggle in year one? If he finally played a full season healthy will that show out in results and influence scouts? How much would the coaching of Willie Martinez help him? Would being another year removed from the legal issues make a difference with NFL teams, assuming he didn’t have any other issues? One scout told me he doesn’t think Thompson going back to school would have made much difference because he’s good in a fair amount of traits but not elite.

Thompson is now also teammates with arguably the most popular VFL in the NFL today, RB Alvin Kamara.

Overall
Trey Smith falling in the draft was due to the NFL not being able to get the medical info to their standards for how Smith’s blood clots will be handled moving forward, not just how he did it at UT. I was told he wasn’t on about half of the teams’ boards and was dropped some on the ones that kept him on their boards. The lack of regular practices slowed his development in the eyes of NFL scouts. He’s going to need to practice, especially before the season, to earn a spot and prove he’s past the medical. Smith was also said to be a better fit for power running gap scheme teams, which cuts down the remaining pool of teams even more.

I imagine the Chiefs and other teams considered Smith earlier in the draft, but may have had other players available to them that they didn’t think would be there when they came back around and took the chance that Smith would be. The draft board dictates slides sometimes and I think that added to his unfortunate situation. In the end though, the KC fit will be a blessing.

The Chiefs are excited about Trey Smith and aren’t afraid to express it. LT Orlando Brown was impressed by Smith at the Senior Bowl.

UT has had 13 players selected in the last seven NFL Drafts. The Vols have only had 6 players drafted in the first three rounds of those 7 drafts. 6. Alabama had 6 players drafted in the 1st round alone just this year. Alabama has had 46 players taken in the first three rounds of those same last seven drafts. That’s a 40 player difference from Tennessee. Yes, no one matches-up to the bar that Alabama has set in sending players to the NFL through the draft, but that monumental gap is indicative of the struggles of the program since the late 2000s.

There’s going to need to be tremendous player development this season under Josh Heupel’s staff with the Vols. They need to enhance the stock in numerous players and create new draftable candidates than it looks like they have at the moment. If not, the disappointing draft stats will resurface again this time in 2022.


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Vince’s View: Vols Spring Game drive-by-drive QB breakdown beyond the stats, notes and observations

Vince’s View: Vols Spring Game drive-by-drive QB breakdown beyond the stats, notes and observations

KNOXVILLE, TN – April 24, 2021 – Quarterback Harrison Bailey #15 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the 2021 Orange and White Game at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Kate Luffman/Tennessee Athletics

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

In my blog “Vince’s View,” here on 991TheSportsAnimal.com, I break down the much-discussed Vols quarterbacks. Plus, I reflect on my observations, notes and views from Tennessee’s 2021 Chevrolet Orange and White spring football game at Neyland Stadium Saturday afternoon.

Did Not Play (21)
QB Kaidon Salter (7) *suspended
RB Len’Neth Whitehead (27)
WR Malachi Wideman (13)
WR Jimmy Holiday (10)
WR Walker Merrill (19)
TE Austin Pope (81)
OL Riley Locklear (56)
OL James Robinson (71) *suspended
DL LaTrell Bumphus (88)
DL Greg Emerson (90)
DL Elijah Simmons (51)
DL Darel Middleton (97)
DL Aubrey Solomon (98)
DL Isaac Washington (95) *suspended
ILB Aaron Beasley (24) *suspended
ILB Martavius French (29) *suspended
ILB Aaron Willis (41) *suspended
ILB Jeremy Banks (33)
OLB Byron Young (13)
OLB Roman Harrison (30)
DB Cheyenne Labruzza (44)

Quarterbacks and Combined Stats in Game
18 (R-So) Brian Maurer 9-15, 171 yds, 1 TD, 2 car 22 yds
5 (R-Sr) Hendon Hooker 10-14, 11 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 5 car 13 yds, 1 rush TD
15 (So) Harrison Bailey 12-15, 260 yds, 2 TD, 1 car 4 yds
14 (R-So) Spencer Smith (walk-on) 3-3, 31 yds
Vince’s View:  I thought going into spring practice that Bailey had a slight edge for the top QB spot. Then, in the first half of camp, Brian Maurer looked the best. Then, I thought Hendon Hooker had pulled in front leading up to the spring game. Now, Bailey looked best in the most important dress rehearsal, the spring game. Take a look at the breakdown below for more perspective on who did what with and against which units.

Drives – Quarterback, Units and Result
Maurer – 2 Offense vs. 1 Defense – Punt
Hooker – 1 Offense vs. 2 Defense – TD
Bailey – 3 Offense vs. 3 Defense – TD
Maurer – 2 Offense vs. 1 Defense – FG
Bailey – 1 Offense vs. 2 Defense – TD
Hooker – 3 Offense vs. 3 Defense – TD
Maurer – 2 Offense vs. 1 Defense – Punt
Bailey – 1 Offense vs. 2 Defense – Punt
Maurer – 3 Offense vs. 3 Defense – TD
Hooker – 2 Offense vs. 1 Defense – INT
Bailey – 1 Offense vs. 2 Defense – TD
Maurer – 3 Offense vs. 3 Defense – Punt
Hooker – 2 Offense vs. 1 Defense – Half
Bailey – 2 Offense vs. 1 Defense – TD
Maurer – 1 Offense vs. 2 Defense – TD
Smith – 3 Offense vs. 3 Defense – TD
Hooker – 1 Offense vs. 1 Defense – TD (only 1s vs. 1s matchup)
Total – 10 TDs in 17 drives
Vince’s View: The offense (and the game overall) was pretty clean and efficient without mass confusion. The tempo looked pretty good, although I’m confident that the coaches feel like it can be even faster. I love the fact that UT isn’t constantly substituting and having receivers switch sides of the field. They have multiple play calls with plenty of route options at the same receiver spots along with some subtle, quick formation changes they can do off of that. That allows you to keep the tempo. I can’t tell you how many times UT would try to go fast during the Butch Jones era where WRs would keep switching sides of the field and trying to figure out where they needed to be, completely slowing down the tempo and helping the defense. If you sub, the defense can as well and it removes the wear down, fatigue factor.

Harrison Bailey Drives (5)
4 TDs (3 Off vs. 3 Def / 1 Off vs. 2 Def / 1 Off vs. 2 Def / 2 Off vs. 1 Def)
1 Punt (1 Off vs. 2 Def)
*3 drives with the 1st team offense
*1 drive vs. 1st team defense
Vince’s View: The eye test backs-up the numbers of Bailey having the best day. He was the most accurate of the QBs. Even though it was with the 3s, he drew the defense offsides, knew he had a free play and smartly took a deep shot that was accurate for the 73-yard TD to Jack Jancek. Bailey looked like he wasn’t suffocated with limitations put on him by coaches. There should be a progression from his freshman season where he was thrown in too early. It should be noted that Bailey had the most drives with the first team offense. That’s a good sign. That also means he had the most help around him. Plus, he only faced the first team defense on one drive all day. There was a big drop-off on defense with the back-up units, so that surely helped to some degree.

Brian Maurer Drives (6)
2 TDs (3 Off vs. 3 Def / 1 Off vs. 2 Def)
1 FG (2 Off vs. 1 Def)
3 Punts (2 Off vs. 1 Def / 2 Off vs. 1 Def / 3 Off vs. 3 Def)
*1 drive with the 1st team offense
*3 drives vs. 1st team defense
Vince’s View: Maurer only received one drive with the first team offense. He did lead that unit to a touchdown on that drive. Maurer showed his usual mobility and play-making potential outside the pocket. He does vacate the pocket too quick at times relying on his legs. He had an intentional grounding call that was unnecessary and threw near the ground on a wide receiver screen to Jalin Hyatt on the first drive that destroyed the play.

Hendon Hooker (5)
3 TDs (1 Off vs. 2 Def / 3 Off vs. 3 Def / 1 Off vs. 1 Def)
1 Half (2 Off vs. 1 Def)
1 INT (2 Off vs. 1 Def)
*2 drives with the 1st team offense
*3 drives vs. 1st team defense
Vince’s View: Hooker, like Maurer, faced the 1st team defense the most. His success was spread out against all units. I thought Hooker was the smoothest in getting snaps off quickly. Obviously, the pick six was the one glaring negative for the QBs. Hooker also had some of the wildest misses.

Overall Unit Results
1st Team Offense: TD, TD, punt, TD, TD, TD
1st Team Defense: Punt, FG, Punt, INT, Half, TD, TD
Vince’s View: The last drive was the only instance of 1s vs. 1s in the game. That certainly makes the evaluation and understanding of what we all saw more difficult. That’s where diving into who was on the field when and against whom is useful. The biggest takeaway from the team results and the eye test is that the 1st team defense (even missing a lot of likely starters) performed much better than the backups. That speaks to the lack of depth on defense. Even with everyone back, there are still plenty of unknowns about this defense under first-year DC, Tim Banks.

Other Standout Performers
WR Cedric Tillman: Made two of the most impressive catches in the game to back-up an excellent spring where he’s trying to be this year’s Josh Palmer.

WR Velus Jones Jr.: Had an easy TD catch right after a 52-yard catch. He gets open and is a sure-fire starter.

TE Princeton Fant: All the tight ends saw work with multiple units because they only had four available bodies, three on scholarship. Plus, UT showed some two tight end looks. Fant led the tight ends in receptions with 4 for 56 yards. He split-out wide. He even ran a tight end slant, which has been a rarity on Rocky Top. He told us a few weeks back that he was excited about this offense and that he couldn’t wait to show everyone his passing game skills. He’s a former wide receiver, so the ability should be there despite being used as primarily a blocker. I think it’s a really nice sign that the coaching staff can identify and tap into his skills. How many others will they be able to do that with?

CB Warren Burrell: Not many brag-able plays on defense, but Burrell’s 34-yard pick-six was the D’s play of the day. I don’t believe a pass was completed against him. He had tight bump-and-run coverage and some off-coverage looks as well. He did have one pass interference call in the endzone. He also had a strong spring according to teammates.

OG Javontez Spraggins: He did a really nice job in this game and in spring practice. He cleaned out DL Dominic Bailey on a pull left from RG on a rushing TD for the first team. Cade Mays started at RG, but the physical Spraggins got some work there with the first team also. If he continues to play well and show he’s one of the best 5, that could kick Cade Mays out to LT pushing Dayne Davis to a reserve role. There are other potential scenarios as well since Cade Mays is likely the only sure starter in that group.

Concerns
Defense: There was very little pass rush, especially from the back-ups. The depleted linebacking unit was on display. With the addition of QB Joe Milton as a transfer, linebacker and defensive line are one and two on the transfer portal priority wish list for Tennessee.

Specialists: Punter Paxton Brooks was inconsistent vs. air with no rush. He has a big leg and is the unquestioned starter. UT will need a better year from him. Place kickers Chase McGrath, USC transfer, and Toby Wilson made all their kicks, but those were a little low and line drive kicks. Wilson handled the short kicking duties last season after Brent Cimaglia was injured and opted out of the rest of the season.


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Jimmy’s blog: Fulkerson says Covid had impact on him and team

Jimmy’s blog: Fulkerson says Covid had impact on him and team

By Jimmy Hyams

Tennessee forward John Fulkerson confirmed Tuesday morning what many people suspected for weeks if not months: He had Covid-19 this past season.

Fulkerson, who averaged 18.3 points in the last 10 games of the 2019-20 season and made first-team All-SEC, was not the same player his senior season. His scoring average dipped from 13.7 points to 9.5. His rebound average dropped from 5.9 to 5.5. His field-goal percentage decreased from 61.2% to 52.7%.

And his energy level wasn’t the same.

I asked Fulkerson during a zoom media conference this morning if he had Covid and if it impacted his play.

“I did,’’ he said. “I think if affected a lot of people.’’

Fulkerson noted it impacted fans in the stands. Usually raucous Thompson-Boling Arena (capacity 21,678) was reduced to less than 4,000 fans per home game. Fulkerson missed the rowdies.

“I love playing for the fans,’’ Fulkerson said, adding that he drew energy from spectators. “Them not being there, every team had to create its own energy.’’

Fulkerson, who announced recently he is returning for a sixth year at Tennessee, also said Covid impacted players’ stamina and conditioning.

“It affected this whole program,’’ Fulkerson said. “That’s what makes me so excited for next year, it will be more of a normal year.’’

We can only hope.

Fulkerson said he was encouraged by athletic director Danny White saying UT hopes to play home football games at full capacity at Neyland Stadium this fall.

Fulkerson hopes for the same thing at Thompson-Boling.

Fulkerson said Covid had another negative effect on the basketball squad: Team chemistry.

“I felt like last year Covid impacted us in terms of hanging out as a team and creating team chemistry and bonding experiences,’’ Fulkerson said, noting the team wasn’t able to have meals or watch movies or attend events together.

“That helps you just as much off the court as on the court,’’ he said.

Fulkerson said he already decided to return to UT before the Vols assembled the No. 2 recruiting class in the country – including two big men that can help Fulkerson inside.

“But when we got them,’’ he said, “it made me want to let you guys know and this team know I would be on the team and I would do whatever I could to help this team.’’

Fulkerson did admit he didn’t want his career to end with him sitting on the bench in the NCAA tournament and not remembering his last contest as a Vol – his memory jogged by the elbow of Florida’s Omar Payne during the SEC Tournament.

“I didn’t want it to end that way,’’ Fulkerson said. “I wanted to finish on my terms. The more I thought about it, the more I got excited to return.’’

Fulkerson said he thinks he can be sort of a player-coach to the newcomers, given this is his sixth year in coach Rick Barnes’ program.

Fulkerson thinks the Vols could be “special’’ this upcoming season and “accomplish something.’’

A new CBS Sports preseason poll jumped Tennessee from No. 25 to 15 when Fulkerson announced he was returning.

What did Fulkerson think of that?

“I thought we should have been ranked No. 1,’’ he joked.

Fulkerson said he doesn’t usually look at preseason rankings but he said the ratings jump was a “good compliment’’ to him.

Fulkerson said he has practiced with teammates for about four weeks, without wearing a mask.

Asked what he needs to do to be more consistent next season, Fulkerson said: “I think it starts in practice, working every day.’’

He said a lot of it is being prepared mentally to play your best.

Fulkerson isn’t just excited about basketball. He’s excited about his living arrangements for next season.

For the first time in eight years, he won’t have to live in a dorm. He did his last two years of high school and first five at UT.

“I’m excited about that,’’ Fulkerson said.


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Jimmy’s blog: Two things convinced Fulkerson to return

Jimmy’s blog: Two things convinced Fulkerson to return

By Jimmy Hyams

John Fulkerson doesn’t remember his final game of the 2020-21 season.

Two elbows from Florida’s Omar Payne left Fulkerson with a concussion and memory loss.

That’s not the way Tennessee’s 6-9 forward wanted to end his career. And it won’t be.

Fulkerson announced today he is returning for a sixth year of eligibility.

“Vol Nation, I’m back,’’ was a part of his video post.

It’s not surprising. Several sources indicated Fulkerson was trending toward a return.

And while Fulkerson looked the part of a departing senior at UT’s Senior Day ceremonies March 7, I think two things impacted his final decision.

One, the pain inflicted by Payne. Fulkerson didn’t want to go out that way, didn’t want that to be his last moment in the Vol uniform he so cherishes.

Fulkerson mentioned in his video what the freshman Fulkerson would think if the senior Fulkerson left that way: “What would he think of the last time I walked off the court (actually carried off) in Nashville? What would he think if I told him I had a chance to do it all one more time? To walk off the court on my own terms. I think I know what he would want me to do. And I’m not about to let him down.’’

Fulkerson wants to “walk off the court on my own terms,’’ not the terms created by someone else’s flying elbow.

But that’s only part of the equation, in my opinion.

I’m not sure Fulkerson enjoyed being the focal point of the inside attack without help. Other than a guard posting up now and then, Fulkerson was the guy.

I’m convinced if Tennessee didn’t get Fulkerson some inside help, he wouldn’t have returned.

But UT stepped to the plate in a big way. The Vols got 7-footer Jonas Aidoo, rated the No. 6 center in the nation, and Brandon Huntley-Hatfield (a Clarksville native) who is rated the No. 1 power forward in the nation. Both can score inside and rebound and defend. And help Fulkerson.

Add five-star point guard Kennedy Chandler to the equation, and Tennessee’s offense can be more productive and consistent than it was a year ago, even with the departures of Jaiden Springer, Keon Johnson and Yves Pons.

In the last 10 games of Fulkerson’s junior season, he averaged 18.3 points, including a 27-point outburst at Kentucky.

That might have been a good-news, bad-news story. The good: Fulkerson appeared to have arrived and made All-SEC. The bad: He was the focal point of most opponent’s interior defense last season.

Fulkerson’s production dropped off dramatically from his junior to senior season. And he was inconsistent. He lacked energy. He looked, at times, anemic.

Fulkerson isn’t one to make excuses, but I can’t help but think he was impacted by Covid-19. He has not acknowledged that, and I don’t know if he was ever asked.

Vols coach Rick Barnes said many players across the country were impced by Covid-19. Barnes didn’t mentioned Fulkerson, but it made you wonder.

When asked about his lack of energy and inconsistent play from time to time, Fulkerson didn’t play the Covid card.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe something else impacted Fulkerson’s downward turn last season.

Whatever it was, look for Fulkerson to make a dramatic turnaround this season.

As he said in his video, the opportunity to return “is too special to walk away from.’’

Look for Fulkerson to have a special sixth season.

And look for him to get some help along the way.


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Observations, notes and analysis from Vols open football practice from Vince’s View

Observations, notes and analysis from Vols open football practice from Vince’s View

Vols WR Walker Merrill / Credit: WVLT

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

It was great to see a start-to-finish football practice of any kind again. We appreciate Josh Heupel and Tennessee for letting everyone into Neyland Stadium to see it after all of the restrictions from COVID-19 since Spring of 2020.

In the latest post from my blog “Vince’s View” here on 991TheSportsAnimal.com, I’m sharing views, opinions and notes from what I saw during the almost three hours of UT football practice viewing, as well as where each position group stands as a whole. These are my opinions, not what anyone else may have said or written.

Watch some our video footage from the open practice HERE.

Players we did not see practicing (excluding six suspended players): RB Jabari Small, DL Omari Thomas, LB Jeremy Banks, LB Roman Harrison, DL LaTrell Bumphus and OL Riley Locklear

Players in black non-contact jerseys, but doing some drills included: DB Doneiko Slaughter, RB Len’Neth Whitehead and WR Jimmy Holiday

Other partial participants that did not practice in team situations: DE/OLB Tyler Baron, RB Tiyon Evans, WR Jalin Hyatt and DL Ja’Quain Blakely

Offense vs. Defense in Team Reps
The offense was much, much better than the defense in all team settings. I don’t recall any negative plays created by this undermanned defense. I only saw one turnover, a sweet over-the-shoulder interception by true freshman DB Christian Charles. It was on a Brian Maurer deep ball that looked like it was going to be complete until Charles hustled and laid out for it, much to the excitement of his defensive teammates. That was maybe the single best catch of the day.

The tempo of the offense, I’m sure, is still an adjustment for all the defensive players, returning and new, but I think because of the personnel, they would struggle versus most offenses based as it sits right now. This new coaching staff has to find ways to develop some individual talent under the tough circumstances.

Quarterbacks Overall
I’d describe the unit as ok, but inconsistent. The overall play at this position, looks like it could be a little better than the 2020 season, but that’s not a high bar of success to improve on. I think the system, the promising skill talent and an apparent improvement in redshirt sophomore Brian Maurer should produce better offensive numbers. Each of the three QBs is a little different, but the group as whole, looks like it can manage things efficiently and at least protect the football. I don’t think there’s a star in this group though. We haven’t seen suspended freshman Kaidon Salter yet, so maybe he is. We’ll see. The QBs did quick-release drills, avoiding dropping heavy bags in the pocket drills and on the run throwing drills (including across the body) more than I can remember the previous staff doing when we were able to see practices in 2019.

Brian Maurer
I had heard that Maurer had looked the best in the closed door portions of practice entering Saturday. What I saw was consistent with that. He looks more confident and relaxed. Maybe this offense and having been recruited by Josh Heupel at UCF as a kid in nearby Ocala, has given Maurer a new sense of opportunity. Maurer is the quickest in his release, has the best escape-ability and has a popular alpha personality you like at that position. He led most of the individual drills and got a fair amount of first team work in team situations. He missed on numerous throws in redzone situations vs. defenders. There were two in a row where he didn’t have appropriate loft on fade routes where he threw them both too much on a line falling incomplete.

Maurer seems to elevate his play in 11-on-11 settings. On one play, he bobbled a snap that popped above his head, he re-gathered, stepped-up in the pocket, eluded the rush by sliding to the right and shooting a ¾ arm slot throw into the endzone for a TD to Princeton Fant. On another play, he scrambled to his right and gunned a TD pass on the run to Ramel Keyton. Maurer also lofted a pretty 30-yard pass in the bucket to true freshman WR Walker Merrill who made an impressive over the shoulder catch against Doneiko Slaughter in 7-on-7 work.

Hendon Hooker
Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker looks like the safest of the quarterbacks. He’s very fundamental, mechanical and tight in his base. He did a nice job of getting off 3 snaps of the tempo offense in 26 total seconds. When you consider the time of the play, getting everyone back from downfield and in a legal formation, that’s impressive. It was an example of the super-fast tempo this offense wants to operate in. He ran with the 1s plenty. He also was accurate on some redzone throws and sailed some as well. Hooker’s nicest throw may have been in 7-on7 where he hit Velus Jones Jr on about a 30-yard go route.

Harrison Bailey
Sophomore Harrison Bailey moved the offense against the undermanned defenses he faced, but they were more check-down throws and leaning on a successful running game. He, like all the QBs, made some solid redzone throws. However, I thought he was the least accurate of the three, not just in completion percentage but in hitting receivers in-stride and in the proper spots. He overthrew receivers, threw some in the dirt and threw behind guys numerous times. I didn’t see a high 4-star QB that’s coming off a freshman season of playing and starting that should have made the sophomore jump. I saw a guy just blended in rather than standing out, like he was expected to. We’ll see if that will develop before the season, but he appeared third-best to me in this setting.

Running Backs
I really liked what I saw from big 6’5, 227 back Dee Beckwith. He bulled over defenders on runs while still showing elusiveness. He has good waist bend to still be effective and not take too much punishment. VFL Will Overstreet brought-up a great point when we were discussing Beckwith on The Sports Source last Sunday on WATE. As a big former receiver now at RB, Beckwith gives you the option to motion him out into a mismatch on either a slower linebacker or a smaller defensive back. UT did motion their single backs to a 5-wide look several times Saturday.

I also like what I’ve seen all camp from true freshman Jaylen Wright. The full practice enforced that for me. He’s fast and could be the breakaway running back among the group. JUCO newcomer Tiyon Evans has massive legs and a powerful frame. He did not take part in team drills. Jabari Small, arguably the most complimented player on the team heading into the open practice, did not practice. Tee Hodge was probably the 3rd back among the scholarship backs in team drills. Len’Neth Whitehead is intriguing as well as another big back, but he continues to be limited.

Every scholarship running back is over 200 pounds. There are numerous power running options in this group that fits Heupel’s offense. Right now, I think it is a good collection of running back by committee.

Wide Receivers
I like the talent and potential in this group as well. Cedric Tillman made a really nice catch on a fade route in the endzone leaping over CB Kenneth George Jr. The two slapped hands afterwards showing respect. Tillman has had a really nice camp. Velus Jones Jr. had a sweet juke move to get pass his CB in press coverage drills. Jones worked on the outside at WR much of practice along with Tillman, Ramel Keyton and freshman Andison Coby. Former QB Jimmy Calloway looked like a smooth natural hands catcher, working a lot from the slot, making some grabs look easy, although he did have two drops. I liked what I saw from in-state true freshman Walker Merrill. He had the highlight catch from Maurer I mentioned earlier and just looked smooth and precise in his routes. He did have to get repositioned a few times when lining-up, but that’s to be expected. There are a number of guys like Jalin Hyatt and former QB Jimmy Holiday and Malachi Wideman that we’re waiting for them to either get back to full strength or play to their potential.

Offensive Line
Here are how some of the OLs lined-up in some team drills.

LT Cade Mays
LG Jerome Carvin
C Cooper Mays
RG Jackson Lampley
RT Darnell Wrigley

LT Dayne Davis
LG Jerome Carvin
C Cooper Mays
RG Jackson Lampley
RT Cade Mays

LT K’Rohjn Calbert
LG Kingston Harris
C Ollie Lane
RG Javontez Spraggins
RT RJ Perry

LT James Parsons (walk-on)
LG Parker Ball (walk-on)
C Jacob Brigman (walk-on)
RG Chris Akporoghene
RT William Parker

This group has had plenty of position shifting, with more likely to come. Much like the D-line, there has to be more development of players than there was last season, if this team is going to get some things done on offense this year. Versus UT’s defense, it was no problem all day for all the units and combinations. I think that speaks to the defense though, more than promise about this group. On one bend and strike drill with contact on a fellow-OL teammate, Jackson Lampley led with his helmet which angered RJ Perry, who shoved him afterwards. Perry took the blow to his rib area and was holding it due to obvious pain. It wasn’t serious, just interesting to watch. Gotta keep your head-up for everybody’s safety.

Tight Ends
It was good to see Austin Pope, who missed last season with a back injury, participating, split-out wide often and catching passes. He made a sweet grab for a TD in redzone work on a corner route. With UT showing 4 and 5 wides, you saw Pope, Princeton Fant and Jacob Warren all split-out wide and able to get out into pass routes, Freshman Miles Campbell is a big body that I didn’t see as much of later in practice. There were a few instances of a standard hand-down tight end along with a second tight end at H-back on the opposite wing together. This is a very small group.

Defense Line
I thought they lined-up like last season a decent amount at practice, 3 down linemen and a stand-up fourth DE/OLB hybrid right at the line as well. The bright spots of the defense are at that hybrid position with JUCO newcomer Byron Young, sophomore Bryson Eason and sophomore Tyler Baron, who did not do any team drills. The defensive line was not effective at all at practice. They don’t even look explosive or fundamentally sound in individual drills. This is a huge concern area with this football team. There doesn’t appear to be a difference-maker in site on this roster, unless someone blossoms that we haven’t seen so far.

Linebackers
With suspensions and injuries this is an insanely thin group that’s relied on walk-ons, former walk-ons and a long snapper to fill spots in team settings. I’m not sure any of the players that are out would make a huge difference, which makes the situation even more alarming. That’s why this is a high target position to try and address in the transfer portal, even though that’s not the easiest position to come in and prosper in quickly.

Defensive Backs
The 1s at CB were Alontae Taylor, Kenneth George Jr and Warren Burrell. Those guys are solid but not elite. Tyus Fields and Doneiko Slaughter saw some time at CB also. There’s experience at safety and Star CB, but again, it’s capped at solid and they’re probably not fast enough, collectively. There was one play where they had to pause the snap because the defense was short a CB on the field until Tyus Fields ran out there.

Special Teams
There’s no doubt that Paxton Brooks is the punter. He had some blasted long punts during practice. He did have one really short line drive punt that I saw, but was good overall. He’s a big guy that’s always acting like a QB or a WR in down time. Remember, we saw him throw some passes last season. In fact, he had as many completions as Brian Maurer did in 2020, two. USC transfer Chase McGrath was slightly more accurate than walk-on Toby Wilson in field goal attempts. The three guys fielding punts were Jalin Hyatt, Jimmy Holiday and Jimmy Calloway. Those are all intriguing options. I did not see a dropped kick when watching them.

Coaching
Josh Heupel is pretty low key at practice. He watches and then sometimes calmly gives directions to players or groups, but you don’t hear him yelling and screaming like Jeremy Pruitt. OC Alex Golesh was the most interesting to watch coach. He is a bundle of energy, running in and out of formations to fix things and even playing the role of defender in some drills against his guys. QB Coach Joey Halzle was constantly coaching and correcting mechanics and techniques. Bailey was getting corrected by him most often. DL coach Rodney Garner is the loudest voice at practices with his yelling and correcting style.


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LISTEN: ESPN’s Paul Biancardi breaks down Chandler, Vols to NBA Draft, next year’s UT hoops team

LISTEN: ESPN’s Paul Biancardi breaks down Chandler, Vols to NBA Draft, next year’s UT hoops team

ESPN’s Paul Biancardi / Credit: 99.1 The Sports Animal

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

On the “Vincenzo’s View Podcast” I sat down with ESPN’s National Recruiting Director for Basketball, NBA Draft and college basketball analyst Paul Biancardi to discuss outgoing and incoming players and coaches to the Vols program.

Listen to that full interview below. I’d love for you to subscribe to the podcast, which has a lot more great content coming and growing in amount. Thank you!

LISTEN: Preview of Vols Baseball opponent, UF, with Gators PxP voice Steve Russell, plus spring football storylines

LISTEN: Preview of Vols Baseball opponent, UF, with Gators PxP voice Steve Russell, plus spring football storylines

Steve Russell – WRUF Gainesville / Credit: 99.1 The Sports Animal

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

On the “Vincenzo’s View Podcast” I got a scouting report of Tennessee baseball’s upcoming SEC baseball series and previewed it with Steve Russell from WRUF in Gainesville and the Gators Radio Network.

Listen to that full interview below. I’d love for you to subscribe to the podcast, which has a lot more great content coming and growing in amount. Thank you!

LISTEN: Preview of Ennis/Lipinets and full show with Showtime Boxing Host Brian Custer

LISTEN: Preview of Ennis/Lipinets and full show with Showtime Boxing Host Brian Custer

Showtime’s Brian Custer / Credit: 99.1 The Sports Animal

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

On the “Vincenzo’s View Podcast” I visited with the host of Showtime Championship Boxing Brian Custer to preview this weekend’s big show on the network and talk some big picture items in the sport of boxing.

Listen to that full interview below. I’d love for you to subscribe to the podcast, which has a lot more great content coming and growing in amount. Thank you!

Jimmy’s blog: Were Vols overrated or simply under perform?

Jimmy’s blog: Were Vols overrated or simply under perform?

By Jimmy Hyams

After a sparkling start to the season in which the Tennessee men’s basketball were 10-1 and was ranked No. 6 in the nation, the Vols went into a tailspin, going 8-8 the last two months of the campaign.

The disappointment ended with a disappointing 70-56 loss in the first round of the NCAA tournament to a team picked to finish last in the Pac-12.

The same concerns that reared their head during the regular season were on display against Oregon State: Lack of point guard play, lack of inside presence, lack of shooting.

A Tennessee team that showed Final Four capabilities to start the year finished 18-9 and unranked.

A caller to SportsTalk WNML suggested the Vols were overrated and didn’t under perform.

I disagree.

When I evaluate a team, I look at its peak performance, then see how many times it came close to playing at that level.

Tennessee was good enough to beat Missouri on the road by 20, to win by double digits at Rupp Arena, to beat top 20 Kansas by 19, to run roughshod over Florida in the second half of the regular season finale, then in the SEC Tournament.

While the highs were high, the lows were disturbingly low. A 75-49 loss at Florida, scoring 50 points in a loss at Ole Miss, losing to Missouri and Kentucky at home after you beat both by double digits on the road, falling to Auburn without its best player, then the offensive debacle against Oregon State in which UT shot 33.3% from the field and made a paltry 5 of 26 on 3s .

 

Tennessee had a guy that projects to be an NBA lottery pick, a guy that could be a top 25 pick, a guy that was SEC defensive player of the year, a guy that averaged 18.3 points in his last 10 games of last season, a five-star wing who has great versatility, and a guy who debuted as a freshman by splashing six 3s.

Tennessee didn’t lack talent.

It lacked consistency. It lacked chemistry. It lacked a point guard. It lacked an inside scorer. It lacked leadership. And it lacked shooters.

Most teams that have made the Sweet 16 have several offensive threats, several guys that can drain 3-point shots, several guys that can dribble drive to the basket and an inside scorer.

Tennessee will have a roster makeover next year. It needs to find an inside threat (John Fulkerson could help there if he returns and returns to his junior level of play). It needs to find a bruiser inside that’s talker than 6-foot-6. It needs to find shooters.

And it needs a point guard.

My biggest miscalculation of this Tennessee team was the play at point guard. I thought the Vols could do it by committee, led by Victor Bailey Jr. and Jaden Springer and Santiago Vescovi.

Bailey had his moments, but he seemed more concerned about scoring than running the offense. And his defense was surprisingly suspect. When he wasn’t hitting shots, he didn’t help in other ways.

Springer was a reluctant point guard. He seemed more concerned about playing off guard, and then he seemed more concerned about getting his share of the points. And he too often got in trouble by driving into the lane without a plan.

Vescovi was a shaky ball-handler when pressured. And too often, he would jump while penetrating with no where to go, leading to too many turnovers. He also missed his share of open shots from beyond the arc. And he is a liability on defense.

Help is on the way with five-star point guard Kennedy Chandler. He can run the offense, score, pass and lead. He could be just as impactful as a freshman – if not moreso — as Keon Johnson and Springer.

UT likely will hit the transfer portal, trying to find a big man. Walker Kessler, a five-star center who signed with North Carolina, entered the transfer portal after his freshman season.

Other big men can also be found in the portal. UT has to get at least one.

This also had to be a very frustrating season for coach Rick Barnes. He wasn’t able to get his team to play at the consistently high level as his 31-6 squad of two years ago.

Barnes has had a Hall of Fame career; his 727 wins are sixth most among active coaches.

But he has not had great success in the postseason. In 34 years as a head coach, he has made one Final Four, three Elite 8s and seven Sweet 16s.

And in 62 tournaments (NCAA, NIT, CBI, conference) he has won one (Providence, Big East, 1994).

To improve on that mark, Barnes must retool his roster with a point guard (Chandler) a big man and more shooters.

That will better enhance his chances of postseason success.

 


Sponsored by Big Kahuna Wings: The wings that changed it all 

Silverberg: All 68 teams in the 2021 NCAA Tournament

Silverberg: All 68 teams in the 2021 NCAA Tournament

Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes. Credit: UT Athletics.

By Joel Silverberg / @JoelSilverberg

The tournament is here, and while college basketball fans still can’t quite relax in full reassurance the fortnight will go on without a hitch, it’s still nice to acknowledge the biggest sports absence from 2020 is back this year.

Before we get into the matchups, it’s worth noting this might be the first time in a while where there hasn’t been much conversation about tournament snubs. I didn’t think there was anything egregious with the field. I thought Louisville would’ve been in had it not lost to Duke late in the year or dealt with the COVID-19 pauses it had to deal with. I felt that Saint Louis would’ve had a better shot if it didn’t lose to Dayton or La Salle and had beaten St. Bonaventure in the Atlantic 10 semis. Colorado State probably lost its bid directly to Utah State in the Mountain West semifinals and Ole Miss lost to Mississippi State and Vanderbilt in February. You can’t do that.

That being said, I understand the gripes about Wichita State and the Shockers’ less than stellar NET ranking. Even with two major conference bid thieves, the bubble seemed soft overall, but I thought the committee did well this year. And I don’t say that most seasons.

Below are some observations about all 68 teams in the field. The teams are listed in their first round matchups by region along with their KenPom overall/offensive/defensive efficiency rankings, as well as their NET. Just follow your bracket down the list.

Good luck on your brackets and enjoy the tournament!

WEST REGION

(1) Gonzaga: KenPom: (1/1/11). NET: 1.

One of the fastest, most efficient teams in the country. Gonzaga’s 38.03 adjusted efficiency margin is the highest in the KenPom era (since 2002). The Zags are a so-so 36.5% from downtown, but their explosive offense comes from being able to cut and drive to the basket. They find ways to get inside and do it often. Gonzaga lives in the fast lane, and opponents that can’t keep up fall behind in a hurry. Corey Kispert is lethal from outside, but can also hit the mid-range and slash his way inside when needed. Drew Timme is the big man averaging 18 & 7, but is willing to take the occasional outside shot. Jalen Suggs has been a star as a freshman, averaging 14 points, 5.5 boards, 4.5 assists and 2 steals per game while shooting 51% from the field. Andrew Nembhard is a near-double-figure scorer off the bench after transferring from Florida. Imagine how good this team would be if Filip Petrusev hadn’t left for Serbia…

VS

(16) Norfolk State: KenPom: (200/204/219). NET: 170.

The Spartans didn’t have to play their MEAC semifinal game because the league’s top seed North Carolina A&T had to withdraw from the tournament. Norfolk State then defeated Morgan State to win the MEAC’s auto bid and make its first tournament appearance in nearly a decade. In 2012, the No. 15 seed Spartans stunned No. 2 Missouri before losing to Florida in the second round.

OR

(16) Appalachian State: KenPom: (209/227/205). NET: 210.

0-3 in the top two quadrants and 13-8 outside of them, including a 6-6 mark in Q4. The Mountaineers had to survive in overtime in both the Sun Belt quarterfinals and semifinals before knocking off Georgia State to win the league tournament.

***

(8) Oklahoma: KenPom: (39/36/53). NET: 36.

The Sooners enter the tournament having lost five of their last six, with the lone win coming against Big 12 bottom-dweller Iowa State and one of the losses coming to a poor Kansas State team. The Sooners are 5-9 against Quadrant 1 teams, have no games on record against Quadrant 2 and are 10-1 against the bottom two quadrants. Still, there’s a reason this was a top ten team at one point this season. Austin Reaves averages 17.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game. Brady Manek is a strong inside presence that can hit from 3-point range with his 6-9 frame. Elijah Harkless is a really athletic wildcard that helps this team defensively and has some offensive potential as well.

VS

(9) Missouri: KenPom: (51/51/58). NET: 47.

How can a team beat a No. 1 seed and somehow be ranked outside the top 50 in KenPom? This is a veteran group with a lot of players that have been with Cuonzo Martin for a while, which is why the Tigers’ late season skid was so puzzling. Missouri had wins over Oregon, Wichita State, Liberty, Illinois and Arkansas before it beat Alabama on February 6. Since then the Tigers are 3-6 in a stretch that includes two losses to Ole Miss and a 10-point loss to Georgia. Guard Dru Smith has become one of the most improved players in the SEC to lead the Tigers in points, assists and steals. Xavier Pinson is averaging 14 points per game and provides a nice compliment in the backcourt. Jeremiah Tilmon is a valuable inside scorer and rim protector and Kobe Brown has down well in his sophomore campaign in a more expanded role in Missouri’s front court. Turnovers have been a problem for this team and the lack of perimeter offense could be tough to overcome.

***

(5) Creighton: KenPom: (19/14/40). NET: 26.

This is a veteran group with five double-digit scorers, headlined by Marcus Zegarowski’s 15.5 points per game on 41% shooting from 3. Damien Jefferson and Christian Bishop provide an inside presence to help open up the floor for Zegarowski and 40% 3-point shooter Mitch Ballock. The offense has all the explosive potential in the world, but is also susceptible to duds like the one it suffered in the Big East title game against Georgetown when the Bluejays shot 28% from the field and were manhandled on the glass.

VS

(12) UC Santa Barbara: KenPom: (69/66/82). NET: 54.

A respectable opposing field goal percentage combined with a slow tempo, the Gauchos play solid defense and have a fundamentally sound offense that utilizes ball movement with a balanced attack. Santa Barbara is 21st in the country in field goal percentage aren’t bad from 3 or the free throw line either. They offer solid ball movement and create takeaways on defense. JaQuori McLaughlin is averaging 16.2 points and 5.2 assists per game. He’s also a 40% 3-point shooter. The resume doesn’t stand out. No games against Q1 teams, but a perfect 18-0 in the bottom two quadrants. There are power conference tournament teams who can’t say that. Creighton will easily be the toughest team the Gauchos have faced all year, but the champs of the Big West won’t be timid walking in.

***

(4) Virginia: KenPom: (11/12/32). NET: 12.

The Cavs were probably a tad overrated at No. 4 in the preseason AP poll, but veterans Kihei Clark and Jay Huff give the reigning national champs experience in both the front and back court. Transfer Sam Hauser has made a big impact in his first year with the Hoos, averaging 16 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Clark continues to make big-time assists in key situations, but does this team have the key pieces to make clutch shots like it did when it won the title two years ago? There’s a big drop off in production after Virginia’s top four scorers. If the offense is forced to become one-dimensional, there’s less room for error with the Cavs than other higher-seeded teams.

VS

(13) Ohio: KenPom: (71/29/174). NET: 87.

Jason Preston is a legitimate pro prospect. 16.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.6 steals per game combined with a 41% 3-point clip are really impressive numbers, even for a mid-major guard. Ohio is 18th in the nation in field goal percentage and a top-30 offensive team according to KenPom. With four other double-digit scorers besides Preston, including 6-8 forward Dwight Preston (14.9 points, 7.5 rebounds) the Bobcats will face an intriguing test against Virginia if the Cavs are able to suit up. The defense is a concern, however, and Virginia’s 12th ranked offense in adjusted efficiency could put a lot of pressure on Preston and Co. to hit buckets early and often.

***

(6) USC: KenPom: (14/30/19). NET: 19.

This team needs more firepower offensively to compliment Evan Mobley (16.8 points per game) and Tahj Eaddy (13.7), but the Trojans are a solid rebounding team and get good rim protection. Eaddy can get rolling if he heats up from outside (39%), but the offense can get into trouble if Mobley isn’t contributing. The 7-foot freshman has scored in double figures in all but two of USC’s games this season.

VS

(11) Drake: KenPom: (53/19/120). NET: 45.

A solid offensive team that’s been hit by injuries, the selection committee did the right thing by putting the Bulldogs in the field. Drake didn’t have ShanQuan Hemphill (14.1 points, 6.3 rebounds per game) for a significant portion of the season and found a way to beat Loyola Chicago without him. Bulldogs head coach Darian DeVries told the Des Moines Register Sunday that “everything’s still on course” for Hemphill to play. Unfortunately, Drake will now be without guard Roman Penn, who had been averaging 11.2 points and a team-high 5.5 assists per game. He’s also one of Drake’s best on-ball defenders. The Bulldogs will needs more from Joseph Yesufu and Tremell Murphy if it wants to stick around past the first four. Even if it’s shorthanded, Drake can find ways to ugly a game up to keep it close if it needs to.

OR

(11) Wichita State: KenPom: (74/56/103). NET: 72.

Considering how the offseason ended for Wichita State, the Shockers are a nice story to get into the tournament. Though it didn’t do itself any favors by blowing a lead to Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference tournament. I didn’t have any qualms about the field, but if I had to replace one team on the bubble, Wichita State would’ve been on the outside looking in. Tyson Etienne is the offensive weapon with 17 points per game and shooting 40% from outside. The Shockers clean the glass well, but only shoot 41% from the field.

***

(3) Kansas: KenPom: (22/59/6). NET: 11.

Since losing to Tennessee in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge at the end of January, Kansas has won nine of its last 11 with the two losses coming to West Virginia and Texas on the road — the latter in overtime. During that stretch the Jayhawks beat Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Baylor. It would’ve been fun to see what could’ve happened in a rematch against the eventual Big 12 champion Longhorns. This isn’t the best Kansas team Bill Self has had and at times it looked as if this wasn’t a top five Big 12 team, but the backcourt has made due after losing Devon Dotson from last year’s championship-caliber squad and David McCormack and Jalen Wilson have done a commendable job trying to replace big man Udoka Azubuike. The Jayhawks have four players scoring in double figures with guard Christian Braun averaging 9.8 to go along with his 5.3 rebounds. Marcus Garrett can take over a game defensively, averaging 1.6 steals and can be a menace as an on-ball defender on the perimeter. His speed is tough to keep up with when he cuts and slashes inside.

VS

(14) Eastern Washington: KenPom: (110/86/152). NET: 114.

The Eagles play a guard-heavy lineup, but it’s 6-9 forward Tanner Groves who leads the way with 16.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. Kim Aiken Jr. adds good length at 6-7 and brings 11.7 points and 8.5 rebounds to the floor. This team plays fast, is reliable from the floor and very steady from the foul line. Eastern Washington nearly pulled off an upset over Arizona in Tucson back in December and almost knocked off Saint Mary’s in Moraga. The Eagles enter the tournament having won 13 of their last 14 games.

***

(7) Oregon: KenPom: (36/16/76). NET: 33.

The Ducks have five players averaging in double figures, which is pretty good considering Oregon’s adjusted tempo ranking (242nd), but the defense leaves a lot to be desired and Oregon had just as many wins against Quadrant 1 teams as it did losses against Quadrant 3 teams. Eugene Omoruyi and Chris Duarte both average 16.7 points per game, but this team doesn’t rebound well and doesn’t have elite rim protection.

VS

(10) VCU: KenPom: (45/117/12). NET: 37.

The Rams’ only Quadrant 1 wins came against Utah State in November and St. Bonaventure at home more than a month ago. Since then VCU is 4-3 with a loss to George Mason at home. Still, this team is strong defensively with a great shot blocker in Hason Ward (2.3 per game) and the Rams average 9.2 steals as a team. Nah’Shon Hyland averages 19.5 points per game and was a big reason VCU was able to hang around St. Bonaventure in the A-10 title bout. Vince Williams Jr. has become more comfortable from 3-point range and his 41% clip shows it’s paying off. The Rams’ defense will keep it in games, but they desperately need to take care of the ball on offense and find a way to produce inside scoring.

***

(2) Iowa: KenPom: (5/2/50). NET: 6.

The defense has gotten better, but the Big Ten Tournament showed the Hawkeyes still need to get better on that end of the floor to compliment their stellar offense, which is fourth among power conference teams in 3-point percentage and leads the country in assists per game with 19.1. Iowa also takes care of the basketball with a remarkable 2.01 assist-to-turnover ratio. Luka Garza leads all power conference players with 23.7 points per game. Joe Wieskamp and Jordan Bohannon are both double-digit scorers that can hit from 3. Bohanon will direct the offense and leads the team in assists while Wieskamp shoots over 47% from outside. If Iowa’s defense can continue to improve, the Hawkeyes could very well see themselves with the school’s first Final Four appearance in 41 years.

VS

(15) Grand Canyon: KenPom: (108/142/74). NET: 107.

The Antelopes have been taking care of business as of late. They cruised through the WAC Tournament with a pair of blowout wins and have won their last three games by double digits. The also lost to Arizona State by one in Phoenix back in December and played Colorado to a respectable 10-point game in Las Vegas before Christmas. Grand Canyon generates a lot of its offense through the half court game and is 16th in the country in field goal percentage. Asbjorn Midtgaard is the only player in college basketball shooting 70% from the field. The bigger issues are scoring from outside and being better at the free throw line. Iowa’s improved defense and high-octane offense will be a tough ask for Bryce Drew.

EAST REGION

(1) Michigan: KenPom: (2/5/7). NET: 4.

The big question is the status of forward Isaiah Livers, who has averaged 13 points and 6 boards while starting every game this season for the Wolverines. Michigan will look to Franz Wagner and Eli Brooks to take a bigger scoring role from the perimeter as both players shoot 38% from 3. More of the responsibility inside will fall on freshman Hunter Dickinson, who has been solid while putting up 14 points and 7.6 boards per game. Michigan is a reliable foul shooting team and plays well defensively. How this team controls tempo and pace will dictate its tournament run, but making up for Livers’ absence will ultimately be Michigan’s toughest task.

VS

(16) Mount Saint Mary’s: KenPom: (219/287/136). NET: 159.

The Mountaineers have played some good teams in Maryland and VCU so maybe there’s some big game readiness there. Mount Saint Mary’s bounced back from a three-game skid in mid-February to win four straight on its way to the NEC Tournament crown. It’s the sixth NCAA Tournament appearance for the Mountaineers and they’ve been a No. 16 seed in each one. They are 2-1 in first four games, most recently bearing New Orleans in 2017 before losing to Villanova.

OR

(16) Texas Southern: KenPom: (229/236/236). NET: 208.

The Tigers have won nine straight games, granted only two of them against teams with winning records. Texas Southern has seen its share of quality teams, facing Oklahoma State, Saint Mary’s, Auburn and BYU during the non-conference schedule. The Tigers play fast and are actually 10th in the country in rebounds per game. Michael Weathers averages 16.5 points per game, but Texas Southern’s 27% team 3-point rate leaves this offense with a lot to be desired.

***

(8) LSU: KenPom: (29/5/125). NET: 28.

Five wins in Quadrant 1 and no losses in the bottom two quadrants. It’s a decent resume overall for the Tigers, but the defense is the worst among teams in the KenPom top 50. LSU has the backcourt and depth to score with anyone and is physical enough to hold its own on the glass. Cameron Thomas and Ja’Vonte Smart are a great duo in the backcourt with Thomas averaging 22.6 points per game and Smart shooting 42% from 3. The front court features veterans Trendon Watford and Darius Days, who are both averaging north of seven boards per game. The on-ball defense needs to be better and the Tigers can’t afford to keep missing assignments. This team could very well stun Michigan in the second round. It could also get waylaid by St. Bonaventure in the round of 64.

VS

(9) St. Bonaventure: KenPom: (25/38/17). NET: 23.

The Bonnies play a slow tempo and are stout defensively. They rebound well for a team that tries to limit possessions and have good ball movement, but also have players that can generate offense with five guys averaging double figures. Kyle Lofton leads the team in points (14.6) and can heat up from outside despite being just a 25% 3-point shooter. The bigger threats from deep are Jaren Holmes (39%) and Dominick Welch (41%) and both are also regular contributors on the glass. Osun Osunniyi is averaging a near double-double with 10.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. Can this slow tempo offense keep up with LSU’s speed and athleticism?

***

(5) Colorado: KenPom: (17/17/29). NET: 15.

The loss to Oregon State aside, this is a good basketball team with some key veterans in McKinley Wright and Evan Battey. Wright leads the team in points (15.5), assists (5.6) and steals (1.1). His ability to drive and finish, as well as get to the free throw line will keep the Buffaloes in games. Jeremiah Horne serves as the outside threat. At 6-7, his 42% 3-point mark is tough to guard to go along with his team leading 5.8 rebounds per game. Battey is a double-digit scorer for the first time in his career and all three players are incredibly reliable from the charity stripe. Colorado was cooking before the loss to the Beavers, having won six straight.

VS

(12) Georgetown: KenPom: (55/85/41). NET: 64.

Georgetown took advantage of Villanova’s injury struggles before beating Seton Hall in the Big East semifinals. Then the Hoyas destroyed Creighton to win the Big East championship. Georgetown held one of the best offensive teams in the country to less than 30% shooting from the field and destroyed Creighton on the boards. Jahvon Blair scored 18 points in the win and his 15.8 points per game anchor the backcourt production. Qudus Wahab gives the Hoyas 12.4 points and 8 rebounds per game. A lot of what Georgetown does defensively is often nullified by the 15.3 turnovers its offense offers per game, but its 41% opposing field goal percentage can help it get stops if it needs to generate a run.

***

(4) Florida State: KenPom: (15/10/48). NET: 24.

The Seminoles missed out on a conference championship, but the win in the semifinals over North Carolina was a nice bounce back after a disappointing loss to Notre Dame and avenged a loss to the Tar Heels from late February. It was the first quality win for Florida State in a while. Junior RaiQuan Gray was on a scoring spree before a pair of eight-point performances in the ACC Tournament, but he’s been scoring well above his 12-point average as of late. Leading scorer MJ Walker has done well to take on a bigger role this season, but his numbers have been up and down during the team’s recent stretch. Florida State is reliable from the line, on the glass and from the perimeter, but needs to take better care of the ball.

VS

(13) UNC Greensboro: KenPom: (100/129/67). NET: 84.

Wes Miller continues to do a nice job with the Spartans and he’d have more tournament bids in the past few seasons if it weren’t for Steve Forbes and Mike Young. UNC Greensboro’s only Q1 game came in a 21-point loss to Furman on the road. The Spartans also have six losses in the bottom two quadrants and only have one win against a top 100 NET team. Still, there are some pieces to work with here. The Spartans aren’t afraid to get physical on the glass and Isaiah Miller is averaging 19.3 points per game. The offense doesn’t turn the ball over much, but it needs more contributions on the other end to help Isaiah Miller against Florida State.

***

(6) BYU: KenPom: (24/28/26). NET: 20.

This is a balanced team that probably gets overshadowed because the best team in its league is Gonzaga, but the Cougars score, rebound and move the ball well. Mark Pope has done a nice job in his second season after his tournament-worthy team last year never got the chance to show itself in the Big Dance. Alex Barcello leads the way with 15.9 points, 4.5 assists and 1 steal per game. He’s also a 48% 3-point shooter. BYU also has solid length inside with 6-8 freshman Caleb Lohner and Purdue transfer Matt Haarms. The Cougars are a solid outside shooting team and are reliable from the mid-range and free throw line. They don’t generate a lot of steals defensively, but make up for it by holding opponents to a solid 41% from the field, good for 44th in the nation.

VS

(11) Michigan State: KenPom: (56/98/32). NET: 70.

Sparty got into the first four thanks to a late string of wins over Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan. Aaron Henry has done a great job at shouldering the void left by Xavier Tillman and Cassius Winston, but Michigan State’s offense is borderline inept. This team shoots only 42% from the field and 32% from 3. The wildcard is guard Rocket Watts. The Spartans are 7-0 when he scores in double figures and he played some of his best basketball in the wins over Illinois (15 points, 5 assists) and Michigan (21 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds). He has to be better and start taking a bigger role in the offense if Michigan State looks to advance beyond the first four.

OR

(11) UCLA: KenPom: (44/26/86). NET: 46.

This is a decent outside shooting team, but the defense needs to improve. The Bruins have five double digit scorers, but they can get more from Tyger Campbell. UCLA did a nice job of stringing together some wins after losing Chris Smith to a torn ACL, but now Mick Cronin’s team enters Indiana on a four-game skid, including a overtime loss to Oregon State in the Pac-12 quarterfinals. UCLA doesn’t have elite size and can be in danger of getting outmuscled on the boards due to its lack of length.

***

(3) Texas: KenPom: (25/21/36). NET: 21.

The Big 12 Tournament champions are 8-4 in games decided by four points or fewer and enter the tournament on a five-game win streak. Is this finally the year Shaka Smart takes a step forward at Texas? The Longhorns haven’t been past the first round of the NCAA Tournament under smart, but this is the best offensive team he’s had in Austin. Andrew Jones continues to be a great story while averaging 14.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. Jericho Sims averages 9.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game and is second in the nation in field goal percentage. Matt Coleman III and Courtney Ramey give the Longhorns depth in the back court while Greg Brown adds an inside presence along with Sims.

VS

(14) Abilene Christian: KenPom: (86/157/30). NET: 74.

The Wildcats beat the Southland Conference regular season champions by 34 to get to the Big Dance. Now they get a chance to show off some state pride against the Longhorns in the first round. Abilene Christian has already had a taste of the Big 12 this season when it lost to Texas Tech by only seven in Lubbock in December. This team is gritty and willing to play with pace and is also fifth in the country in assists per game. The Wildcats will create opportunities to run in transition and will look to use center Kolton Kohl (12.3 points per game) to score inside. The big question is if this team can create shots if Texas stifles Abilene’s half court scheme.

***

(7) UConn: KenPom: (16/24/25). NET: 30.

The Huskies have length on the inside, but guard James Bouknight is the star with 19 points per game. UConn seemed primed to win the Big East tournament before bowing out to Creighton in the semis. The Huskies protect the rim and rebound well. Bouknight and fellow guard R.J. Cole are also solid defensively. 6-9 Isaiah Whaley gives UConn a big body inside that possesses good hands and solid range.

VS

(10) Maryland: KenPom: (31/42/27). NET: 35.

The Terps have more losses than any at-large team in the field. There aren’t any losses outside the top two quadrants, but some of the three losses in Quadrant 2 are tough to accept. Losing to Northwestern to snap a five game win-streak and following up a win over Purdue by losing to Penn State give this team an uneasy feel. Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins are both averaging 14 points per game and Donta Scott offers a combination of inside scoring, range and interior defense. The inconsistency is a concern, but Maryland has certainly flashed its potential at times this season.

***

(2) Alabama: KenPom: (8/34/2). NET: 7.

The SEC champs showed some serious versatility in Nashville during the conference tournament. The Crimson Tide destroyed Mississippi State on Friday, rallied from a 15-point second half deficit to beat Tennessee on Saturday and held off LSU in a back-and-forth final on Sunday in which neither team led by more than six points after halftime. Credit to Alabama for winning those last two games without All-SEC freshman team selection Josh Primo, who’s averaging 8 points, 3.4 rebounds and shooting 39% from 3 this season. Alabama’s pace and offensive philosophy makes it easy to pin this team as a 3-point heavy squad, but in reality they look to go inside and get easy buckets. Alabama’s defense is strong enough that it can claw its way back into games if the outside shots aren’t falling, but if Alabama’s knocking down outside shots and utilizing that active defense? Well, just ask Mississippi State what that looks like. Jaden Shackelford, Jahvon Quinerly, John Petty Jr. and SEC Player of the Year Herbert Jones are all double-digit scorers. What’s so impressive about this offense is how often they’re able to find open looks from the wings and corners. Nate Oats had a top ten scoring offense in Buffalo three years ago and he’s found similar success on both ends of the floor in Tuscaloosa.

VS

(15) Iona: KenPom: (181/210/161). NET: 138.

The story obviously surrounds Rick Pitino getting back into the NCAA Tournament in his first season with the Gaels, but Iona has been here fairly frequently, making it to the field for the seventh time in the past ten seasons. Isaiah Ross is a solid pure scorer, averaging 18.4 points per game and shooting 39% from long range, but the Gaels average more turnovers per game than they do assists. That’s not great as Iona gets ready to face the Tide.

SOUTH REGION

(1) Baylor: KenPom: (4/3/44). NET: 2.

Moderate tempo team that shoots over 41% from 3 — the best percentage in college basketball. Incredibly efficient on offense and can hit big shots in big moments. Jared Butler averages 17 and 5 per game and is dangerous from outside. Baylor’s backcourt also gets significant contribution from MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell. Matthew Mayer has become an integral part of the front court, making big defensive plays, finding easy buckets and hitting outside shots. Mark Vital is a do-it-all player on defense, scoring six points and averaging 6.8 boards per game. Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua is another big body inside who can score. No the most reliable foul shooting team and needs to be better on defense.

VS

(16) Hartford: KenPom: (192/254/127). NET: 162.

When the top two seeds in the America East tourney both go down, it opens up the door for Hartford to reach its first NCAA Tournament since becoming a Division 1 school in 1985. Prior to this season, the Hawks’ only postseason appearances at the D1 level were two CIT invites in 2013 and ’18.

***

(8) North Carolina: KenPom: (28/53/15). NET: 32.

A lot of size, physicality and resiliency with this group. The ball movement isn’t too bad either. North Carolina doesn’t have a remarkable resume (3-9 in Quadrant 1), but the Tar Heels showed some mettle in beating Virginia Tech in the ACC quarterfinals before narrowly losing to Florida State in the semifinals. Armando Bacon and Garrison Brooks are the veterans who will need to use their size to help make up for some offensive deficiencies. North Carolina desperately needs to take better care of the basketball, too.

VS

(9) Wisconsin: KenPom: (10/32/13). NET: 27.

It’s tough to criticize a team that hasn’t lost outside of Quadrant 1 since January, but the Badgers still just went a meager 5-10 in the top quadrant this season and are entering the tournament having lost six of eight—the last four losses all by five points or fewer. For Wisconsin to earn a shot to take down a No. 1 seed, Micah Potter will have to be stronger on the boards, D’Mitrik Trice will have to take games over and Brad Davison will have to really heat up from outside.

***

(5) Villanova: KenPom: (12/9/68). NET: 17.

The Wildcats won’t have Collin Gillespie (14 points, 4.3 assists per game) and could very well be without Justin Moore (12.6 points, 4.1 rebounds) for the NCAA Tournament. That puts a lot of pressure on Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Jermaine Samuels. Villanova will need to scrap and claw its way out of the first weekend, especially if it meets Purdue in the second round. That’s a tough task for a team that has the third-worst defensive efficiency rating among top 30 KenPom teams.

VS

(12) Winthrop: KenPom: (91/120/70). NET: 55.

Winthrop is 23-1, but 20 of those games, including its lone loss came against Quadrant 4 teams. The Eagles are 2-0 in Quadrant 2 and haven’t played a game in the top quadrant this year. This team can score, but it’s turnover-prone, ranking 233rd in the country in turnovers per game. By comparison, Winthrop’s first round opponent, Villanova turns the ball over only nine times per game. Only Wisconsin turns it over less. Winthrop likes to run and push the floor, but if it can’t take care of the ball, it’ll fall behind quickly. Chandler Vaudrin is one of four Eagles scoring in double figures and he’s also the team leader in rebounds, assists and steals while shooting 37% from 3, but even a shorthanded Villanova team will take advantage of Winthrop’s lack of efficiency.

***

(4) Purdue: KenPom: (13/23/23). NET: 22.

The Boilermakers were great down the stretch, winning five in a row before bowing out to Ohio State in overtime in the Big Ten Tournament. Trevion Williams is strong inside and has had a great postseason so far while averaging 15.6 points and 9 rebounds this year. Jaden Ivey and Sasha Stefanovic lead the backcourt with the latter being the bigger outside threat. Zach Edey is a great spell for the front court off the bench, averaging 9 points and 4.5 rebounds in less than 15 minutes per game. He’s also an excellent rim protector. Purdue was put on the back burner earlier this season thanks to losses to Clemson and Miami, but the way this team finished with a 13-6 record in the Big Ten makes this a team capable of a deep run.

VS

(13) North Texas: KenPom: (71/119/42). NET: 59.

This team might be under seeded considering its KenPom and NET ranking are both higher than multiple 11 and 12-seeds. North Texas is a really solid outside shooting team. 6-10 Zachary Simmons is scoring 10.3 points per game and works the inside-out game well for the Mean Green. Javion Hamlet and James Reese are both double digit scorers in the backcourt and Thomas Bell scores in double figures from the wing while shooting 39% from 3. North Texas will have its hands full in a first round matchup against Purdue, but if it gets going from the outside, its defense could make for a frustrating time for the Boilermakers.

***

(6) Texas Tech: KenPom: (23/33/24). NET: 16.

The good news: Texas Tech didn’t lose to a single team outside of Quadrant 1 all season. The bad news: Texas Tech went 4-10 in Quadrant 1, and the Red Raiders meet another Q1 squad in Utah State. MacMcClung is a guy you trust with the ball in his hands in the final seconds of a game and the Georgetown transfer has averaged 15.7 points per game, but the team isn’t reliable from the perimeter as a whole. The Red Raiders get contributions across the lineup on the glass and continue to play the solid defense Chris Beard’s teams have boasted in Lubbock, but not nearly to the same significance as it did during its title game run two years ago.

VS

(11) Utah State: KenPom:(40/112/8). NET: 39.

After getting swept by Boise State, the Aggies won six straight games before losing to San Diego State in the Mountain West Tournament, including a 12-point win over fellow bubble hopeful Colorado State. This team is fantastic on defense, rebounds well and has great ball movement in the half court offense. Neemias Queta is averaging a double-double with 15.1 points and 10 rebounds, is active defensively and is a fly swatter with 3.2 blocks per game. Veteran forward Justin Bean gives Utah State a reliable interior duo. If it protects the basketball better and can get some more productivity out of its backcourt, Utah State will send Texas Tech packing in the first round.

***

(3) Arkansas: KenPom: (18/35/14). NET: 14.

The Razorbacks’ only Quadrant 2 loss came at home to Missouri on January 2 when the Tigers were off to a strong start and looked like one of the best two teams in the SEC. The other five losses were to Tennessee, twice to LSU, Alabama and Oklahoma State in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The best thing Eric Musselman has done with this team from year one to year two in Fayetteville is improve the rebounding. It cost Arkansas a handful of games late last season and now the Hogs are one of the best teams in the country on the glass and are also one of the highest scoring teams in college basketball. Moses Moody gets all the attention as the leading scorer, but Arkansas becomes a frustrating matchup for anyone when JD Notae gets going. Arkansas is 4-1 when he scores 20 or more.

VS

(14) Colgate: KenPom: (84/43/140). NET: 9.

Just 15 games played on the season, none in Q1, just two in Quadrant 2 and a Q3 loss somehow puts the Raiders in the top 10 of the NET. What we do know about Colgate is it plays with a lot of tempo, rebounds well and ranks in the top 10 in the country in points per game and assists per game. Jordan Burns averages 17 points and 5.4 assists per game while shooting 41% from 3. The Raiders add three more guys averaging in double figures and leading rebounder Keegan Records also pulls in 9.3 points per night. Only four teams in the nation shoot 40% or better from beyond the arc. Colgate is one of them.

***

(7) Florida: KenPom: (37/40/37). NET: 31.

Mike White has done a solid job making this team as competitive as its been considering the loss of Keyontae Johnson earlier in the year. Tre Mann can take over games with his ability to drive and finish as well as his near-40% 3-point clip. The Gators need Colin Castleton to contribute at both ends of the floor. He’s Florida’s leading rebounder, is the primary post presence on offense and is a reliable rim protector. Veterans Noah Locke and Scottie Lewis add depth in the backcourt. Tyree Appleby averages 11.4 points and 3.3 assists per game for a team that doesn’t utilize a ton of ball movement. Shot creation will be important for this team.

VS

(10) Virginia Tech: KenPom: (50/55/54). NET: 48.

A really respectable job by Mike Young after the Hokies were picked to finish 11th in the ACC this year. Virginia Tech navigated through the season without any losses in the bottom two quadrants, but had their final two regular season games canceled due to COVID-19 complications and lost in the ACC quarterfinals to North Carolina upon their return to play. Forward Keve Aluma averages 15.6 points and 8 rebounds per game while Tyrece Radford averages 11.9 and 6.1 while shooting 56% from the floor. The defense needs to be more opportunistic, but the Hokies aren’t afraid to try and out-physical teams regardless of size.

***

(2) Ohio State: (7/4/76). NET: 8.

The Buckeyes’ run in the Big Ten Tournament was encouraging considering the four-game skid they ended the regular season with, but Ohio State nearly blew a big lead to Minnesota in the second round, then did it again against Purdue in the quarterfinals before using a solid second half run to pull away from a shorthanded Michigan team in the semifinals. It makes one feel somewhat uneasy about this team’s ability to close out games. Before the four-game slide, the Buckeyes had won ten of eleven. Chris Holtmann’s team has been streaky, but how much of a good streaky can it ride from its success in the conference tournament? EJ Liddell and Duane Washington Jr. will need to pace the offense. Washington’s ability to drive has been an added element to his game to go along with his ability to really heat up from outside. Ohio State’s 76 defensive efficiency ranking is the lowest among any team in the KenPom top 20.

VS

(15) Oral Roberts: KenPom: (152/74/285). NET: 158.

Picking the 15-2 upsets are always hard, mainly because they don’t happen often, but if I had to pick one this season it would be the Golden Eagles over Ohio State. Oral Roberts was competitive in road losses to Oklahoma State, Wichita State and Arkansas, losing all three games by a combined 21 points. It also showed some resiliency in a pair of close wins in the Summit League semifinals over a South Dakota State team that beat Utah State earlier in the year before moving on to win against North Dakota State to capture the league title. Max Abmas leads the nation in scoring with 24.2 points per game and has a pair of 40-point games this season.

MIDWEST REGION

(1) Illinois: KenPom: (3/7/5). NET: 3.

This team has lived up to the hype created by center Kofi Cockburn and star guard Ayo Dosunmu electing to return to Champaign this season. Dosunmu averages 20.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game and continued to play at a high level during Illinois’ run in the Big Ten Tournament after his return from a facial injury he suffered in February. Cockburn is a double-double machine, averaging 17.6 points and 9.6 rebounds. Trent Frazier and Andre Curbelo are big contributors as role players, especially on defense. Curbelo is athletic while Frazier can be a perimeter weapon offensively. Even more impressive was the way this team found ways to win in Dosunmu’s absence and Cockburn being zeroed in on. Those two get all the attention, but Brad Underwood’s team is deeper than that.

VS

(16) Drexel: KenPom: (146/95/247). NET: 135.

This team found a way to win the CAA despite being 4-5 in league play during the regular season. Camren Wynter has been solid averaging 16.8 points per game, but KenPom’s 247th rated defense in adjusted efficiency will have its hands full against Ayo Dosunmu and Illinois.

***

(8) Loyola Chicago: KenPom: (9/49/1). NET: 10.

There’s been a lot of discussion that this team is better than the one that made the Final Four in 2018. That squad entered the tournament ranked 41st in KenPom and finished 31st. This team enters the tournament ranked 9th and is better across the board in offensive and defensive efficiency, including the top-ranked defense, per KenPom. The Ramblers are a disciplined basketball team. They shoot a solid 50% from the field, 37% from 3, have good ball movement and typically stay out of foul trouble. Cameron Krutwig was a freshman on that Final Four team three years ago. Now he’s averaging 15 points per game to go along with 6.7 boards and 3 assists. He’s also—not surprisingly—solid defensively. Lucas Williamson and Braden Norris lead the scoring out of the backcourt and both are capable outside threats. Loyola Chicago is 6-4 in the top two quadrants and 16-0 against the bottom two. For a Missouri Valley team, that’s pretty good.

VS

(9) Georgia Tech: KenPom: (32/27/52). NET: 34.

What a season for the Yellow Jackets. They lost their first two games to Georgia State and Mercer. Now they’ve won eight straight games after beating Florida State for the ACC title. ACC Player of the Year Moses Wright has had a great season averaging 17.4 points and 8 rebounds per game. Michael Devoe and Jordan Usher are both double digit scorers that offer solid length and Jose Alvarado is averaging 15.3 per game with 4.1 assists and is a 39% 3-point shooter. He’s also second in the nation in steals. Georgia Tech moves the ball well, but struggles on the boards and will need to be disciplined in a first round matchup against Loyola Chicago.

***

(5) Tennessee: KenPom: (21/71/4). NET: 13.

John Fulkerson’s status was still in question as of Sunday night. Tennessee’s offense has been a roller coaster all season, but the Vols showed some reasons for optimism over their past three games with a pair of wins over Florida and a close loss to eventual SEC champ Alabama. Freshmen Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer are they keys to Tennessee’s scoring and Yves Pons continues to be one of the elite defenders in the country. Victor Bailey Jr. and Santiago Vescovi are wildcards when it comes to the perimeter offense. If either one of them heats up, Tennessee becomes a tough out, especially with that vaunted defense.

VS

(12) Oregon State: KenPom: (85/65/117). NET: 91.

The lowest-ranked KenPom team in the field among power conference schools, Oregon State joined Georgetown as one of two bid thieves during champ week. The Beavers do several things well, but nothing extraordinary. Ethan Thompson can score from anywhere on the floor and is a solid rebounding guard. Forward Warith Alatishe has great length for his 6-7 frame. He gets his hands on a lot of rebounds and provides inside scoring. Jarod Lucas can get hot from outside and Zach Reichle can pull up from long range or maneuver his way to the rim. Oregon State does a good job at creating open shots on the perimeter, but also leaves open looks on the 3-point line and doesn’t close out well.

***

(4) Oklahoma State: KenPom: (30/54/22). NET: 29.

The Cowboys have won eight of ten in a stretch that includes a win over Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament semifinals and a pair of victories over West Virginia, including one without Big 12 Player of the Year Cade Cunningham. His ability to hit contested 3s from outside while also being able to drive inside and get to the rim would suggest this team solely relies on him, but the win over the Mountaineers in his absence makes it clear the Cowboys have some depth behind the potential No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. Kalib Boone and Isaac Likekele can contribute on both ends of the floor. Four different players average five rebounds or more while six players average eight points or better.

VS

(13) Liberty: KenPom: (97/52/168). NET: 86.

The Flames only have one win in Quadrant 2, but stayed within 10 points of TCU and Missouri. Liberty lacks the ideal size to compete with Oklahoma State, but the Flames rank sixth in the nation in 3-point percentage and are fourth in 3-pointers made with more than ten per game. 6-9 forward Blake Preston is the inside man averaging 8.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, but everyone else on the floor is capable of scoring from the perimeter. Liberty is going to live and die by the 3-point shot, but upsets in the tournament don’t happen without hitting some buckets.

***

(6) San Diego State: (20/44/11). NET: 18.

A good outside shooting team with a very strong defense. The Aztecs only have two double digit scorers in Matt Mitchell and Jordan Schakel, but they can score from anywhere and Schakel is a 46% outside shooter. San Diego State has won 14 straight games, all of which game in Mountain West play, but the league was deeper this season with two teams getting into the field and two more sitting on the bubble. The Aztecs also started off the season with a win over then-No.22 UCLA.

VS

(11) Syracuse: KenPom: (41/22/89). NET: 40.

Syracuse has only one Quadrant 1 win all season, but the Orange did get wins over North Carolina and Clemson to close out the regular season and gave Virginia all it could handle before losing on a buzzer beater in the ACC quarterfinals. This team has some guys that can shoot in Buddy Boeheim (17.1 points per game), Alan Griffin (14.7) and Quincy Guerrier (14.4). Plus, Syracuse is a solid 78% from the free throw line. If it can defend better, it’s not out of the question to see this team in the Sweet 16.

***

(3) West Virginia: KenPom: (27/11/65). NET: 23.

A great offensive team that isn’t afraid of pace. Derek Culver attracts all of the attention, but Miles McBride leads the team with 15.4 points per game while shooting north of 39% from 3. The Mountaineers have found ways to spread the scoring around more following the departure of big man Oscar Tshiebwe after just ten games. Taz Sherman has become increasingly reliable from the field and Sean McNeil is the type of player who doesn’t shy away from making timely 3-pointers. West Virginia can struggle at times to keep up with teams defensively, but Bob Huggins’ squad will be a tough out after sledging through an incredibly deep Big 12.

VS

(14) Morehead State: KenPom: (128/214/72). NET: 121.

What the Eagles did to Belmont in the OVC finale was impressive and Johni Broome played lights out throughout the tournament, but what we’ve seen from Morehead State as of late is more of the exception than the rule. The Eagles’ 214th Ken Pom offensive rating is the worst in the tournament not including 16-seeds. This team commits too many turnovers and lost all three Q1 games it played by an average of 28 points. Two wins over Belmont in a week is impressive, but Morehead State’s going to need more against West Virginia.

***

(7) Clemson: KenPom: (42/99/20). NET: 41.

The offensively challenged Tigers don’t have a quality win since beating Georgia Tech on February 12. They have one double-digit scorer in Aamir Simms and they don’t rebound well and the one-time No. 1 defense in the country has dropped to No. 20 in the KenPom efficiency ratings. A team that tries to control the flow of a game with slow pace, Clemson doesn’t like to be sped up. Go on a run against this team and it has the defense to set up a response. It’s just a matter of whether it has the offensive weapons to do so.

VS

(10) Rutgers: KenPom: (34/75/18). NET: 38.

The Scarlet Knights had not been to the NCAA Tournament since 1991—the longest tourney drought among power conference teams. Rutgers would’ve been in last year had the event not been canceled, but the Scarlet Knights ended the skid this year anyway. Ron Harper Jr. can get it done at both ends of the floor and Geo Baker is adds a veteran presence to the backcourt. Myles Johnson cleans the glass and is a good rim protector, but this team could use a better post presence on offense.

***

(2) Houston: KenPom: (6/9/16). NET: 5.

The top team in the country in opposing field goal percentage. Houston isn’t likely to turn games into a track meet, but it has the athleticism to manage opponents that try to get the Cougars on their heels, and when it does get going, it’s a tough team to stop. Houston has been well-coached under Kelvin Sampson and made the Sweet 16 in 2019. The primary concern is the strength of schedule, which ranked 106 according to KenPom — the third-lowest among top 30 KenPom teams. The Cougars were just 2-1 in Quadrant 1 games this season with one of those wins coming against Boise State. Houston doesn’t shoot lights out from the field, but can make their way to the foul line, where they’re comfortable generating offense from and they make up for the offense with their defensive-friendly pace. Quentin Grimes is the leading scorer and shoots 40% from 3 and the Cougars will rely on Justin Gorham (8.6 points, 9.2 rebounds per game) on the post and glass. Marcus Sasser is the volume shooter from the perimeter who isn’t afraid to let it rip and Houston’s offense can become increasingly dangerous if he gets hot.

VS

(15) Cleveland State: KenPom: (151/199/121). NET: 160.

The Vikings are 1-4 in the top three quadrants, with their other 21 games being played in Q4. However, Cleveland State did only lose by six to Ohio State in Columbus earlier in the year. Other than that there isn’t much to hype up here. Thanks to some upsets in the Horizon League Tournament, the Vikings didn’t face a team with a winning record through its championship run. Cleveland State struggles to rebound, doesn’t shoot well from 3 and is facing the nation’s leader in opposing field goal percentage in the first round.

Jimmy’s blog: Vols becoming more trustworthy

Jimmy’s blog: Vols becoming more trustworthy

By Jimmy Hyams

A Tennessee team that you couldn’t trust for six weeks has become more reliable.

It wasn’t enough to upset No. 1 seed Alabama in the SEC Tournament semifinals Saturday in Nashville, but it gave the Vol Nation more hope that it has had since the Vols went 6-6 over a 12-game span.

In the past two weeks, Tennessee rallied from a 14-point deficit to beat Florida by 11, gigged the Gators by a dozen in a rematch, then led Alabama 48-33 a few minutes into the second half before collapsing.

As least the Vols (18-8) looked like a Final Four caliber team for 23 minutes against No. 6 Alabama.

At least coach Rick Barnes can feel more comfort heading into the NCAA Tournament.

Tennessee will find out it’s NCAA seeding and opponent tonight.

Then the fun begins.

“I like where our team is right now,’’ Barnes said after the Alabama defeat. “I am not afraid to play whoever we have to play because I know what this team is going to do. They are going to play their hearts out. They are going to go at it and that is all you can ask from them.’’

Tennessee was terrific in building a 15-point lead against Alabama, which the day before destroyed Mississippi State 85-48. The Vols were crisp on offense, active on defense, and intense.

When the early-second-half lead went to 15, the Vols fumbled and bumbled Alabama right back into the game, thanks to a 14-0 run. Several problems that plagued the Vols over a 12-game stretch reared their ugly head.

Tennessee had six turnovers in a 3:12 span, several on charges. They had no inside scoring presence, not with John Fulkerson sidelined by a concussion and facial fracture. And the lack of a true point guard was apparent.

The latter is one reason Barnes was two possessions late calling a timeout while the Crimson Tide was cutting UT’s lead to a single point. Without a point guard, Barnes can’t expect his team to play through adversity. It needs more help from the sideline.

Barnes was more timely to call a timeout during an Alabama run in the first half – and it worked. He wasn’t as prompt in the second half.

During Alabama’s run, the Tide got some friendly whistles. A ball clearly off the hands of Herbert Jones was awarded to Bama and Jones then scored on a 3-point play.

And when UT put Devonte Gaines on Jones in the final minute, Jones walked before missing a shot, then fouling Gaines. If the travel had been called, Gaines doesn’t get fouled and doesn’t miss two key free throws in the final 25 seconds.

The outcome also could have been different if UT wasn’t so sloppy with its ballhandling. It had 11 turnovers – several on charges – during the first 11:24 of the first half.

Freshman Keon Johnson is a gifted athlete who did some great things against Alabama – 20 points, nine rebounds – but his ballhandling is shaky. He had five turnovers.

Freshman Jaden Springer also had five turnovers as he too often drives his way into trouble. Still, he had 18 points.

Yet, even without Fulkerson, Tennessee had a great chance to beat Bama, thanks in part to a stingy defense that held Alabama to 37.3% shooting from the field and 7 of 28 from 3-point range.

“I think we guarded them as well as they’ve been guarded all year,’’ Barnes said.

Which is another reason Barnes isn’t afraid to play anyone in the NCAA Tournament.

“The competitiveness that we’re playing with and the determination and the prep in the last really two weeks has really gone to a level that we’re excited about,’’ Barnes said.

FULKERSON INJURY: Fulkerson might not be available for the NCAA Tournament, thanks to catching two elbows from Florida’s Omar Payne, which resulted in a Flagrant 2 foul and ejection.

While Payne apologized to Fulkerson, Yves Pons called it a “dirty play.’’

Payne is apparently a repeat offender based on comments from his coach, Mike White, who said Payne must show “more maturity’’ and greater “sportsmanship’’ that to throw two elbows at an opponent. White said Payne has had issues with that in the past.

Payne should be forced to miss as many games as Fulkerson, which could mean the entire NCAA Tournament.

SO YOU’RE A FAVORITE: Tennessee is 18-7 as a favorite this season. It was picked to win every game this season until the SEC tourney semifinals. Alabama was a 3-point favorite.

Alabama is 21-5 as a favorite.

Vanderbilt was a perfect 5-0 when favored. Two SEC teams lost only once as a favorite: LSU (13-1) and Texas A&M (7-1). Arkansas was 19-2.

Two teams had a losing record as a favorite: Kentucky (7-8) and South Carolina (4-5).

The others: Auburn (10-2) Georgia (6-2) Florida (11-4) Missouri (10-5) Mississippi State (9-5) Ole Miss (11-7).


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Jimmy’s blog: Vols survive Gator cheap shot, eliminate Florida

Jimmy’s blog: Vols survive Gator cheap shot, eliminate Florida

By Jimmy Hyams

A cheap shot by Florida seemed to ignite Tennessee and take away any shot the Gators had of beating the Vols in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals Friday in Nashville.

Omar Payne elbowed John Fulkerson not once but twice, the second leveling the Vols’ senior, leading to a stare down from Yves Pons and a Flagrant 2 foul ejection for Payne.

Tennessee (18-7) led Florida 35-26 when Payne inflicted pain on Fulkerson with 17:10 left in the game. The Vols made two free throws and a jumper to stretch the lead to 39-26. The lead got to 46-29 and the Vols were able to hold off Tre Mann’s 28 second-half points to down Florida (14-9) for the second time in six days.

Tennessee advances to the semifinals where it will face Alabama, a 85-48 winner over Mississippi State, Saturday at 1 p.m.

Each time Florida made a run, the Vols responded with a 3-pointer or drive to the basket or blocked shot.

It wasn’t perfect. UT missed four free straight throws during one stretch, fouled a 3-pointer shooter on a made attempt, had some senseless turnovers, did a poor job guarding Mann and had a shot clock violation.

But Pons, the senior from France, simply would not let his team lose. He was brilliant on defense before Fulkerson went down, but his intensity rose after the vicious foul against his teammate.

Pons blocked an SEC Tournament-tying nine shots, setting a Tennessee record along the way. He had 11 points, eight rebounds and hit two timely 3s.

Tennessee’s well-rounded attack featured 14 points from Santiago Vescovi (he was 4 of 9 on 3s). Keon Johnson had 13 points and 9 rebounds and 6 assists. Josiah James had 10 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists. Jaden Springer chipped in with 13 points.

Tennessee outrebounded Florida 39-33, even though the Gators started a taller lineup trying to offset the 18 offensive rebounds UT had in Sunday’s 11-point victory.

A key stat for Tennessee: 21 assists to 13 turnovers while Florida had 7 assists and 16 turnovers.

UT has been hard to beat this season when it has a plus margin in assists-to-turnovers.

For a change, UT played well in back-to-back games. During a recent stretch UT was 6-6 over 12 games but has won the last two in a row.

UT was hot from the start against the Gators, charging to a 16-8 lead, then 23-10. Pons had six blocks in the first 14 minutes of the first half.

The Vols also did a great defensive job on Mann, holding him to two points in the first half as Mann started the game 0-for-6 from the field.

The Vols were up nine when Fulkerson was floored, which seem to drive up the intensity for both teams and led to some chippy moments.

Alabama defeated Tennessee in Knoxville 71-63 on Jan. 2, sending notice the Crimson Tide would be tough to take down.

The Vols likely will be without Fulkerson. While coach Rick Barnes said Fulkerson is fine, he also said “he probably won’t be available’’ against the Tide.


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Jimmy’s blog: NBA scouts evaluates Johnson, Springer

Jimmy’s blog: NBA scouts evaluates Johnson, Springer

By Jimmy Hyams

Tennessee freshman guard Keon Johnson has been projected to be taken as high as the No. 7 pick in the NBA draft, according to one mock analysis.

That would tie him for the second-highest ever of any Vol player, behind only Tom Boerwinkle at No. 4.

Is that likely?

“That and a dollar will buy you a USA today,’’ said one long-time NBA scout. “A lot can be done between now and the draft.’’

While the scout isn’t ready to proclaim the 6-foot-5 Vol as a top 10 NBA pick, he does like Johnson’s game.

“He’s explosive,’’ the NBA scout said. “He’s off-the-chart athletically. He plays hard.

“What he needs to work on are his ball skills in traffic and shooting.’’

Johnson committed 23 turnovers in a recent five-game stretch. And he is shooting just 26.8 percent from 3-point range. He’s at 43.5 percent overall.

Tennessee’s other freshman guard, Jaden Springer, has been projected as a mid-20s NBA pick.

“I think he’s got a really good skill set,’’ the NBA scout said. “He shoots the ball very well. He’s athletic enough. He’s got a good body. He’s strong. But he also needs to work on his decision making. His ball skills are better than Johnson’s.’’

While Springer has the ability to create his own shots, “he’ll overdo it and get in trouble,’’ the scout said.

Springer is averaging 12.8 points while shooting a blistering 47.3 percent from 3-point range, 49 percent overall and 81.5 percent from the foul line.

The scout said Yves Pons could go late in the second round “if a team needs a defensive guy. He’s more of a bit player. He’ll likely get a two-way contract. His lack of offensive ability is glaring.’’

Pons considered turning pro after last season but knew he needed to work on his offensive game. He improved from a 28 percent 3-point shooter as a sophomore to 34.9 as a junior. But his outside accuracy has regressed markedly to where he is hitting only 28 percent thus far this season.

The scout thinks 6-foot-9 John Fulkerson might have a future in Europe.

“Even as much as he’s improved and he plays hard, he still gets knocked off balance way too easy,’’ the scout said. “I think he’s a good, solid college player.’’

Regarding this year’s version of the Tennessee Vols, who are 16-7 after getting off to a 10-1 start, the scout said the problems are simple.

“No low post, no true point guard,’’ the scout said, adding that UT struggles at half-court offense.

But, he cautioned, a lot can happen in college hoops over the next few weeks.

“Kansas is one of the hottest teams in basketball and a month ago, people were saying Kansas’ season is over,’’ the scout said. “Tennessee has got enough talent (to turn things around).’’

While the scout thinks UT could make noise down the stretch, he did caution: “It’s not like Pons and Fulkerson will become Bill Walton overnight. That’s not going to change. But if they get the right matchup and get their confidence back, a lot of things can happen.’’


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Jimmy’s blog: Heupel offenses will outdo Leach attack

Jimmy’s blog: Heupel offenses will outdo Leach attack

By Jimmy Hyams

Josh Heupel will have more success on offense at Tennessee than Mike Leach will have at Mississippi State.

How can I make that prediction?

How can I draw that conclusion given Leach’s long-term offensive success?

Leach did have great offensive production at Texas Tech and Washington State, but he did it against relatively weak defenses.

And while the SEC hasn’t exactly been comparable to the Steel Curtain in recent years, it does play better defense than the Pac 12 or Big 12.

There is also a philosophical difference in the Heupel v. Leach approach.

Last year, Central Florida ran the football on 51% of its snaps and averaged 568 yards per game, which led the nation in the FBS for teams that played at least five games.

Last year, Leach’s first as an SEC head coach, Mississippi State rushers (not counting quarterback sacks or sneaks) had eight games where 12 or fewer run plays were called and eight games with less than 50 rushing yards – six with less than 35 rushing yards. And, again, that doesn’t count sack or sneaks.

And while the Knights were averaging 568 total yards last year, Mississippi State was averaging 304 to rank 104th in the nation. That’s a whopping difference of 264 yards per game.

In Heupel’s three years, Central Florida averaged 265 and 224 and 211 rush yards per game. At Missouri, the Tigers averaged 205 rush yards in 2016 and 193 in 2017.

Last year, Mississippi State averaged 43.9 rush yards per game, last in the SEC by 65 yards per game, and 2.4 yards per carry. And it’s not because the Bulldogs didn’t have a standout running back. Kylin Hill ran for 1,350 yards in 2019. Leach seemed to cast Hill aside like he was a high school sophomore.

The Bulldogs did have some big offensive games against LSU (44 points) and Missouri (51 points), but the offense was ineffective in many games. State was shutout by Alabama and got two points against Kentucky. It scored 14 or fewer points in five games. It scored more than 24 in two games.

While Central Florida’s strength of schedule isn’t SEC caliber, the Knights in recent years did scored 49 against Georgia Tech and 45 against Pitt – two Power 5 schools. They also beat Auburn 34-27 in the Peach Bowl and lost 40-32 to LSU in the Fiesta Bowl, the year before the Tigers won the national title.

Heupel has just three years of head coaching experience, but he was an offensive coordinator for highly successful Oklahoma teams and he has brought – in my opinion – an impressive offensive staff to Rocky Top.

I don’t know which Tennessee quarterback will win the job this fall, and I don’t know if UT will have enough offensive linemen to pass block with proficiency, but the fact that Heupel has scored plenty of points against Power 5 teams and puts a focus on running the football makes me believe he will have more productive offenses at Tennessee than Leach at Mississippi State.


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Jimmy’s blog: Kentucky tames overrated Tennessee

Jimmy’s blog: Kentucky tames overrated Tennessee

By Jimmy Hyams

The 20th-ranked Tennessee men’s basketball team is overrated.

 I first made that observation two weeks ago.

Kentucky proved the point Saturday afternoon at Thompson-Boling Arena.

The wounded Wildcats entered the game with a 7-13 overall record, a 6-7 SEC mark and the unique ability to blow leads in the final four minutes of games.

Instead, John Calipari’s team blew out Tennessee 70-55.

The underachieving Vols are now 8-6 in SEC play despite having, arguably, as good a talent as anyone in the league.

You could make the case that a lot of SEC teams are inconsistent. But no SEC team experiences the extreme highs and lows of the Vols.

Beat South Carolina by 20, lose to Kentucky by 15.

Beat Kansas by 19, lose to Ole Miss by 2.

Beat Vanderbilt by 20, lose to Florida by 26.

Beat Missouri on the road by 20, lose at home to Alabama by 8.

The Vols are so up and down, Dollywood should name a rollercoaster after them.

When you are inconsistent at point guard and inconsistent scoring inside, you will get inconsistent results.

Tennessee displayed some of that inconsistency at Lexington Feb. 6 when the Vols trailed by 10 with 12 minutes left, but won by 11, thanks to a combined 50 points from freshmen Keon Johnson (27 points) and Jaiden Springer (23).

This time, there would be no UT comeback.

Kentucky used a 15-0 run to take a 17-point lead against Tennessee’s overrated defense in the first half and led at the break 45-30. The Wildcats shot 60.7% from the field, hit 6 of 9 from 3-point range and made all five free throw attempts.

It was probably Kentucky’s best half of shooting all season.

You knew Tennessee would make a second-half rally, based on the previous game between the teams and based on Kentucky’s propensity to blow leads.

Kentucky opened the door, starting the second half 1-of-8 from the field, yet UK extended its lead.

Kentucky also missed 19 of its first 22 second-half shots, yet extended its lead.

That seems unfathomable. But it happened, in part because Tennessee had a miserable shooting game. The Vols were 5-for-24 in the second half with 90 seconds left in the game and hit just 1-of-12 3-point tries.

Tennessee was expected to win the SEC, expected to be a top 10 team, expected to contend for the Final Four. Instead, the Vols have been one of the most disappointing teams in the country.

Just when you think Tennessee has turned the corner, they hit a brick wall.

And a program built on player development has seen John Fulkerson and Yves Pons and Santiago Vescovi regress.

Is it possible that Tennessee could make a run in the NCAA Tournament?

Sure. The Vols did so in Cuonzo Martin’s last season. A team that had lost 12 games before the NCAAs and was seeded 11th reached the Sweet 16 with three NCAA tourney wins – tying a school record that has been accomplished only twice.

But Martin’s team qualifies as only the second Tennessee team to make a surprisingly good run in the NCAA Tournament. Bruce Pearl’s 2010 team was a six seed and upset No. 2 seed Ohio State in the Sweet 16 before losing by one point to five-seed Michigan State in the Elite Eight.

Since the NCAA began seeding teams in 1979, Tennessee has only twice beaten a team seeded more than two spots ahead of it in the tournament.

Tennessee has lost as the higher seed eight times, once by 30 as the four seed v. a 12 seed. And it has lost seven NCAA tournament games by double digits.

So, yes, UT could make an NCAA run like the 2014 team.

But history – and inconsistency – suggest this Tennessee team won’t make much noise in the postseason.


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Jimmy’s blog: Dale Jones would love shot at being UT D-coordinator

Jimmy’s blog: Dale Jones would love shot at being UT D-coordinator

(This interview with Dale Jones was conducted before reports that UT has hired a defensive coordinator)

By Jimmy Hyams

Tennessee has had trouble hiring a defensive coordinator, but there is one coach with ties to Tennessee that would love the job.

“No question, I want it,’’ said Dale Jones, a former star player at Tennessee who is now defensive coordinator at Appalachian State. “I would love to come back.’’

As of early Monday afternoon, Jones had not been interviewed for the defensive coordinator’s job at Tennessee. The Vols have reached out to at least half a dozen coaches who have declined.

Jones, 57, would welcome the chance to talk with UT’s new head coach, Josh Heupel.

“I want a shot to present my case to show what my defense could do,’’ said Jones, who helped UT win the 1985 SEC Championship with an iconic interception against Alabama.

“The key to the scheme is you don’t have to have a bunch of five stars. You’ve got to have 11 guys playing together. You’ve got to have decent talent, but it’s simple to teach.’’

Jones said his multiple 3-4 defense is effective against option teams and the run-pass option, which is the rage in college football nowadays. The Mountaineers defense allowed about 17 points per game last year (not counting points allowed by Appy State’s special teams and offensive). It led the nation in opponents’ completion percentage (48%) and ranked fourth in pass-defense efficiency.

Jones mentioned the defense almost pulled a stunning upset against his alma mater Sept. 1, 2016, when the ninth-ranked Vols needed overtime to beat Appy State 20-13. That was a UT team with quarterback Josh Dobbs and running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara.

While Jones was at Appy State, the Mountaineers upset No. 5 Michigan in 2007 and nearly upset No. 10 Penn State in 2018 before losing in overtime.

“We’ve done this with lesser players,’’ Jones said. “If you get better players, the kind Tennessee gets, look out.’’

Jones worked at Appy State in a variety of roles from 1996-2018. He was named national special teams coach of the year in 2002. He worked as ASU’s defensive coordinator from 2010-12 before Scott Satterfield replaced Jerry Moore and Jones moved to a position coach.

Jones joined Scott Satterfield at Louisville in 2019 before returning to Appy State as defensive coordinator in 2020.

Jones has never hidden his affinity for Tennessee.

“I’m loyal,’’ Jones said. “I know the game. I want the job.

“It’s not the money. I want to bring Tennessee back. It’s shame how far it’s fallen. It needs to be great again. And I don’t think it would take that long.’’

Louisville defensive coordinator Brian Brown, who worked eight years with Jones, said Jones would be the perfect fit as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator.

“Absolutely,’’ Brown said today. “I think Dale would do a tremendous job. And he bleeds orange and white til the cows come home.

“He understands what opposing offenses are trying to do in the run game and the pass game. His defense is aggressive, kids play hard and make plays. Appalachian State was one of the top defenses in the country last year and he does an awesome job. He gets guys to play hard and downhill. And he gets the most out of his talent.

“Appy State established a culture there and a tradition of hard-nosed football and blue-collar football.’’

Jones said that Brown and former Vol Kacy Rodgers, who also talked to UT about the defensive coordinator’s job, both said they would want Jones on their staff if they went to UT.

Brown declined to discuss the UT job, but did say of Jones: “I would hire him any place, anywhere that I’m at.’’

When Rodgers was defensive coordinator for the New York Jets, in the spring of 2018 the Jets had LSU, Tennessee, Georgia and Appy State coaches visit to discuss how to defend the run-pass option, which was become more prevalent in the NFL.

“Appy State was extremely efficient in defending the RPO and the tempo offense, and his execution was really top notch,’’ Rodgers said of Jones. “He was very knowledgeable on how to defend it.’’


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Super Bowl prediction and game notes from the NFL

Super Bowl prediction and game notes from the NFL

Super Bowl / Credit: Broadcast TV screenshot

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

Below is my Super Bowl prediction along with some great notes and stats directly from the National Football League Communications Department.

Our Sports Animal NFL programming for Super Bowl Weekend
(Sun) 10am – 12:30pm: The NFL Report with John Wilkerson and two rotating Sports Animal hosts


My Wildcard Weekend Prediction Record: 1-1 (50%)
My Season Record: 181-87 (68%)

My Super Bowl prediction is Kansas City 34 Tampa Bay 28


On Sunday, February 7, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will meet in Super Bowl LV (6:30 PM ET, CBS) at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. The Buccaneers are the first team ever to appear in a Super Bowl played in its home stadium.

Including the postseason, Chiefs quarterback PATRICK MAHOMES (44-9, .830) and Buccaneers quarterback TOM BRADY (263-80, .767) have the highest and third-highest winning percentages among starting quarterbacks (minimum 50 starts) since 1950.

Super Bowl LV is the first Super Bowl between the starting quarterbacks who won each of the two most recent Super Bowls [Mahomes won SB LIV with Kansas City; Brady won SB LIII with New England] and the first Super Bowl between starting quarterbacks who have each won at least one Associated Press Most Valuable Player Award and one Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Award prior to the matchup.

Brady (43 years, 188 days old on Super Bowl Sunday) and Mahomes (25 years, 143 days old on Super Bowl Sunday) are set to have the largest age differential (18 years, 45 days) between opposing starting quarterbacks in Super Bowl history.

The Chiefs and Buccaneers previously met at Raymond James Stadium in Week 12, with Kansas City earning a 27-24 win. Mahomes (462 passing yards) and Brady (345) combined for 807 passing yards, the most combined passing yards between two opposing quarterbacks in a single game in 2020. Chiefs wide receiver TYREEK HILL registered 269 receiving yards and three touchdown catches in the contest and became the third player with at least 200 receiving yards in a single quarter since 1980. The Buccaneers have won each of their past seven games, including the postseason, since Week 12 while Kansas City enters Super Bowl LV having won 12 straight games started by Mahomes, including the postseason.

For the Super Bowl LV capsule, click here.

Here’s what’s at stake in Super Bowl LV:

With a Kansas City win…

  • The Chiefs would record their third Super Bowl victory and become the first team to earn consecutive Super Bowl titles since the 2003-04 New England Patriots (Super Bowls XXXVIII and XXXIX). Kansas City previously won Super Bowls IV and LIV.
  • Head coach ANDY REID would win his second Super Bowl and at age 62, become the oldest head coach to win back-to-back Super Bowl championships, surpassing Pro Football Hall of Famer VINCE LOMBARDI (age 54 in Super Bowl II). Reid would have 18 career postseason victories, surpassing Pro Football Hall of Famer JOE GIBBS (17 postseason victories) for the fourth-most in NFL history.
  • At age 25, quarterback PATRICK MAHOMES would become the youngest starting quarterback to win multiple Super Bowl titles and would join TOM BRADY as the only starting quarterbacks to win the Super Bowl in two of their first four career seasons.

With a Tampa Bay victory…

  • The Buccaneers would win their second Super Bowl (XXXVII) and become the seventh club to win the Super Bowl as a Wild Card team.
  • Head coach BRUCE ARIANS would win his first Super Bowl and at age 68, would become the oldest head coach to win a Super Bowl, surpassing BILL BELICHICK (age 66 in Super Bowl LIII).
  • Quarterback TOM BRADY would win his seventh Super Bowl, extending the mark for the most by any player ever, and would join PEYTON MANNING as the only starting quarterbacks to win Super Bowls with multiple franchises.

Kansas City won its second consecutive AFC Championship with a 38-24 win over Buffalo. Quarterback PATRICK MAHOMES, in leading the Chiefs back from an early 9-0 deficit, passed for 325 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions for a 127.6 rating. He now has 17 career postseason touchdown passes, surpassing RUSSELL WILSON (16) for the most postseason touchdown passes by a quarterback in his first four seasons in NFL history.

In seven career postseason starts, Mahomes has a 109.8 passer rating, the highest mark by a quarterback in postseason history (minimum 200 attempts). Mahomes is expected to become the youngest quarterback in NFL history (25 years and 143 days old on date of Super Bowl LV) to start two Super Bowls, surpassing RUSSELL WILSON, who was 26 years and 64 days old at the time of his second Super Bowl start (SB XLIX).

Tight end TRAVIS KELCE recorded 13 receptions, the most in a single Championship Game in league history, for 118 yards and two touchdowns in the win and tied with Pro Football Hall of Famers SHANNON SHARPE (13 receptions on Jan. 9, 1994) and KELLEN WINSLOW SR. (13 receptions on Jan. 2, 1982) for the most receptions by a tight end in a single postseason game in NFL history. It also marked his fifth career postseason game with at least 100 receiving yards, the most by a tight end in postseason history.

Kelce ranks second among tight ends in postseason annals in receptions (73), receiving yards (859) and touchdown receptions (nine), trailing only Tampa Bay’s ROB GRONKOWSKI (83 receptions for 1,206 yards and 12 touchdowns) in each category.

Wide receiver TYREEK HILL had a postseason franchise record 172 receiving yards in the AFC Championship Game. Hill and Kelce, who each had at least 100 receiving yards in the AFC Divisional Playoffs against Cleveland, are the first pair of teammates to register 100-or-more receiving yards in consecutive games within the same postseason in league annals.

Since 2018, Hill and Kelce have combined for 8,770 receiving yards, including the postseason, and surpassed the Pro Football Hall of Fame duo of CRIS CARTER and RANDY MOSS (8,695 combined receiving yards from 1998-2000) for the most receiving yards by a pair of teammates over a three-season span, including the playoffs, in NFL history.

Defensive end FRANK CLARK registered two sacks against Buffalo and became the 14th player since 1982, when the individual sack became an official statistic, to record at least 10 career postseason sacks. Clark has recorded a sack in four of his five postseason games with Kansas City, including a sack in Super Bowl LIV last season. Safety TYRANN MATHIEU has four passes defensed in his past five postseason games and recorded an interception against the Buccaneers in Week 12. Rookie cornerback LA’JARIUS SNEED has registered a sack in each of Kansas City’s two postseason games this year and is the first rookie defensive back with two postseason sacks since 1982. The Chiefs have allowed 24-or-fewer points in four consecutive postseason games.

Tampa Bay earned a trip back home for Super Bowl LV with a 31-26 win at Green Bay. The Buccaneers have scored at least 30 points in each of their first three games this postseason and can become the first team in NFL history to score 30 points in four consecutive playoff games within a single postseason.

Tampa Bay, which missed the postseason in 2019, is the fourth team in the past five years to appear in the Super Bowl the season after missing the playoffs. The Buccaneers, with victories over No. 1-seeded Green Bay and No. 2-seeded New Orleans, are the 11th team since 1990 and first since the 2012 Baltimore Ravens to defeat the top two seeds from their own conference in the same postseason.

Quarterback TOM BRADY threw three touchdown passes against the Packers and became the fourth quarterback in NFL history to lead multiple franchises to Super Bowl appearances in league history. He is appearing in an NFL-record 10th Super Bowl and holds Super Bowl records for career passing yards (2,838), single-game passing yards (505 in Super Bowl LII), career passing touchdowns (18) and Super Bowl titles (six). Brady is the postseason all-time leader in completions (1,085), passing yards (12,248), passing touchdowns (80) and wins (33).

Running back LEONARD FOURNETTE recorded a 20-yard touchdown run in the NFC Championship and has seven total touchdowns (six rushing, one receiving) in six career postseason games. He can join Pro Football Hall of Famer TERRELL DAVIS (1997) and LARRY FITZGERALD (2008) as the only players with a touchdown in four consecutive playoff games within the same postseason in NFL history. Wide receiver MIKE EVANS has a touchdown reception in each of the Buccaneers’ past two postseason games and recorded two touchdown catches in Week 12 against Kansas City. Wide receiver CHRIS GODWIN led the team with 110 receiving yards in the NFC Championship and registered eight receptions for 97 yards in the last meeting against Kansas City. Gronkowski had 106 receiving yards in Week 12 against the Chiefs and has 23 receptions for 297 yards and three touchdowns in four career Super Bowl appearances.

Tampa Bay led the league in rushing defense (80.6 rushing yards allowed per game) for the second consecutive season while recording the most sacks (48) by a Buccaneers defense since 2000 (55 sacks). Linebacker DEVIN WHITE became the first player since at least 2000 with at least 140 tackles (140) and nine sacks (nine) in a single season. He recorded 11 tackles with an interception and fumble recovery in his playoff debut in the Divisional round against New Orleans and then totaled a postseason franchise record 15 tackles with a fumble recovery at Green Bay in the NFC Championship. Since entering the league in 2012, linebacker LAVONTE DAVID ranks second in tackles (1,123), third in tackles for loss (128) and fourth in forced fumbles (24). Linebacker JASON PIERRE-PAUL had his first career multi-sack postseason game against Green Bay and has seven tackles for loss with six passes defensed in seven career playoff games.

The Buccaneers defense has recorded seven takeaways (five interceptions, two fumble recoveries) and five sacks this postseason, both the most among playoff teams. Linebacker SHAQUIL BARRETT registered three sacks in the NFC Championship and joined Pro Football Hall of Famer WARREN SAPP (Jan. 4, 1998) as the only Buccaneers with three sacks in a single postseason game since 1982. Cornerback SEAN MURPHY-BUNTING has recorded an interception in all three of Tampa Bay’s games this postseason, becoming the fourth player to record an interception in each of his first three career postseason games in the Super Bowl era, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers AENEAS WILLIAMS (first four postseason games) and ED REED (three), as well as JASON SEHORN (three).

### NFL

 

Cainer’s Corner: Vol Fans Should Be Thankful for Early Signing Period

Cainer’s Corner: Vol Fans Should Be Thankful for Early Signing Period

By: Eric Cain / @_Cainer

It’s still weird when the calendar flips to February and college football fans start gearing up for National Signing Day. Nothing wrong with it, as several top-prospects around the country do sign their National Letters of Intent on the day, but it’s just not the same.

At least not at the Power 5 level.

Since the implantation of the early period in December of 2017 for the Class of 2018, most of the country’s top recruits sign on to their next team. It makes sense, as a lot of these guys plan to enroll to school early for the spring semester.

I always thought it was weird when guys would enroll early and then have to wait and have a signing day celebration two months after already being on campus.

Nonetheless, the Early Signing Period has changed the game. Take Tennessee for example as the Vols only added two names on Wednesday.

And following a 3-7 season that proceeded a months-long investigation into the football program that resulted in the firing of head coach Jeremy Pruitt – Tennessee was saved by the Early Signing Period.

Recruiting isn’t for everyone. I was never a recruiting guy. Never followed it and never really cared for it growing up.

It wasn’t until I was presented with an opportunity to cover recruiting that I really got into it. And it took a while – not going to lie, but I’ve grown to love the work and how rewarding it can be to tell a kid’s story.

Credit: UT Athletics

But with recruiting comes the highs and the lows. The commitments and decommitments. The flips and the teases on Twitter. I understand why some people wouldn’t want to get emotionally involved in a decision made by a 17 or 18-year-old.

I do think, however, every Tennessee fan should be thankful for the Early Signing Period this year – regardless of their level of interest on recruiting in general.

I mentioned the two new additions the Vols reeled in on Wednesday on the traditional Signing Day. Junior college offensive lineman Jeremiah Crawford and graduate transfer kicker from USC, Chase McGrath.

The Vols brought in two from the transfer portal following the early signing period in Virginia Tech graduate transfer quarterback Hendon Hooker and junior college receiver Andison Coby. But the bulk of the class was signed in December when Tennessee inked 19 players.

You feel for those kids who have been recruited by a staff for years, pledged their allegiance to them, signed to them and then watched as the staff was sent away just weeks later. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how that would have rocked my world at that age.

Still, it’s a business and it helped Tennessee in this case. Yes, these kids could ask out of their National Letters of Intent, and two already have expressed interest on social media in doing just that (Dylan Brooks and Cody Brown), but that’s a detailed process that takes time.

If the coaching change came before the end of the season, things could have been totally different for this Volunteers signing class. And all things considered, a top-20 national class that is positioned in the top-half of the SEC – not too shabby for the mess that is Knoxville right now.

However you may feel about recruiting – or even if you’re an older timer who isn’t bought into the Early Signing Period yet – I think all Vol fans can agree they are thankful for it this year.

Jimmy’s blog: Kevin White lists 2 keys to being effective athletic director

Jimmy’s blog: Kevin White lists 2 keys to being effective athletic director

(This is the second in a two-part series regarding an exclusive interview with Kevin White, father of Tennessee’s new athletic director Danny White. To listen to the interview, go to 991thesportsanimal.com)

By Jimmy Hyams 

The job of an athletic director is complex.

It requires wearing a variety of hats.

You have to be able to hire good coaches, raise money, balance a budget, field good teams and steer clear of NCAA violations.

Kevin White, outgoing athletic director at Duke, has been in athletic administration for 38 years. He has worked in the Northeast, the South, the West and the Midwest.

White’s middle son, Danny, was hired recently as Tennessee’s fifth athletic director in less than 10 years.

White was asked which of the above five qualities are most important in an athletic director.

His answer: None.

So how would Kevin White define a good athletic director?

“I’ve tried to get my head around this question and I’ve come up with a pretty simple response as of late,’’ Kevin White said in an exclusive interview with WNML radio.

“I think it’s really about two things. It’s about managing the competing political forces. You can not be a successful athletics director unless you’re able to do that.

“You’ve got the acumen. You’ve got (to have) the skill set, the relationship capacity to be able to manage all of the competing political forces. And quite frankly, (you have to have) the street sense, the street instincts.

“The other one … you can delegate a lot of sub-functions within an athletic department, what I call collegiate franchise, at the highest level. A lot of those sub-functions can be delegated. But you can not, you absolutely can not delegate being the face, being the leader, of being the person that, at the end of the day, is the person responsible.

“Managing the political forces and being the leader, I think, it’s a pretty simple recipe. If you’re 2-for-2, and you’re strongly 2-for-2 in those two realms, you’ve got a chance to be pretty good.’’

Where Danny White goes 2-for-2 in those realms remains to be seen.

Tennessee has had split political forces, going back to the ouster of head football coach Johnny Majors and the promotion of Phillip Fulmer in 1992.

There were differences in the more recent hiring of athletic director John Currie, the aborted hiring of football coach Greg Schiano, the firing of Currie and the hiring of Fulmer as athletic director.

That isn’t the only challenge Danny White faces. He will have to deal with the likely adoption of Name, Image and Likeness, a one-time transfer rule, escalating coaches’ salaries, buyouts, and possible realignment.

What does Kevin White see as the most difficult challenges?

“At the end of the day,’’ White said, “a lot of them have some kind of financial element tied to them. I continue to worry about the economic model around college athletics. I think that is by far and away the largest challenge that’s facing this generation of athletic directors and administrators. And I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon.

“We need to continue to find more ways to generate more resources to provide these world-class experiences for these young people. That’s what they sign up for. And when these coaches are in their living rooms and encouraging young people to come to some of the best  institutions in the country, we’ve not only got to deliver that promise, we’ve got to over-deliver. And there is a financial reality to all of that.’’

Kevin White is convinced his son has the skill set to be a successful athletic director at Tennessee.

Danny White did a marvelous job of hiring coaches at his two previous stops: Bobby Hurley, Nate Oats and Lance Leipold at Buffalo; Scott Frost, Josh Heupel and Johnny Dawkins at Central Florida.

What’s the key to making good hires?

“Homework,’’ Kevin White said. “You’ve got to be able to understand the market place in which you’re operating and perhaps where your institution fits into that respective market place at that moment.’’

While admitting his parental prejudice, Kevin White said son Danny is a “natural leader. he’s incredibly empathetic. He’s highly task oriented. Adaptive. He’s flexible. He’s really passionate, if not intensely passionate. I think for coaches that are equally as aspirational, they’re attracted to somebody like that. I think that’s the package Danny has.

“I think it’s authentic. I don’t think it’s contrived. I think he kind of finds people that are pretty darn compatible with who he is and what’s he’s trying to do.’’

Kevin White said it takes a “village’’ to have a successful athletic department, and that means the school president, chancellor, board of trustees and everyone is “jogging down the same pathway. I know that may sound Pollyanna, but the really great programs in our country have done a really good job of doing just that.’’

Danny’s older brother, Mike, is the men’s basketball coach at Florida.

Could Mike work for Danny?

“Not a chance,’’ Kevin White said. “Not a chance. You grow up in a family of five and you’re the middle of two brothers, not a chance. A lot of blood (shed) playing 1-on-1 (basketball) in the driveway.’’

Kevin White has called the Tennessee athletic department a “magical place’’ and he believes his son can restore the shine that has dimmed in the last decade.

And the father can’t wait to come to Knoxville to watch his son’s sports programs.

“There is no question about that,’’ Kevin White said. “I can’t wait to get over there … and attend some athletic contests.’’


 

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Jimmy’s blog: Kevin White discouraged son from becoming athletic director

Jimmy’s blog: Kevin White discouraged son from becoming athletic director

(This is the first in a two-part series on an interview with Kevin White, father of Tennessee’s new athletic director Danny White. You can hear the interview at 991thesportsanimal.com)

 By Jimmy Hyams

Kevin White has worked in athletic administration for 38 years.

An athletic director at Maine, Tulane, Arizona State, Notre Dame and Duke – he is retiring from Duke in August – White advised his five children not to follow in his footsteps.

Four ignored him.

“If Jane (Kevin’s wife) and I had encouraged them to come into this space,’’ Kevin White said in an exclusive interview with WNML radio, “we’d be 0-for-5 instead of 4-for-5.’’

Kevin wanted Mike and Danny to explore Wall Street and Brian to look beyond the education sector. He hoped Mariah would go to law school.

Mike is the men’s basketball coach at Florida, Danny the recently hired athletic director at Tennessee. Brian is athletic director at Florida Atlantic. Mariah is assistant athletic director at SMU.

Danny is a rising star in the profession, having great success at Buffalo and Central Florida before landing the Tennessee job.

“I could not be more proud of Danny,’’ said Kevin, “and quite frankly, I thought he did a brilliant job at UCF in Orlando. And my strong sense is he will bring that same degree of passion and intensity to the University of Tennessee.’’

Kevin White has high praise for Tennessee. As a high school track coach in the 1970s, Kevin brought his team to UT when the Vols track coach was Stan Huntsman. He was smitten with everything about UT.

“It was goose bumps for me just to be on that campus,’’ Kevin White said.

Danny White said Tennessee is still a great brand – it just needs some polishing.

Kevin White agrees.

“Tennessee is still Tennessee,’’ Kevin White said. “It’s one of those magical places. It’s a magical institution with a pinnacle level.

“It’s special, it’s incredibly special. And that’s why I’ve assigned the tag to it: Magical. It’s that and more.’’

It might take a magical effort by Danny White to restore a football brand that has been tarnished recently by eight losing season in 13 years — it had four in the previous 43 years. And in the past dozen years, Tennessee has had six football coaches and five athletic directors.

It has been a model of instability.

And it is currently conducting an in-house investigation into NCAA violations that were serious enough to fire third-year football coach Jeremy Pruitt.

Kevin White is confident his son can get the job done at Tennessee.

“I think he is the right guy at the right moment and, in my view, it’s a commensurate challenge with the kind of skills and aspirations that he brings to your community,’’ Kevin White said.

Asked the best advice he has given to his children, Kevin White said it was to allow them to “chart their own path,“ saying he and his wife have not been “helicopter parents.

“We’ve worked really hard to not drive them to a certain set of decisions. And we’ve tried to get them to think about things on their own and make their own choices.

“There’s a lot of areas where I wish I had done a lot of things differently and better, but that’s one thing I would say (I did well is) allowing them to be who they are, to be comfortable in their own skin, and quite frankly, to be authentic., and to follow their dreams.’’


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Audio/Quotes: National, Regional, Sports Animal Reaction to Josh Heupel; Several Interviews on UT’s Hire

Audio/Quotes: National, Regional, Sports Animal Reaction to Josh Heupel; Several Interviews on UT’s Hire

KNOXVILLE, TN – January 27, 2021 – Head Coach Josh Heupel during his introductory press conference as Tennessee football Head Coach at the Stokely Media Center in Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

Here are some of the quotes and reaction that I ran across today on the University of Tennessee’s hiring of Josh Heupel from UCF as the new head football coach.

The quotes below are only part of what each spoke about in interviews on the SEC Network about Heupel to Tennessee. These were just a few of the things that stood-out, both positively and negatively. It was a mixed bag, overall. It was a little more of a positive lean, in my opinion, based largely on Heupel’s success with offenses, familiarity with the SEC and even more due to the difficult circumstances to try and hire a head football coach for the Vols right now. Take it all for what it’s worth.

There are tweets included below, as well as full interviews you can listen to from our station about Josh Heupel, with Josh Heupel and his introductory press conference.

Rece Davis – ESPN/ABC
“Solid, not spectacular.”

Paul Finebaum – SEC Network/ESPN
“This was a comfort hire.”

Booger McFarland – ESPN
“Tennessee did the best they could.”
“Danny’s (White) outstanding as an AD. I think that (White) was a homerun hire.”
“I like the hire of Josh Heupel.”
“I have no doubts that Tennessee is going to be able to get some dynamic skill players and a quarterback. What’s going to separate him in the SEC is can you stop people.”

Chris Doering – SEC Network
“He wasn’t always the most welcoming. Was a little stand-off-ish. Didn’t necessarily show who he was.”

Gene Chizik – SEC Network
“He can change that narrative (Doering’s above.) He has to be very authentic. Culture is everything.”

Peter Burns – SEC Network

Barrett Sallee – CBS Sports

David Cobb – CBS Sports

Blake Beddingfield – Titans NFL Director of Scouting

Aaron Torres – National Fox Sports Radio

Brett McMurphy – Stadium

Zach Tibbs – High School Coach

ESPN Stats & Info

SportSource Analytics

Jimmy Hyams – 99.1 The Sports Animal

Josh Ward – 99.1 The Sports Animal

Will West – 99.1 The Sports Animal

Brian Rice – 99.1 The Sports Animal

Tyler Ivens – 99.1 The Sports Animal

Eric Cain – 99.1 The Sports Animal

 

Josh Heupel – Guest Wednesday on 99.1 The Sports Animal

Josh Heupel & Danny White Press Conference Wednesday

 

Mike Bianchi – Orlando Sentinel

 

Braden Gall – Athlon Sports on 99.1 The Sports Animal

 

Ryan Bass – 10 Tampa Bay

 


Find all of my blogs for our website, 991TheSportsAnimal.com
Listen to my Vincenzo’s View Podcast
Subscribe to my YouTube Channel
Find more of my broadcasting work at VinceSports.net.

Jimmy’s blog: Heupel to get six-year $4 million a year contract

Jimmy’s blog: Heupel to get six-year $4 million a year contract

By Jimmy Hyams 

Tennessee’s new coach Josh Heupel will be paid $4 million a year ($275,000 base pay) for six years with a caveat.

If Tennessee gets a two-years-or-more postseason ban and a reduction of at least eight scholarships from the NCAA, one year is added to Heupel’s deal.

His buyout starts at 100 percent of total package if fired before Dec. 15, 2023, and decreases to 75 percent then 50 percent through December 2025 with equal monthly payments.

If Heupel leaves without cause, he would owe UT $8 million if he leaves prior to Dec. 15, 2022, $6 million if he leaves between Dec. 15, 2022 and Dec. 15, 2023, then $4 million, then $3 million then $2 million for each ensuing year.

He gets $500,000 for winning the national title, $400,000 for making the national title game, $300,000 for a College Football Playoff semifinal game, $200,000 for a New Year’s Day Six bowl and $100,000 for a bowl game.

He would get $300,000 for winning the SEC, $100,000 for making the SEC title game.

The maximum in bonuses he can get in a year is $1.2 million.

Here are excepts of various comments or items from today’s press conference with athletic director Danny White and Heupel.

*Heupel said he would not take any transfers from Central Florida. He said he would consider current UCF staffers as well as UT staffers. UT has about 7 coaches on staff with at least one year left on their contracts, including K. Steele.

*I asked hite if, due to pandemic causing financial losses in the athletic department, if Heupel had any restrictions on hiring assistants or if he would be encouraged to keep any UT assistants. White said that was up to Heupel.

*White said he is not patience, but he realizes he and the Vol Nation will have to be patient as UT tries to rebuild a program that went 3-7, faces NCAA sanctions and has had 8 losing seasons in the past 13 years.

*Heupel finished second in the 2000 Heisman Trophy voting to Chris Weinke (UT quarterbacks coach) but beat Wenke and Florida State for the national championship that year. Current UT receivers coach Tee Martin also beat Weinke and FSU in 1998 but Weinke didn’t play in game due to injury.

*Heupel was 28-8 at Central Florida (12-1, 10-3, 6-4). UCF lost three games by one possession this season and also lost about 10 players who opted out due to COVID. UCF QB Dillon Gabriel led the nation in passing yards per game: 3,570 yards, 29 TD, 7 picks.

*After vetting a number of candidates (Tony Elliott, Luke Fickell, Matt Campbell, James Franklin, among others), White said he offered the job to only Heupel. `We got our No. 1 candidate.’ White said he didn’t have a top candidate when he started the search.

*White said when he met with UT players, they said they wanted a coach with `confidence, juice, swagger’ and with Heupel `that’s something we have in spades.’ White noted several offensive achievements for Heupel. including ranking top 5 in nation in total offense 3 years in a row.

*Many UT fans have expressed disappointment in the Heupel hire. White asked fans last week to be positive. of the fans, White said, `Some of you are awesome. Some of you are failing. … How could you be negative? (about Heupel) He said fans shouldn’t turn `passion into negativity.’

*Heupel said a program needs `connection’ to succeed. `It allows you to chase greatness.’ He said his offense will be uptempo, aggressive and will get skill players in space. He wants balance and to dominate the line of scrimmage.

*During his 2 years as offensive coordinator at Missouri (2016-17) he said he learned that in the SEC, teams have great defensive linemen that are physical. Missouri offense went from 124 to 13th in total yards (over 500 yards) in Heupel’s first season at Missouri.

*Heupel called the NCAA issues at UT a `minor speed bump.’ he also said UT `should be an elite program. it’s our job to get it back.’ He said Neyland Stadium is `electric’ and he got goose bumps thinking about 102,000 in the stands. He said in recruiting he wants to close the Tennessee `borders.’


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REPORTS: Josh Heupel to Rocky Top

REPORTS: Josh Heupel to Rocky Top

By: Eric Cain / @_Cainer

According to multiple reports, UCF coach Josh Heupel will be named the next head coach at Tennessee.

Jimmy Hyams reported early Wednesday morning a team meeting was scheduled for 8 am. Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports later was the first to break the news, tweeting the expectation is for Heupel to be named Tennessee’s coach.

Volquest, who reported late Tuesday night that Heupel emerged as the top candidate, later followed – along with 247Sorts. Thamel is reporting the finalizing deal is for around $4 million annually.

Danny White ended up hiring his guy all along.

White, of course, is Tennessee’s new Athletics Director as the Vols poached him from Orlando last week. After a five-day coaching search that rumored disinterest in the job from the likes of James Franklin, PJ Fleck, Tony Elliot and more – White appears to be hiring Heupel who has a combined 28-8 record with the Knights.

Josh Heupel / Credit: Scott Clarke / ESPN Images

Then former Oklahoma quarterback took over the UCF program in 2018 when Scott Frost went home to Nebraska. That season, the Knights went undefeated in the regular season and finished with a loss to LSU in the Fiesta Bowl.

In 2019, UCF finished 10-3 with a bowl win, but fell to 6-4 in 2020 with a loss in the Boca Raton Bowl.

During the three-year stint, Heupel’s offense finished top-six nationally, including second in the country in 2020. All three 2018 losses were by a combined seven points and three losses I year three were by a combined eight points.

Heupel had only one double-digit loss in three seasons.

As far as recruiting, the former Knights head coach finished 52nd, 59th and 60th in the country through three cycles. Heupel did coach Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford at Oklahoma and spent two seasons as an assistant at Missouri before heading to Orlando.

As a player, Heupel finished second in the 2000 Heisman Trophy race – behind current Vols quarterbacks coach, Chris Wienke.

Cainer’s Corner: Vol Twitter playing no games on a Tuesday

Cainer’s Corner: Vol Twitter playing no games on a Tuesday

By: Eric Cain / @_Cainer 

Day 5 of the Tennessee football coaching search did not play out well on social media.

Tuesday night, Volquest reported the top emerging candidate to replace Jeremy Pruitt as Vols head coach is UCF’s Josh Heupel. The same UCF that Tennessee hired away Athletics Director Danny White from last week. The same coach White hired back in 2018 to replace Scott Frost who darted home to Nebraska.

I understand the frustration but it’s kind of funny to think about looking back five days ago.

White spent time addressing some negativity around the program during his introductory press conference last Friday. In summary, the new Volunteer boss said if fans are frustrated to text their friends and to stay off social media.

LOL at the time and LOL now on a Wednesday morning.

I’m sure White knew his comments on the matter wouldn’t make a difference – but he said all the right things. Nonetheless, when the latest report surfaced linking Heupel to the job, that was all out the window.

Disclaimer: A very small percentage of the Tennessee fan base is voiced on social media. BUT, the loudest portion certainly is. In no way am I grouping the entire fan base into the social media sector.

We had fans tagging Danny White calling for his job (after only five days) and fans tagging Heupel in demeaning tweets. Fans clamoring his record wasn’t good enough and he can’t recruit. And this dude hasn’t even been hired yet. No one has.

The world appeared to be ending right here on a Tuesday night.

I’ll say this. Heupel wouldn’t have been my first thought either – especially after it’s known White is utilizing the Parker Search Firm to help find the new coach. Why spend all this money to potentially end up with a guy you’ve already hired; a guy you don’t even have to vet?

Well, it’s probably where the program is right now – meaning, it probably wasn’t Danny White’s first thought either.

There’s been reports of multiple coaches passing on interviews or not showing interest after initial talks.

Coaches who have been linked to these reports include: James Franklin, Tony Elliot, Billy Napier, PJ Fleck and others. And can you blame them? As I wrote yesterday, why would a coach want to walk into this mess. A raise might not be worth it.

Let’s say it is Josh Heupel. IF Josh Heupel is the next head football coach at Tennessee, here is what you’re getting.

You’re getting a guy who has gone 28-8 in three seasons at UCF. He led an undefeated regular season in 2018, taking over for Frost, with another 10-win season in 2019. Heupel led a unit that finished second in total offense in 2020 and has ranked top-six nationally in the sector in three seasons as a head coach.

He’s coached a Heisman Trophy winner (Sam Bradford) as an assistant at Oklahoma and spent two seasons as an assistant at Missouri – so he has SEC experience.

Credit: UT Athletics

He was also the Heisman runner-up in 2000 – bowing out to current Vols quarterbacks coach Chris Wienke.

A main concern for me, IF Heupel ends up getting the gig, is recruiting. I know it’s tough to recruit blue chip prospects to Group of Five programs, but Heupel hasn’t finished inside the top-50 in terms of team recruiting rankings while at UCF. His defenses have also been nothing to ride home about.

So, will it be Heupel? Is this a smokescreen? Time will tell and I think it will be soon.

No hire will please everyone. And time will tell down the road if the next hire ends up being a good one. But one thing is for sure – Vol fans on social media will voice their opinions. And it will be some interesting reads to say the least.

Cainer’s Corner: Vols new coach won’t please everyone

Cainer’s Corner: Vols new coach won’t please everyone

By: Eric Cain / @_Cainer 

We are officially on Day 5 of the Tennessee football coaching search and things are getting weird.

Or normal. We’ve been down this road before.

Fans are tracking planes and clinging to anything the rumor mill provides. The phrase ‘inside sources’ has never been more prevalent from your friend at the gym or your brother-in-law’s classmate who works at the university. Oh, and message boards are KING.

It’s truly a fun time for Tennessee fans. Also, a nerve wracking time. Nonetheless, fans are used to it.

There’s been four head coaching changes since Phillip Fulmer’s departure nearly a decade and a half ago. To say this process has been overplayed would be an understatement.

But that’s the world we’re living in here in Knoxville this week. We’ve heard names from Clemson’s Tony Elliot to Minnesota’s PJ Fleck. SMU’s Sonny Dykes to Penn State’s James Franklin and all the names in between.

But this time it is a little different.

How? Danny White.

The new Director of Athletics, who was introduced Friday in a press conference setting, has no ties to Tennessee. No one knows him – not even his staff at the moment. He’s been on the job for a little more than 72 hours. He’s using The Parker Search firm to help with the process and the search has been airtight.

Credit: Sam Forman / WNML Photos

Journalists are good at their jobs and this field is so close-knit that information will be leaked out. Some has already been leaked as multiple outlets have reported there’s been conversations held with Elliot and Franklin.

The Minneapolis Tribune reported Monday night that Fleck was not interested in the gig through conversations.

But this coaching search for the most part has been closed. Not a whole lot of information has been leaked and most are not as informed as they would have been with prior regimes – regimes that have Tennessee ties, thus Tennessee sources.

That’s a good thing for Vol fans. It appears this is a one-man show as White and the Parker group are going about this themselves.

But eventually, there will be a hire made and it won’t appease everyone. No hire does. And with the sanctions looming around the program with a reported 50 violations potentially – it’s likely to not be a slap on the wrist.

So, why would a sitting head coach (or recently fired coach) at the Power 5 level want to come here? Can you win a national championship at Tennessee? Sure. But with a potential multi-year bowl band and loss of scholarships (maybe even for two years), is a raise really worth it?

I say no.

Let’s be real. Tennessee reaching a bowl game in 2021 is no lock – even with a weak nonconference schedule. Missing out on the Gator or Music City Bowl is not the end of the world. But say Tennessee is sanctioned with the loss of four scholarships for the Class of 2022. Say that extends over to the Class of 2023.

Bad news.

I’m not saying that’s what happens, but recruiting is currency for college coaches. You take some spots away from a rebuilding program – it makes it that much tougher.

In a perfect world, Tennessee offers Matt Campbell 7 million + and makes him say no. But Matt Campbell likely doesn’t have interest in the headache that is Knoxville. Why would Gus Malzahn forfeit some of that $21 million dollar buyout to go through the ringer here at Tennessee right now?

More so, why would a rising coordinator at the Power 5 level want this to be their big break? I think Tony Elliot is a great play-caller and Tennessee would be in good shape to hire him away from Dabo Sweeney. But he’d likely begin his tenure behind the eight-ball here.

We can knit pick all day as to why or why not a coach should take the Tennessee job. As I wrote last week, this program has unbelievable support, both financially and from the fans. The Vols will land on a head coach at some point – likely this week.

But it won’t be who everyone believes is a slam dunk. It never is. One thing is for sure though – whoever it is will have their work cut out for them.

Tennessee is once again seeking a head football coach. The process, however agonizing or fun it might be for you, is still underway.

So, grab some popcorn and continue doom scrolling. Or grab some binoculars and aid in the plane tracking. It’s entertaining, nonetheless.

Jimmy’s blog: Tennessee football job not what it used to be

Jimmy’s blog: Tennessee football job not what it used to be

By Jimmy Hyams

In the 1990s, Tennessee was one of the top 10 football jobs in the nation.

During that decade, only Florida State, Florida and Nebraska had more wins among the top-level programs, and UT won a national title and three SEC titles.

But Tennessee is no longer a top 10 job.

In fact, it is not even a top 25 job — now.

That’s why Tennessee has been turned down by so many coaches in the last dozen years.

The stock value of a job comes and goes in cycles, and UT is on a down cycle.

Not only has UT had eight losing seasons in 13 years, it has not won the SEC East since 2007 and it is likely to be hit with major sanctions due to ‘’ stunning’’ and ‘’shocking’’ and ‘’serious’’ NCAA rules violations. The words in quotes are from UT chancellor Donde Plowman.

Alabama wasn’t all that attractive when it hired Mike Dubose, Mike Price and Mike Shula.

Oklahoma wasn’t all that attractive when it hired Gary Gibbs and John Blake.

LSU wasn’t all that attractive when it hired Curly Hallman and Gerry DiNardo.

But look at those three programs now.

The Tennessee job can – and likely will be — very attractive again.

But considering the number of players that have entered the transfer portal, and that UT hasn’t won the SEC East in 13 years and that the NCAA is about to drop the hammer, the ‘’brand’’ needs some polishing before it shines again.

I’m not so sure UT’s program isn’t in the worst shape it’s been since 1963, when the Vols went 5-5, scored 168 points and were till running the Wing-T, which cost them two terrific quarterbacks prospects who won a Heisman Trophy (Steve Spurrier at Florida) and a national championship (Steve  Sloan at Alabama.)

UT’s five wins in 1963 were against Richmond, Chattanooga, Tulane, Kentucky and Vanderbilt.

John Majors didn’t inherit a lot of talent from a 6-5 team in 1977, but at least the Vols were not facing NCAA sanctions.

Lane Kiffin inherited two first-round draft picks (Eric Berry, Dan Williams) and four other NFL draft picks – all taken before Round Six.

Derek Dooley, Butch Jones and Jeremy Pruitt also took over teams that weren’t blessed with great talent, but, again, no NCAA cloud hovering above.

Tennessee’s next coach faces a monumental rebounding job.

If he puts together a quality staff and recruits well and finds a top-notch quarterback, he can become respectable and competitive in a hurry.

After all, Butch Jones won nine games in his third and fourth years.

NOTE: Tennessee’s new AD Danny White is expected to hire at least two from his Central Florida staff: Chris McFarlane and Cameron Walker (compliance). UT also recently hired from UCF Rhett Brooks (Dan’s son) as assistant strength and conditioning coach.


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NFL Conference Championship games predictions and previews

NFL Conference Championship games predictions and previews

Tom Brady & Bucs vs Saints / Credit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Media Site

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

Below are my NFL Conference Championship games predictions along with some great notes and stats directly from the National Football League Communications Department.

Our Sports Animal NFL programming for Conference Championship Games
(Sun) 10am – 12:30pm: The NFL Report with John Wilkerson and two rotating Sports Animal hosts


My Wildcard Weekend Prediction Record: 4-0 (100%)
My Season Record: 180-86 (68%)

The NFL Conference Championship schedule with my winners in bold:

Visitor Home Time (ET) Network
NFC Championship Tampa Bay Buccaneers Green Bay Packers 3:05 PM FOX, Fox Deportes
AFC Championship Buffalo Bills Kansas City Chiefs 6:40 PM CBS/CBS All Access/ESPN Deportes

 


 CHAMPIONSHIP SUNDAY HOLDS KEYS

TO OPEN DOOR TO SUPER BOWL LV​

The final four teams are set and this Sunday will determine the two clubs heading to Tampa Bay for Super Bowl LV.

Championship Sunday begins with the NFC Championship Game, presented by Intuit TurboTax Live, when the TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (13-5) travel to play the GREEN BAY PACKERS (14-3) for the George Halas Trophy at Lambeau Field (3:05 PM ET, FOX). The Buccaneers are appearing in their first Championship Game since the 2002 season, when they went on to win Super Bowl XXXVII, while the Packers are making their second consecutive appearance. The game features the quarterback with the most postseason wins in NFL history, Tampa Bay’s TOM BRADY (32), against the franchise with the most world championships, Green Bay (13).

In the AFC on Sunday (6:40 PM ET, CBS), the top two seeds in the conference, the BUFFALO BILLS (15-3) and KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (15-2), face off at Arrowhead Stadium for the Lamar Hunt Trophy. Buffalo’s JOSH ALLEN (24 years old) and Kansas City’s PATRICK MAHOMES (25) could become just the second pair of opposing quarterbacks under the age of 26 to start a conference Championship Game, joining VINCE FERRAGAMO (25 years old) of the Los Angeles Rams and DOUG WILLIAMS (24) of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1979 NFC title game. The Bills are playing in the AFC Championship for the first time since the 1993 season, when they defeated the Chiefs to advance to Super Bowl XXVIII. Kansas City, meanwhile, is only the second team in NFL history to host three consecutive Championship Games, joining the 2002-04 Philadelphia Eagles, who were also led by head coach ANDY REID.

WILD RIDE: For a second straight season, a Wild Card team has reached its conference Championship Game, as the TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS follow in the footsteps of the 2019 Tennessee Titans. Tampa Bay is the first NFC Wild Card team to reach the Championship Game since the San Francisco 49ers in 2013, and the ninth overall Wild Card team to advance to that round since 2007. Two of those teams – the 2007 New York Giants and the 2010 Green Bay Packers – won the Super Bowl. Six teams overall, including the 1980 Oakland Raiders, 1997 Denver Broncos, 2000 Baltimore Ravens and 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers, have won the Super Bowl as Wild Card teams.

LEGENDS IN THEIR OWN LIFETIMES: Quarterbacks TOM BRADY and AARON RODGERS are meeting head-to-head for the fourth time but Sunday marks their first meeting in the postseason. Brady has won two of the previous three games, 31-17 at Gillette Stadium in 2018 with New England, and 38-10 in Week 6 earlier this season at Raymond James Stadium. Rodgers won their first meeting, a 26-21 triumph over New England at Lambeau Field in 2014.

Brady and Rodgers rank first and fourth, respectively, among the NFL’s career postseason leaders in touchdown passes.

The players with the most career touchdown passes in the postseason in NFL history:

PLAYER TEAM(S) TD PASSES
Tom Brady New England, Tampa Bay 77
Joe MontanaHOF San Francisco, Kansas City 45
Brett FavreHOF Green Bay, Minnesota 44
Aaron Rodgers Green Bay 42
Peyton Manning Indianapolis, Denver 40

HOPE FOR TEAMS THAT MISS PLAYOFFS: The TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS advanced to their conference Championship Game the year after missing the playoffs. Last season, three teams earned berths in the Championship Game after failing to qualify for the playoffs: Green Bay, San Francisco and Tennessee. Three teams did it in 2017 (Jacksonville, Minnesota and Philadelphia) while eight overall teams since the 2016 playoffs have advanced to their conference Championship Games the year after missing the postseason. Three of the last eight teams that played in the Super Bowl – the 2019 San Francisco 49ers, 2017 Philadelphia Eagles and 2016 Atlanta Falcons – reached that pinnacle after missing the playoffs the prior season.

WEEK 6 REMATCHES: Each Championship Game contest is a rematch of a 2020 regular-season game, and both contests took place in Week 6. Tampa Bay defeated Green Bay, 38-10, on Oct. 18 at Raymond James Stadium, and Kansas City traveled to Buffalo to earn a 26-17 victory on Oct. 19.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (13-5) at GREEN BAY PACKERS (14-3) (Sunday, FOX/FOX Deportes, 3:05 PM ET)      

  • The Buccaneers and Packers, division rivals in the NFC Central from 1977-2001, meet in the postseason for the second time. Green Bay won the only prior postseason meeting, 21-7, in the 1997 Divisional playoffs en route to a berth in Super Bowl XXXII.
  • Green Bay holds a 33-22-1 all-time series advantage (including the postseason). The teams last played in Week 6 (Oct. 18), with the Buccaneers winning in Tampa Bay, 38-10.
  • Tampa Bay will appear in its fourth NFC Championship Game and its first since the 2002 season, when the Buccaneers won Super Bowl XXXVII.
  • Buccaneers head coach BRUCE ARIANS, in his second season at the Tampa Bay helm, guided his team to its first franchise playoff berth in 13 years and its first postseason victories since that 2002 Super Bowl season. Arians also led the Arizona Cardinals to the NFC Championship Game in 2015 and is the 12th head coach since the league merger in 1970 to take multiple franchises to a conference Championship Game.
  • This week, Tampa Bay quarterback TOM BRADY is expected to make his 14th start in a conference Championship Game. Pro Football Hall of Famer JOE MONTANA ranks second with seven. Brady is 9-4 in those games.
  • In Tampa Bay’s 30-20 Divisional victory at New Orleans, Brady threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, becoming the oldest player in NFL history (43 years, 167 days) to score a postseason touchdown, surpassing Pro Football Hall of Famer JERRY RICE (40 years, 105 days) in Super Bowl XXXVII.
  • Brady has the most postseason games played (43), wins (32), passing yards (11,968) and passing touchdowns (77) of any player in NFL history.
  • Buccaneers wide receiver MIKE EVANS, who caught a touchdown pass in the team’s Divisional playoff win last week, had 1,006 receiving yards in 2020 to become the first player in NFL history with at least 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first seven seasons.
  • Tampa Bay cornerback SEAN MURPHY-BUNTING, whose second-quarter interception and 36-yard return set up a go-ahead touchdown in the team’s Divisional playoff win, now has interceptions in each of the Buccaneers’ two playoff wins this season. The last player with interceptions in three consecutive playoff games in the same postseason was the Giants’ R.W. MCQUARTERS (three consecutive games) during the 2007 playoffs.
  • In the Buccaneers’ Divisional playoff win, linebacker DEVIN WHITE had 11 tackles, a 28-yard interception return and an 18-yard fumble return in his first NFL playoff game. White was the team’s first-round selection (fifth overall) in the 2019 NFL Draft.
  • The Buccaneers had one player selected to the 2021 Pro Bowl roster: Linebacker JASON PIERRE-PAUL.
  • Green Bay has advanced to a second straight Championship Game for the first time since the 1996-97 seasons. Since the league merger in 1970, the Packers are hosting their third Championship. Lambeau Field also hosted the 1996 and 2007 NFC Championship Games. Overall, Green Bay has played in the NFC Championship on 10 prior occasions.
  • Packers head coach MATT LAFLEUR is the sixth individual since the league merger in 1970 to reach the conference Championship Game in each of his first two seasons as an NFL head coach, joining DON MCCAFFERTY (Baltimore Colts, 1970-71), GEORGE SEIFERT (San Francisco, 1989-90), BARRY SWITZER (Dallas, 1994-95), REX RYAN (New York Jets, 2009-10) and JIM HARBAUGH (San Francisco, 2011-12).
  • The Packers defeated the Los Angeles Rams, 32-18, last week in the Divisional playoffs. With the victory, Green Bay registered the 36th postseason victory in franchise annals, tying the Pittsburgh Steelers (36) for the second-most postseason wins in history. With a win this week, Green Bay will tie the NFL record held by the New England Patriots (37).
  • Green Bay quarterback AARON RODGERS passed for 296 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions for a 108.1 passer rating in the Divisional round, marking his eighth consecutive postseason game with multiple touchdown passes, tying the NFL record held by JOE FLACCO (eight games from 2011-14).
  • Rodgers (12 career postseason games) is one of four players in history with at least 10 postseason games of 250-or-more passing yards and two-or-more touchdown passes. The others are TOM BRADY (17), Pro Football Hall of Famer JOE MONTANA (12) and DREW BREES (10).
  • Rodgers is expected to make his fifth career start in a Championship Game, but his first at home.
  • Rodgers led the NFL with a career-high 48 touchdown passes this season, tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (48 touchdown passes in 1984) for the fifth-most touchdown passes in a single season in NFL history. The Packers’ quarterback also led the NFL with a 121.5 passer rating, the second-highest single-season mark by a quarterback in NFL history, trailing only his 122.5 rating in 2011.
  • Rodgers enters Sunday’s game having thrown a touchdown pass in 15 consecutive postseason games, the fourth-longest streak in NFL history. Only Pro Football Hall of Famer BRETT FAVRE (20 games from 1995-2009), TOM BRADY (18 from 2001-11) and DREW BREES (18 from 2004-20) have longer streaks.
  • Green Bay running back AARON JONES, who had 113 scrimmage yards (99 rushing, 14 receiving) and rushed for a touchdown in the Divisional win over the Rams, has five career postseason touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving) in three career playoff games and aims for his fourth straight postseason game with a touchdown.
  • Packers wide receiver DAVANTE ADAMS had nine receptions for 66 yards and touchdown in Green Bay’s Divisional playoff win. Adams led the NFL this season with 18 touchdown receptions, tied for the third-most touchdowns by a wide receiver in a single-season in NFL history. Only Pro Football Hall of Famers RANDY MOSS (23 touchdowns in 2007) and JERRY RICE (23 touchdowns in 1987) had more.
  • The Packers had seven players selected to the 2021 Pro Bowl roster: Wide receiver DAVANTE ADAMS, cornerback JAIRE ALEXANDER, tackle DAVID BAKHTIARI, guard ELGTON JENKINS, running back AARON JONES, quarterback AARON RODGERS and linebacker ZA’DARIUS SMITH.

 BUFFALO BILLS (15-3) at KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (15-2) (Sunday, CBS/CBS All Access/ESPN Deportes, 6:40 PM ET)      

  • The Bills and Chiefs meet in the postseason for the fourth time, and first time in Kansas City, with Buffalo winning two of the three previous matchups. Buffalo last appeared in the AFC Championship in the 1993 season, when the Bills defeated Kansas City, 30-13, to earn a berth in Super Bowl XXVIII. Two years earlier, Buffalo beat the Chiefs, 37-14, in the 1991 AFC Divisional round, en route to Super Bowl XXVI. Kansas City won the first postseason matchup in the series, 31-7, in the 1966 American Football League title game to earn a berth in the first AFL-NFL World Championship (later renamed the Super Bowl).
  • Sunday marks the 50th all-time meeting, including the postseason, between the clubs. Buffalo holds a 26-22-1 advantage in the series. The teams last played in Week 6 (Oct. 19), with the Chiefs winning, 26-17, at Bills Stadium.
  • The Bills will play in the franchise’s ninth AFL/AFC Championship Game. Buffalo is 6-2 in those games, having won four straight (1990-93).
  • SEAN MCDERMOTT, who has led the Bills to the playoffs in three of his four seasons as head coach, worked 12 years (1999-2010) with ANDY REID on the Eagles’ staff. In total, McDermott has coached in five conference Championships and two Super Bowls. He will be making his first Championship Game appearance as a head coach.
  • Buffalo quarterback JOSH ALLEN completed 23 of 37 passes for 206 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions for an 86.1 rating in Buffalo’s 17-3 Divisional playoff win over Baltimore. One week earlier, in the Bills’ Wild Card victory over the Colts, Allen became the first player in NFL history to pass for at least 300 yards with a completion percentage of 70 or higher and rush for 50-or-more yards in a postseason game.
  • Allen during the regular season had 4,544 passing yards with 37 touchdown passes and eight rushing touchdowns, becoming the first player with at least 4,500 passing yards, 35 touchdown passes and five rushing touchdowns in a single season in NFL history.
  • Buffalo wide receiver STEFON DIGGS had eight receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown in the Bills’ Divisional playoff win. Diggs has at least six catches in 15 consecutive games, including the postseason, tied with WES WELKER, ANTONIO BROWN and Pro Football Hall of Famer MARVIN HARRISON for the longest such streak in NFL history.
  • Bills cornerback TARON JOHNSON in the Divisional playoff victory returned an interception 101 yards for a touchdown, tied with Green Bay’s GEORGE TEAGUE (1993) for the longest interception return in NFL postseason history.
  • The Bills had five players selected to the 2021 Pro Bowl roster: Quarterback JOSH ALLEN, wide receiver STEFON DIGGS, linebacker TREMAINE EDMUNDS, kick-returner/punt-returner ANDRE ROBERTS and cornerback TRE’DAVIOUS WHITE.
  • Kansas City will play in the team’s seventh AFL/AFC Championship Game. The Chiefs are the first team to host three consecutive Championship Games since the 2002-04 Philadelphia Eagles.
  • ANDY REID, who also served as head coach of those Eagles teams, makes his eighth conference Championship appearance as a head coach, surpassing Pro Football Hall of Famers CHUCK NOLL (seven) and DON SHULA (seven) for the third-most by a head coach since 1970. Only BILL BELICHICK (13) and Pro Football Hall of Famer TOM LANDRY (10) have more.
  • In the Divisional victory over the Browns, Chiefs quarterback PATRICK MAHOMES completed 21 of 30 attempts for 255 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions for a 106.9 rating, and rushed for a touchdown. Mahomes has recorded at least one touchdown pass and one rushing touchdown in three consecutive postseason games, tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer STEVE YOUNG (three straight games) for the longest such streak in NFL history.
  • Mahomes ranks as the NFL’s career leader among qualified players in both regular-season passer rating (108.7) and postseason passer rating (106.6), with a minimum of 150 attempts.
  • With a start on Sunday, Mahomes can become the 12th quarterback since the league merger in 1970 to start three consecutive conference Championship Games and the first to accomplish the feat prior to his 26th birthday.
  • Last week, wide receiver TYREEK HILL had eight receptions for 110 yards and tight end TRAVIS KELCE had eight catches for 109 yards and a touchdown. The only other time in franchise history that two players reached 100 receiving yards in a postseason game was Dec. 25, 1971, when ED PODOLAK and ELMO WRIGHT did it in a Divisional playoff loss against Miami.
  • Hill ranked second in the NFL this season with 15 receiving touchdowns.
  • Kelce finished second among all players with 1,416 receiving yards this season, the most single-season receiving yards by a tight end in NFL history. Kelce, who had 103 receptions in 2018, also had 105 receptions this season to become the first tight end in NFL history with at least 100 receptions in multiple seasons.
  • The Chiefs tied for the league lead with seven players selected to the 2021 Pro Bowl roster: Defensive end FRANK CLARK, tackle ERIC FISHER, wide receiver TYREEK HILL, defensive tackle CHRIS JONES, tight end TRAVIS KELCE, quarterback PATRICK MAHOMES and safety TYRANN MATHIEU.

A FANTASTIC FINAL FOUR: On Championship Sunday, the Super Bowl LV participants will be determined. In the NFC (3:05 PM ET, FOX/FOX Deportes), the TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (13-5) take on the GREEN BAY PACKERS (14-3) while the BUFFALO BILLS (15-3) travel to Arrowhead Stadium to face the KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (15-2) in the AFC (6:40 PM ET, CBS/CBS All Access/ESPN Deportes).

Each of the remaining teams has won at least 13 regular-season and postseason games combined this season, marking the first time since 2015 that all four teams in the Conference Championship games each have at least 13 combined regular-season and postseason wins.

Additionally, each of the four teams in action this weekend averaged at least 29 points per game in the regular season, marking the first time in the Super Bowl era that all four teams in the Conference Championship games averaged at least 29 points per game. Green Bay (31.8 points per game), Buffalo (31.3) and Tampa Bay (30.8) were the three highest scoring teams in the league this season.

With victories by the Packers and Bills on Sunday, the Super Bowl would feature the two highest-scoring teams from the regular season for the fifth time since 1970 and the first time since 1997.

The Super Bowls featuring the two highest-scoring teams from the regular season since 1970:

SEASON NO. 1 OFFENSE NO. 2 OFFENSE SUPER BOWL
1997 Denver Broncos Green Bay Packers XXXII
1996 Green Bay Packers New England Patriots XXXI
1991 Washington Redskins Buffalo Bills XXVI
1984 Miami Dolphins San Francisco 49ers XIX

 

— CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS —

TOP PASSERS REMAIN: Each of the four starting quarterbacks remaining in the 2020 postseason recorded at least 35 touchdown passes this season – Green Bay’s AARON RODGERS (48 touchdown passes), Tampa Bay’s TOM BRADY (40), Kansas City’s PATRICK MAHOMES (38) and Buffalo’s JOSH ALLEN (37). ​

This is the first time since 1970 that each of the four starting quarterbacks in the Conference Championship games recorded at least 35 touchdown passes in the regular season.

No matter the outcome of this Sunday’s games, Super Bowl LV will have the most or second-most combined regular season touchdown passes between the two starting quarterbacks ever.

The Super Bowls with the most combined regular season touchdown passes between the two starting quarterbacks:

SEASON QUARTERBACKS (TOUCHDOWN PASSES) TOTAL TOUCHDOWN PASSES SUPER BOWL
2013 Peyton Manning (55) & Russell Wilson (26) 81 XLVIII
1984 Dan MarinoHOF (48) & Joe MontanaHOF (28) 76 XIX
2007 Tom Brady (50) & Eli Manning (23) 73 XLII

 

— CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS —

BRING IT HOME: Last week, the TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS defeated New Orleans, 30-20, to advance to their fourth NFC Championship Game in franchise history.​

With a win at Green Bay on Sunday (3:05 PM ET, FOX/FOX Deportes), the Buccaneers will become the first team to play in a Super Bowl in the team’s home stadium and the fifth team to play in a Super Bowl that was hosted in their home state.

The Super Bowls with a team playing in its home state:

SUPER BOWL  SITE DATE WINNING TEAM LOSING TEAM
XXXVII  San Diego, CA January 26, 2003 Tampa Bay Oakland Raiders
XIX  Stanford, CA January 20, 1985 San Francisco Miami
XIV  Pasadena, CA January 20, 1980 Pittsburgh Los Angeles Rams
XI  Pasadena, CA January 9, 1977 Oakland Raiders Minnesota

Tampa Bay quarterback TOM BRADY enters Championship Sunday as the NFL’s all-time postseason leader in starts (43), wins (32), passing yards (11,968) and touchdown passes (77). He is expected to make his 14th career start in a Conference Championship game, and first with Tampa Bay.

If the Buccaneers advance to Super Bowl LV, Brady will become the fourth quarterback to start a Super Bowl for multiple teams, joining PEYTON MANNING (Denver and Indianapolis), CRAIG MORTON (Dallas and Denver) and Pro Football Hall of Famer KURT WARNER (Arizona and St. Louis Rams).

The quarterbacks to start a Super Bowl for multiple teams in NFL history:

PLAYER FIRST TEAM (SUPER BOWLS) SECOND TEAM (SUPER BOWLS)
Peyton Manning Indianapolis (XLI, XLIV) Denver (XLVIII, 50)
Craig Morton Dallas (V) Denver (XII)
Kurt WarnerHOF St. Louis Rams (XXXIV, XXXVI) Arizona (XLIII)

Tampa Bay cornerback SEAN MURPHY-BUNTING has an interception in each of the Buccaneers’ two postseason games this season. With an interception on Sunday, Murphy-Bunting with become the fourth player to record an interception in each of his first three career postseason games in the Super Bowl era, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers AENEAS WILLIAMS (first four postseason games) and ED REED (three), as well as JASON SEHORN (three).

The players to record an interception in the most consecutive games to begin their postseason career in the Super Bowl era:

PLAYER TEAM(S) GAMES (DATES)
Aeneas WilliamsHOF Arizona, St. Louis Rams 4 (Jan. 2, 1998 – Jan. 27, 2002)
Ed ReedHOF Baltimore 3 (Jan. 3, 2004 – Jan. 4, 2009)
Jason Sehorn New York Giants 3 (Dec. 27, 1997 – Jan. 14, 2001)
Sean Murphy-Bunting Tampa Bay 2* (Jan. 9, 2021 – Jan. 17, 2021)
*active streak

— CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS —

HUNTING MORE TITLES IN TITLETOWN: The GREEN BAY PACKERS advanced to their second consecutive Conference Championship with a 32-18 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in the Divisional Playoffs. With the win, Green Bay tied the PITTSBURGH STEELERS (36 wins) for the second-most postseason victories in NFL history. ​

With a win against the Buccaneers on Sunday (3:05 PM ET, FOX/FOX Deportes), the Packers would tie the NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (37 wins) for the most postseason victories in NFL history.

The teams with the most postseason wins in NFL history:

TEAM WINS SUPER BOWL WINS
New England 37 6
Green Bay 36 4
Pittsburgh 36 6
Dallas 35 5
San Francisco 32 5


Green Bay quarterback AARON RODGERS led the NFL with a career-high 48 touchdown passes this season. If the Packers advance to Super Bowl LV, Rodgers will be the sixth quarterback since 2000 and first since PEYTON MANNING in 2013 to reach the Super Bowl in the same season that he led the league in touchdown passes.

The quarterbacks to lead the league in touchdown passes and reach the Super Bowl in the same season since 2000:

SEASON PLAYER TEAM TOUCHDOWN PASSES SUPER BOWL
2013 Peyton Manning Denver 55 XLVIII
2009 Drew Brees New Orleans 34 XLIV
2007 Tom Brady New England 50 XLII
2006 Peyton Manning Indianapolis 31 XLI
2001 Kurt WarnerHOF St. Louis Rams 36 XXXVI

Last week, Rodgers passed for 296 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions and a 108.1 rating, his eighth consecutive postseason game with at least two touchdown passes, tied with JOE FLACCO (eight consecutive games) for the most consecutive postseason games with at least two touchdown passes in NFL history.

With at least two touchdown passes on Sunday, Rodgers will become the first player in league annals to record at least two touchdown passes in nine consecutive postseason games.

The players with the most consecutive postseason games with at least two touchdown passes in NFL history:

PLAYER TEAM GAMES (DATES)
Joe Flacco Baltimore 8 (Jan. 15, 2012 – Jan. 10, 2015)
Aaron Rodgers Green Bay 8* (Jan. 10, 2016 – Jan. 17, 2021)
*active streak

— CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS —

RUN IT BACK: The reigning Super Bowl champion KANSAS CITY CHIEFS are hosting their third consecutive AFC Championship Game, joining the 2002-04 PHILADELPHIA EAGLES – who were also led by head coach ANDY REID – as the only teams in NFL history to host three consecutive Championship games. The Chiefs also look to become the first team since the 2003-04 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS to win back-to-back Super Bowl titles.

Last year, quarterback PATRICK MAHOMES became the youngest quarterback to win Super Bowl MVP. If Kansas City defeats Buffalo on Sunday (6:40 PM ET, CBS/CBS All Access/ESPN Deportes), Mahomes is expected to become the youngest quarterback in NFL history (25 years and 143 days old on date of Super Bowl LV) to start two Super Bowls, surpassing RUSSELL WILSON, who was 26 years and 64 days old at the time of his second Super Bowl start (SB XLIX).

Last week, Kansas City tight end TRAVIS KELCE recorded eight receptions for 109 yards and one touchdown, his fourth career postseason game with at least 100 receiving yards, tied for the most by a tight end in NFL history.

In 10 career postseason games, Kelce has totaled 60 catches for 741 yards and seven touchdowns, all among the most by a tight end in postseason history. Tampa Bay tight end ROB GRONKOWSKI is the leader in all three categories.

The tight ends with the most career receptions in NFL postseason history:​

PLAYER TEAM(S) RECEPTIONS
Rob Gronkowski New England, Tampa Bay 82*
Dallas Clark Indianapolis 64
Jay Novacek Dallas 62
Shannon SharpeHOF Denver, Baltimore 62
Brent Jones San Francisco 60
Travis Kelce Kansas City 60*
*active

The tight ends with the most career receiving yards in NFL postseason history:

PLAYER TEAM(S) RECEIVING YARDS
Rob Gronkowski* New England, Tampa Bay 1,177*
Dallas Clark Indianapolis 847
Keith Jackson Philadelphia, Miami, Green Bay 834
Shannon SharpeHOF Denver, Baltimore 814
Travis Kelce* Kansas City 741*
*active

The tight ends with the most career receiving touchdowns in NFL postseason history:

PLAYER TEAM(S) RECEIVING TOUCHDOWNS
Rob Gronkowski* New England, Tampa Bay 12*
Dave CasperHOF Houston Oilers, Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders 7
Vernon Davis San Francisco, Denver 7
Travis Kelce* Kansas City 7*
*active

— CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS —

SUPER STEFON: Last week, the BUFFALO BILLS defeated Baltimore, 17-3, to advance to their first AFC Championship Game since the 1993 season.

Wide receiver STEFON DIGGS recorded a team-high 106 receiving yards with a touchdown catch in the victory, after leading the league with a career-high 1,535 receiving yards in the 2020 regular season.

If Buffalo defeats Kansas City on Sunday (6:40 PM ET, CBS/CBS All Access/ESPN Deportes), Diggs will become the third player to reach the Super Bowl in the same season that he led the league in receiving yards, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer JERRY RICE (1989 and 1994) and DREW PEARSON (1977).

The players to lead the league in receiving yards and reach the Super Bowl in the same season in NFL history:​

PLAYER TEAM SEASON RECEIVING YARDS SUPER BOWL
Jerry RiceHOF San Francisco 1994 1,499 XXIX
Jerry RiceHOF San Francisco 1989 1,423 XXIV
Drew Pearson Dallas 1977 870 XII

 

— CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS —

RUNNING THROUGH THE NFC: Last week, Green Bay running back AARON JONES rushed for 99 yards and a touchdown, his third consecutive postseason game with a rushing touchdown.

With a rushing touchdown in the NFC Championship Game, Jones will become the fourth player in NFL history to record a rushing touchdown in each of his first four postseason games, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers TERRELL DAVIS (first seven postseason games) and CURTIS MARTIN (first five games), as well as ARIAN FOSTER (first four games).

The players to record a rushing touchdown in the most consecutive games to begin their postseason career in NFL history:

PLAYER TEAM(S) GAMES (DATES)
Terrell DavisHOF Denver 7 (Jan. 4, 1997 – Jan. 17, 1999)
Curtis MartinHOF New England, New York Jets 5 (Jan. 5, 1997 – Jan. 17, 1999)
Arian Foster Houston 4 (Jan. 7, 2012 – Jan. 13, 2013)
Aaron Jones Green Bay 3* (Jan. 12, 2020 – Jan. 16, 2021)
*Active streak

Tampa Bay running back LEONARD FOURNETTE recorded 107 scrimmage yards (63 rushing, 44 receiving) and a receiving touchdown in the Divisional Playoffs, his fourth consecutive postseason game with at least 75 scrimmage yards and a touchdown.

In the NFC Championship game, Fournette can become the fifth running back with at least 75 scrimmage yards and a touchdown in five consecutive postseason games in NFL history, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers TERRELL DAVIS (seven games), MARCUS ALLEN (five), FRANCO HARRIS (five) and JOHN RIGGINS (five).

The running backs with the most consecutive postseason games with at least 75 scrimmage yards and a touchdown in NFL history:

PLAYER TEAM(S) GAMES (DATES)
Terrell DavisHOF Denver 7 (Jan. 4, 1997 – Jan. 17, 1999)
Marcus AllenHOF Los Angeles Raiders 5 (Jan. 1, 1984 – Jan. 5, 1986)
Franco HarrisHOF Pittsburgh 5 (Dec. 22, 1974 – Jan. 4, 1976)
John RigginsHOF Washington 5 (Jan. 15, 1983 – Jan. 8, 1984)
Leonard Fournette Jacksonville, Tampa Bay 4* (Jan. 14, 2018 – Jan. 17, 2021)
*Active streak    ​​

# # #

 

WATCH: NFC Championship Game Preview from TJ Rives – Bucs Sideline Reporter

WATCH: NFC Championship Game Preview from TJ Rives – Bucs Sideline Reporter

For my “Vincenzo’s View Podcast” that you can subscribe to on Apple, Google, Spotify or anywhere else you get your podcasts, I visited with Tampa Bay Buccaneers Radio Network Sideline Reporter and Host TJ Rives.

We had a short, but fun and informative visit. in getting a preview of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Green Bay Packers this Sunday in the NFC Championship Game. TJ always brings the knowledge, the energy and the radio pipes! Watch that interview below!

I’d love for you to subscribe to my YouTube Channel and subscribe to the Vincenzo’s View Podcast with great national interviews, shows and more exclusive content coming in the near future. Thanks!

Chris Godwin – Buccaneers WR / Credit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Media Site

Cainer’s Corner: Mass Exodus

Cainer’s Corner: Mass Exodus

By: Eric Cain / @_Cainer

Anytime you make a head coaching change, the fear is always roster management. What about the recruiting class? What about the players on the roster? And now in 2021, it’s never been easier to make a move.

Tennessee certainly didn’t help itself with the timing of this mess – the mess being firing Jeremy Pruitt for cause on Monday. Some of it couldn’t have been avoided, as there was (and still is) an ongoing investigation into the program.  

But the program has been in a state of limbo dating all the way back to when reports first surfaced of alleged recruiting violations and more into the program. That first came about right before kickoff against Texas A&M on December 19.

Prior to this week, we’ve seen 13 players who began the 2020 season as Vols enter the transfer portal. There’s been constant rumors and credible reports of more to come, but up until 48 hours following the firing of Pruitt – no Vol had darted away.

Then came 5:58 pm (ET) Wednesday evening. The dominos began to fall.

Senior offensive lineman Jahmir Johnson was the first announced. Three minutes later, star linebacker Henry To’o To’o followed. At 6:20, linebacker Quavaris Crouch was in before finally running back Eric Gray finished off the devastating period by entering three minutes later.

25 minutes is all it took, and a 3-7 roster got a whole lot worse.

Nothing is official. All of these guys could very well come back. But Vol fans should prepare as if they are all gone and how the roster could look like come fall.

Henry To’o To’o / Credit: Sam Forman

Henry To’o To’o – LB

Henry T. was a guy Tennessee fans fell in love with as a true freshman in 2019. He came in and played right away as an 18-year-old and finished the campaign as a Freshman All-American by several publications. In 2020, he was set to be the guy and he was the heart and soul of the defense, but I never saw him improve. Of course, COVID could have played a role in that but I think it was the lack of development from coaches more than anything.

Henry is a stud and would be a WELCOMING addition to any program at the Power 5 level.

Replacements: Jeremy Banks, Aaron Beasley, Solon Page, Bryson Eason, Martavius French, Aaron Willis

 

Eric Gray – RB

Gray came on strong during the 2019 regular-season finale against Vanderbilt as a freshman, notching 366 total yards with four touchdowns. He then took home MVP honors from the Gator Bowl in January and was poised to be the guy as a sophomore. Gray was in fact RB1, finishing 2020 with a team-leading 772 rushing yards with four touchdowns and was also second on the squad with 30 receptions.

Replacements: Jabari Small, Tiyon Evans, Cody Brown, Dee Beckwith, Len’Neth Whitehead, Tee Hodge

 

Quavaris Crouch – LB

Q was a highly-rated prospect, ranked No. 1 in the country at one point, who shocked the recruiting world when he signed with the Vols in the 2019 class. Tennessee spent the bulk of his freshman season trying to find a spot for him. He played in all 13 games in 2019, making one start, while showing up on the edge, inside linebacker and at running back in short-yardage situations.

In 2020, Crouch started every game at inside linebacker, splitting time with Jeremy Banks aside from Henry T. I think he improved the more he played, but he was far from SEC-ready. Crouch was a work in progress and I was intrigued to eventually see how much he could improve.

I’m still a little iffy on where he should play moving forward, but he is a versatile guy who can fit in many schemes.

Replacements: Jeremy Banks, Aaron Beasley, Solon Page, Bryson Eason, Martavius French, Aaron Willis

 

Jahmir Johnson – OL

Johnson was brought in on Jeremy Pruitt’s initial class (patchwork class of 2018) as a JUCO transfer. The plan for Johnson was to plug and play him immediately as the offensive line was a disaster at the time. Johnson did just that, appearing 24 games with 17 starts in three seasons and will be a veteran, versatile presence for whoever signs him.

Replacements: Cade Mays, K’Rojhn Calbert, Ollie Lane, William Griffin-Parker, J’Marion Gooch, Amari McNeill

 

Takeaways: It’s not pretty and some fans are having to say goodbye to their favorite players. The inside linebacker room is depleted, the offensive tackle situation is not great now with the loss of two starters and the Vols’ lost their best two players overall in To’o To’o and Gray.

At the end of the day, Tennessee was still 3-7 and its coach was fired. Not surprised some of these key (still young) players are wanting to leave. As long as the program has a head coaching vacancy, the worry is more could join in exodus.

Listen: Cainer joined Josh Ward on the ‘Locked on Vols Podcast’ to talk Vols in the transfer portal.

Cainer’s Corner: The Morning After

Cainer’s Corner: The Morning After

By: Eric Cain / @_Cainer 

Monday was a momentous day.

The Tennessee football program is undergoing change yet again as for the second time in three years, the Vols are in need of both a head football coach and an Athletics Director.

Chancellor Donde Plowman, sitting AD Phillip Fulmer and system president Randy Boyd met with the media Monday afternoon to officially announce the firing of Jeremy Pruitt for cause – along with assistant coaches Brian Niedermeyer, Shelton Felton and seven other recruiting staffers.

The investigation into the football program for impermissible benefits and recruiting violations is still ongoing, but Plowman said the findings to date were severe enough to bring Level 1 and/or Level 2 violations to the program.

Phillip Fulmer is once again stepping away from Tennessee and Kevin Steele is being charged with holding it altogether.

Here are my key observations from yesterday’s events.

 

A Puzzling Timeline

In documents released, it shows a search firm (Parker Executive Search) was hired on Saturday, Jan. 16th. That would mean Fulmer had conversations with Plowman about stepping down prior to the hiring of the firm. Was that Saturday morning? Maybe – could have been. Or was it one day last week?

Pruitt and some key staff members made the cross country trek to California on Friday to try and convinced star linebacker Henry To’o To’o not to enter the transfer portal. If the conversation between Fulmer and Plowman happened beforehand, that means a new coach was going to be hired.

Why would Plowman allow Pruitt to go across country? Why would administration allow Pruitt to be on campus to greet early enrollees Saturday morning?

Furthermore, it has been reported that Fulmer was very much involved in bringing Kevin Steele aboard. I’ve said many times that Pruitt initiated the hiring, which is true, but Fulmer was adamant on getting it done.

Fulmer was asked in the Monday afternoon press conference if Steele was aware he could be named interim when he was hired. The answer was, ‘no, but he did know there was an on-going investigation.’

This was (and still is) a lengthy investigation and I’m a firm believer in innocent until proven guilty. Some people were making a big deal about Pruitt continuing making hires and recruiting while under this cloud of uncertainty. He was doing his job – which is commendable.

But going off what was said yesterday, some accounts do not add up in the timeline. Maybe some clarity will be revealed in the coming days.

 

Jeremy Pruitt / Credit: Sam Forman

First comes AD, then comes HC

Donde Plowman was firm yesterday. She came prepared and sounded confident as she voiced her displeasure with the situation and listed attributes she’s looking for in the next head football coach.

Another item she was stern in was that UT will be hiring an Athletics Director first before bringing on another head football coach. That makes sense. Why would you hire a coach first and then hire his boss?

Fans want a coach now – and she recognized that. But Plowman repeatedly said she intends to do things the right way – and that way is to hire the AD first. The Chancellor, along with Boyd, have hired Parker Executive Search to aid in the hiring process for the school’s next AD.

Some names to watch early on with some serious Tennessee ties: Jon Gilbert, Mark Ingram and Scott Carter.

 

Man of Steele

How he got here is a completely different story, but nonetheless, Kevin Steele is the man right now for the Volunteers. And the task at hand is a big one – keeping the roster intact as players may flurry to the transfer portal.

And can you blame them? Current players on the roster came to play for Jeremy Pruitt. The early enrollees who arrived on campus this weekend (!!) came to play for Jeremy Pruitt. Kids are emotional and play off that emotion.

I really do feel for them – especially those early enrollees and those other 2021 signees.

Steele’s job may be the most important of them all right now – even though there’s no guarantee he’ll even be in Knoxville this time next year. Tennessee did hold a team meeting last night where Plowman, Fulmer and Steele addressed the team.

I’m told it went well and was ‘encouraging,’ all things considered. Steele is a good recruiter and has head coaching experience. He’ll certainly be in the running to take over, but for now, he’s the best option to weather the storm.

 

 

Fulmer’s Farewell

It’s tough to separate coach from AD.

Phillip Fulmer is a legendary coach and is in the hearts of most Vol fans forever. That’s how it should be. No better evidence of this than the combined 69-69 record of the four head coaches who followed his tenure.

But Phillip Fulmer the AD is a mixed bag.

Sure, it made sense in the beginning. He came in and weathered the storm. He pulled that embarrassing 2017 coaching search out of ditch and made his hire in a reasonable amount of time. ‘Coach’ was a guy Vol fans could trust.

Since, he played a role in keeping Hall of Famer Rick Barnes from bolting to UCLA (though, major props to Randy Boyd for that one) and hired a new women’s basketball and volleyball coach. He also led the athletics department through a time of complete uncertainty during this pandemic.

While doing this, he took a 15 percent pay cut.

But Fulmer hired Pruitt – a move we can now say for sure was a complete disaster both on and off the field. He handed Pruitt a big time raise following a season where he lost to Georgia State and BYU. And he, along with Plowman & Boyd, mismanaged this entire investigation to the point where fans, players, prospects and employees had no clue what the future held on a given day.

I like Fulmer. And I think he has done far more good than bad for this university. But he never wanted to be a long time AD and I think it’s best for he the university to move on altogether from a professional partnership.

Sidebar: The over-the-top Fulmer praise yesterday was a bit much from Plowman and Boyd. It’s my belief, and the belief of many who cover the program on a daily basis, that Fulmer was never going to make the next football hire regardless. Let’s read between the lines here.

Sidebar X2: Fulmer’s response to a question when asked to summarize the Jeremy Pruitt era – just awful. Tone Deaf. And awkward.

“We found the program in quite a mess at the time. I think we definitely have upgraded the program in general – the relationships on campus, the relationships period. Certainly the recruiting…has certainly been…has been good. There’s some really outstanding young men in the program – not that there wasn’t before. There’s just a lot of good things that have, that have happened. This is very unfortunate. We are going to have to work really hard to keep it from setting us back.” 

That statement, surrounded by ‘uhs’ and ‘ands,’ took over a minute to get out. Just not a good response considering the circumstances.

 

Pruitt Fights Back

Jeremy Pruitt’s attorney Michael Lyons released this statement Monday evening. Give it a read in length.

My bet: The two sides will reach a settlement of some sort or go to court. Regardless, my belief is Pruitt will pocket something – though not the complete $12.8 million buyout he would have been owed if not fired for cause.

I genuinely like Jeremy Pruitt and think he’s a great teacher of defense. He’s a player’s coach – no doubt. Players and recruits love him. But at the end of the day, the lopsided results were far too much to ignore. I think he was in over his head at times and that’s why you saw so much turnover on his coaching staffs over the years.

 

 

To conclude….

There was a lot to process Monday night and on over to the radio Tuesday morning. This, of course, is a developing story and we will hear more and more in the coming days. One thing is for sure: Tennessee football is no better off than it was in 2008 when Fulmer was forced to step away.

I believe this job is still very appealing. You have administration (though tone deaf in the past) who will back the program. You have boosters who will back the program. And you have the most passionate fan base in the country who will show up each and every fall.

I like both Donde Plowman and Randy Boyd. They have made their fair share of mistakes throughout this process, but I believe they are good leaders. Let’s see if they get this right, and if for once, things change.

As always, never a dull moment on Rocky Top.

 

Jimmy’s blog: Pruitt retains Dallas law firm to fight UT firing for cause

Jimmy’s blog: Pruitt retains Dallas law firm to fight UT firing for cause

By Jimmy Hyams 

Jimmy Sexton, the agent for fired Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt, said Michael Lyons and the Dallas-based trial firm of Lyons & Simmons has been hired to represent Pruitt. UT fired Pruitt Monday for cause without intent to pay his $12.6 million buyout.

A statement from the firm said, in part, that Pruitt was “extremely disappointed with the decision, the public announcement of which was made prior to any substantive opportunity to respond before the appropriate decision makes. We believe the decision to be the culmination of an orchestrated effort to renege on contractual promises made to Coach Pruitt upon his hiring in 2017 and reiterated less than five months ago.

“While the limited portions of the University’s self-initiated investigation shared with Coach Pruitt provide some evidence of violations committed by off-field staff, Chancellor Donde Plowman personally confirmed during an in-person meeting with Coach Pruitt this morning that: (1) the University’s investigation had yet to have been completed; (2) the Chancellor had not yet read coach Pruitt’s NCAA interview transcript; and (3) there was no evidence that Coach Pruitt was either actively involved in any alleged violations or knew they were occurring.

“She further confirmed to Coach Pruitt that no employment decision had been made. Less than three hours later, however, Coach Pruitt was e-mailed a five page, single spaced letter of termination – the contents of which were immediately leaked to the public.’’

The law firm contends the “timing of the University’s actions and decision appear to be preordained and more about financial convenience and expediency than a fair and complete factual determination by the University. Moreover, it seems clear the recent leaks to the press are indicative of an interest to steer the narrative in a way that is desirable to the University to justify a decision likely made weeks ago.

“Coach Pruitt and I look forward to defending any allegation that he has engaged in any NCAA wrongdoing, as well as examining the University’s intent to disparage and destroy Coach Pruitt’s reputation in an effort to avoid paying his contractual liquidation damages.

“Despite the apparent outcome-oriented nature of the investigation and the absence of any reliable evidence suggesting any preventable failure by Coach Pruitt in the oversight of his program, Coach Pruitt and his family are thankful for and will always cherish their time with the University. In addition to having made lifelong friends in Knoxville, Coach Pruitt is most thankful for and appreciative of the outstanding young men he was able to coach and mentor. He wishes those student-athletes and the remarkable fans that support them nothing but success.’’


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REPORT: Pruitt fired, Fulmer stepping down

REPORT: Pruitt fired, Fulmer stepping down

By: Eric Cain / @_Cainer 

Tennessee has parted ways with head football coach Jeremy Pruitt after three seasons.

The news was first reported by Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports. Blake Toppmeyer of the Knoxville News Sentinel followed with a report of UT firing Pruitt “with cause” – meaning the university would not have to pay his reported $12.8 million dollar buyout, if that’s the case.

USA Today and Volquest are also reporting former head coach and current Vols athletic director Phillip Fulmer is retiring – though not in connection with the ongoing internal investigation into the Tennessee football program for alleged impermissible benefits.

Tennessee has yet to announce an official firing.

Jeremy Pruitt ends his Vol tenure with a combined record of 16-19 in three seasons with one bowl appearance – a victory over Indiana in the Gator Bowl, January 2020. In 2018, the Vols finished 5-7 in Pruitt’s first season, followed by an 8-5 record in year two.

2020 started off well for the Vols, 2-0 with wins over South Carolina and Missouri. At that point, Tennessee had one of the longest winning streaks in the country at eight games. But it all went downhill from there as Tennessee lost seven of its final eight games to finish the COVID-shortened campaign with a 3-7 record.

Jeremy Pruitt / Credit: UT Athletics

In three seasons at the helm, Pruitt lost 16 games by double-digits and managed only two ranked wins – both coming in the 2019 season.

Prior to the season-finale against Texas A&M at Neyland Stadium on December 19, reports surfaced that the program was under internal investigation for impermissible recruiting violations. It was later known that the university hired an outside law firm – consisting of Michael Glazier – to investigate the program.

Amidst a series of questions and uncertainty, Pruitt continued to work over the Holidays – hiring former Auburn defensive coordinator and former Vol Kevin Steele to his defensive staff. Steele is now believed to be the interim head coach.

Pruitt was able to hold on to two starters – Austin Pope and Shawn Shamburger – who initially entered the transfer portal after the season. He brought in veteran Auburn edge rusher Big Cat Bryant from the portal – as well as former Virginia Tech starting quarterback Hendon Hooker.

And on the last days of his employment, Pruitt and some key staff members flew across country to try and keep star linebacker Henry To’o To’o from entering the portal.

Nonetheless, Pruitt was fired three days later.

The next couple of days on Rocky Top will be interesting (as if they aren’t already) as chancellor Donde Plowman and President Randy Boyd decipher a plan of action, now that AD Phillip Fulmer is reportedly returning.

Fulmer, of course, captured the 1998 national championship as Vols coach. He was later fired in 2007 after a storied tenure only to return as AD amid another chaotic coaching search in 2017 – that led to his hiring of Jeremy Pruitt and the firing of former AD John Currie.

Fulmer is reportedly staying on until his replacement is hired – but he will not be making the next football hire.

Early enrollees for the Class of 2021 have been arriving on campus all weekend. Classes are set to start on Wednesday. Tennessee has no athletics director nor a head football coach and still needs to fill four spots in the class with National Signing Day less than a month away.

Buckle up. It’s here again.

Jeremy Pruitt fired at UT, Fulmer to retire when AD replacement found.

Jeremy Pruitt fired at UT, Fulmer to retire when AD replacement found.

By Jimmy Hyams

Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt has been fired following the completion of a UT internal investigation into alleged recruiting violations and extra benefits. He was interviewed Thursday for 6-8 hours. He was 16-19 in 3 years at Tennessee.

Tennessee owes Pruitt about $12.6 million on his contract. It is unclear if UT and Pruitt have reached a negotiated settlement on the money he is owed. UT hired a law firm, led by Michael Glazier, on Nov. 19 to help with the internal investigation.

Also, Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer has agreed to retire pending the hiring of his replacement.

Tennessee officials have not discussed details of the probe, other than to acknowledge it is on-going.

While reports surfaced that Pruitt would be unable to hire an assistants or extend of current contracts of assistants, Pruitt and UT did hire former Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele as a defensive assistant last week at $450,000 per year for two years. He is owed $5.2 million over two years by Auburn.

Steele was the only coach Pruitt was allowed to hire, sources said, so that Steele could be a bridge for the football program in case Pruitt were terminated.

Pruitt did not hire a defensive line or offensive line coach, an indication there was a “freeze’’ on hiring those positions.

Pruitt did hire an assistant and strength coach (Rhett Brooks) to replace Mike Farrell, who left in November. Brooks is an at-large employee, which might have enabled Pruitt to hire Brooks.

While Pruitt has continued to operate as UT’s head coach – he has visited current players Quavaris Crouch and Henry To’o To’o  and talked to Austin Pope on Sunday morning – he had a staff meeting Monday morning with business as usual.

News of the UT compliance investigation broke Dec. 19 – the day UT played its last game of the reason season, against Texas A&M.

With Pruitt gone, where does Tennessee turn?

Who knows?

Steele is likely to be named the interim head coach. He could eventually have the “interim’’ tag removed.

Other possible candidates are Billy Napier at Louisiana-Lafayette, Jamey Chadwell at Coastal Carolina or Hugh Freeze at Liberty, although multiple sources have told me UT would not hire a coach who had a history of NCAA violations – which Freeze had at Ole Miss.


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NFL Divisional Round Playoffs predictions and previews of all 4 games

NFL Divisional Round Playoffs predictions and previews of all 4 games

Defensive end Myles Garrett (95) during a NFL football game between the Washington Football Team and Cleveland Browns on September 27, 2020 at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Browns won 34-20.

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

Below are my NFL Divisional Round Playoffs predictions along with some great notes and stats directly from the National Football League Communications Department.

Our Sports Animal NFL programming for Divisional Round
(Sun) 10am – 12:30pm: The NFL Report with John Wilkerson and two rotating Sports Animal hosts


My Wildcard Weekend Prediction Record: 3-3 (50%)
My Season Record: 176-86 (67%)

The NFL Divisional Round Weekend schedule with my winners in bold:

Saturday, January 16
NFC:    4:35 PM (ET)
Los Angeles Rams (11-6) at Green Bay Packers (13-3)
(FOX, FOX Deportes)

AFC:    8:15 PM (ET)
Baltimore Ravens (12-5) at Buffalo Bills (14-3)
(NBC, Universo)

Sunday, January 17
AFC:    3:05 PM (ET)
Cleveland Browns (12-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (14-2)
(CBS, CBS All Access, ESPN Deportes)

NFC:    6:40 PM (ET)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-5) at New Orleans Saints (13-4)
(FOX, FOX Deportes)

Vince’s View: There’s a case to be made for all 8 teams, which makes this weekend even more enjoyable. Even if you think the home teams are clear favorites (KC/GB,) you have to reconsider for two reasons. One, you rarely see all the favorites and home teams win for chalk. Two, this season has provided zero home field advantage for teams. The records are almost identical, road and home. Weather should be a factor in Buffalo, especially, and also in Green Bay. I hear more predictions going the Ravens way. I considered that, but I think Buffalo is so well rounded and Josh Allen is playing so well, that I give the Bills the slight edge over the more up-and-down Baltimore squad, despite the dangerous Lamar Jackson. I was going Saints all week, but I’ve talked myself into needing to go with a road team and the whole “tough to beat a team three times in a season” thing. The Buccaneers defensive has to be strong. Pass protection is important as well against a stout Saints pass rush. If New Orleans was more explosive in the pass game, I’d go home team, but I think it catches up with them in this one with so much being underneath and intermediate through the air. Also, Will Lutz not being automatic as a kicker for NO like he usually is could be the difference as well in a Brady and Tampa Bay win.


ONWARD & UPWARD: EIGHT TEAMS REMAIN STANDING

AS NFL ENTERS DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS​

Playoff football is a harmonious symphony, and the volume is about to rise.

The NFL has reached the Divisional stage of the 2020 playoffs and the two conferences have distinctly different personalities.

In the AFC, the average age of the four starting quarterbacks on gameday will be 24 years and 345 days, marking a single conference’s youngest group of starting quarterbacks in the Divisional round of the playoffs in NFL history.

The NFC, meanwhile, features three of the most prolific quarterbacks in league annals. Tampa Bay’s TOM BRADY (six Super Bowl wins), New Orleans’ DREW BREES (one) and Green Bay’s AARON RODGERS (one) have combined for eight Super Bowl victories, more than any group of starting quarterbacks ever in a single conference’s Divisional round.

Kicking off the weekend on Saturday (4:35 PM ET, FOX/FOX Deportes), the LOS ANGELES RAMS and the NFL’s No. 1-ranked scoring defense (18.5 points allowed per game) travel to meet the league leader in scoring offense (31.8 points scored per game), Rodgers and the GREEN BAY PACKERS.

Then, two of the league’s most electrifying young players square off in Western New York on Saturday (8:15 PM ET, NBC/Universo), when LAMAR JACKSON and the BALTIMORE RAVENS travel to clash with JOSH ALLEN and the BUFFALO BILLS.

BAKER MAYFIELD, like Jackson and Allen a member of the NFL Draft Class of 2018, leads the CLEVELAND BROWNS into Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday (3:05 PM ET, CBS/CBS All Access/ESPN Deportes) to square off against PATRICK MAHOMES and the defending Super Bowl champion KANSAS CITY CHIEFS.

And in the crescendo, the two ageless quarterbacks with the most touchdown passes in NFL history – Brady (581) and Brees (571) – face off when the TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS travel to face the NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (6:40 PM ET, FOX/FOX Deportes).

A look at the four games in the Divisional round of the 2020 NFL playoffs:

LOS ANGELS RAMS (11-6) at GREEN BAY PACKERS (13-3)

Saturday, FOX/FOX Deportes, 4:35 PM ET      

  • Green Bay is playing a postseason game in a 34th season, surpassing the DALLAS COWBOYS (33 postseasons) for the most in NFL history. With a victory, the Packers would tie the PITTSBURGH STEELERS (36 postseason wins) for the second-most postseason wins in league annals, trailing only the NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (37).
  • Under head coach MATT LAFLEUR, who took the team’s reins in 2019, the Packers have won 13-or-more games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1996-97, when they advanced to Super Bowls XXXI and XXXII.
  • LaFleur, who worked with Rams head coach SEAN MCVAY in both Washington and Los Angeles, has 26 regular-season wins, surpassing STEVE MARIUCCI (25, 1997-98) for the second-most by an individual in his first two seasons as an NFL head coach in league history. Only GEORGE SEIFERT (28, 1989-90) has more.
  • Green Bay led the NFL with 31.8 points per game, the second-highest total in franchise history (35.0 points per game in 2011), and paced the league by scoring touchdowns on 80 percent (48 of 60) of its red-zone possessions.
  • The Rams allowed the fewest points per game (18.5), fewest yards per game (281.9), fewest passing yards per game (190.7), and ranked second in sacks (53) in the NFL this season.
  • In the Rams’ 30-20 Wild Card win at Seattle, running back CAM AKERS registered 176 scrimmage yards (131 rushing, 45 receiving), third among rookies in postseason history. Only Washington’s TIMMY SMITH (213 in Super Bowl XXII on Jan. 31, 1988) and the Houston Oilers’ BILLY CANNON (178 on Jan. 1, 1961) had more. Akers’ 131 rushing yards were eighth-most among rookies in NFL postseason history.
  • Rams defensive lineman AARON DONALD, who had two sacks in his team’s Wild Card win, tied for second in the league with 13.5 sacks in 2020 and became the fourth player since 1982 with at least eight sacks in each of his first seven seasons, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers DERRICK THOMAS and REGGIE WHITE, as well as DEMARCUS WARE.
  • Donald has 85.5 sacks in his first seven seasons and surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer DERRICK THOMAS (85) for the most sacks by a player in his first seven seasons since 1982, when the individual sack became an official statistic.
  • Green Bay quarterback AARON RODGERS led the NFL with a career-high 48 touchdown passes this season, tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (48 touchdown passes in 1984) for the fifth-most touchdown passes in a single season in NFL history.
  • Rodgers led the NFL with a 121.5 passer rating, the second-highest single-season mark by a quarterback in NFL history, trailing only his 122.5 rating in 2011.
  • Rodgers enters Saturday’s game having thrown a touchdown pass in 14 consecutive postseason games.
  • Packers wide receiver DAVANTE ADAMS led the NFL with 18 touchdown receptions, tied for the third-most touchdowns by a wide receiver in a single-season in NFL history. Only Pro Football Hall of Famers RANDY MOSS (23 touchdowns in 2007) and JERRY RICE (23 touchdowns in 1987) had more.

BALTIMORE RAVENS (12-5) at BUFFALO BILLS (14-3)

Saturday, NBC/Universo, 8:15 PM ET

  • In Baltimore’s 20-13 Wild Card win at Tennessee, Ravens head coach JOHN HARBAUGH registered his eighth career postseason victory in road games, surpassing TOM COUGHLIN (seven postseason road wins) and Pro Football Hall of Famer TOM LANDRY (seven) for the most in NFL history.
  • The Ravens are 16-10 (.615) all-time in the postseason, the second-best winning percentage in NFL history behind New England (37-21, .638).
  • Baltimore quarterback LAMAR JACKSON rushed for 136 yards, including a 48-yard touchdown, in the Ravens’ Wild Card win. At 24 years and three days old, he became the third-youngest quarterback in NFL history to win both an NFL MVP and a postseason game. Only Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (23 years, 106 days) and PATRICK MAHOMES (23 years, 117 days) accomplished it at a younger age.
  • Including 236 rushing yards in its Wild Card victory, Baltimore has totaled 889 rushing yards (296.3 per game) over its last three games. Led by Jackson, who became the first quarterback in NFL history with multiple 1,000-yard rushing seasons, Baltimore led the NFL this season with 3,071 rushing yards and 191.9 rushing yards per game. The Ravens are the first team in league history to rush for at least 3,000 yards in consecutive seasons.
  • Ravens rookie running back J.K. DOBBINS has rushed for a touchdown in seven consecutive games, including the Wild Card win, tied for the second-longest such streak by a rookie in NFL history, including playoffs. Only MAURICE JONES-DREW (eight games in 2006) has a longer streak.
  • Buffalo quarterback JOSH ALLEN, who led the Bills to their first playoff victory since the 1995 season, completed 26 of 35 attempts (74.3 percent) for 324 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 121.6 rating, and rushed for 54 yards and a touchdown on Super Wild Card Weekend. Allen became the first player in NFL history to pass for at least 300 yards with a completion percentage of 70 or higher and rush for 50-or-more yards in a postseason game.
  • Also in the Bills’ Wild Card win, wide receiver STEFON DIGGS caught six passes for 128 yards and a touchdown. Diggs, who had six receptions for 137 yards and a touchdown with Minnesota in a 2017 Divisional playoff win, joined Pro Football Hall of Famer JERRY RICE as the only players to register at least 125 receiving yards and one-or-more touchdowns in a postseason game with multiple teams in NFL history.

CLEVELAND BROWNS (12-5) at KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (14-2)

Sunday, CBS/CBS All Access/ESPN Deportes, 3:05 PM ET

  • In the playoffs for the first time since 2002, Cleveland won its Wild Card game at Pittsburgh, 48-37, scoring its second-most points in a playoff game, behind a 56-10 victory over Detroit in the 1954 NFL Championship.
  • Cleveland became the second team in history to score at least 28 points in the first quarter of a postseason game, joining the 1969 OAKLAND RAIDERS, who also scored 28 in a victory over the Houston Oilers.
  • Kansas City won its fifth straight AFC West title and advanced to the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season, the NFL’s longest active streak of postseason berths.
  • The Chiefs with a win would become the first team since the 2002-04 PHILADELPHIA EAGLES, whose head coach was ANDY REID, to host three consecutive conference championship games.
  • Browns quarterback BAKER MAYFIELD completed 21 of 34 attempts for 263 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions for a 115.2 rating in the Browns’ Wild Card victory at Pittsburgh. The No. 1 overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft, Mayfield joined MICHAEL VICK as the only quarterbacks drafted first overall to win a road game in their first career postseason starts in NFL history.
  • Browns running back KAREEM HUNT had two rushing touchdowns in the Wild Card win, the first time a Cleveland player rushed for at least two touchdowns in a postseason game since EARNEST BYNER had two on Jan. 4, 1986 at Miami.
  • Cleveland running back NICK CHUBB totaled 145 scrimmage yards (76 rushing, 69 receiving) and scored on a 40-yard touchdown reception in the Wild Card win.
  • Kanas City quarterback PATRICK MAHOMES ranks as the NFL’s career leader among qualified players in both regular-season passer rating (108.7) and postseason passer rating (106.6), with a minimum of 100 attempts.
  • Chiefs wide receiver TYREEK HILL ranked second in the NFL with 15 receiving touchdowns. He also has 14 career games with at least two total touchdowns, tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer LANCE ALWORTH (14) for the second-most such games by a wide receiver in his first five seasons in NFL history. Only Pro Football Hall of Famer JERRY RICE (18 games) has more.
  • Chiefs tight end TRAVIS KELCE finished second among all players with 1,416 receiving yards this season, the most single-season receiving yards by a tight end in NFL history. Kelce, who had 103 receptions in 2018, had 105 receptions this season to become the first tight end in NFL history with at least 100 receptions in multiple seasons.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (12-5) at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (13-4)

Sunday, FOX/FOX Deportes, 6:40 PM ET

  • In New Orleans’ 21-9 Wild Card victory over Chicago, the Saints allowed nine points and 239 total yards, both the lowest postseason totals in franchise history.
  • The Buccaneers last week secured the franchise’s first postseason victory since winning Super Bowl XXXVII on Jan. 26, 2003 in San Diego.
  • Tampa Bay quarterback TOM BRADY has the most postseason games played (42), wins (31), passing yards (11,769) and passing touchdowns (75) of any player in NFL history.
  • In the Buccaneers’ Wild Card victory at Washington, Brady passed for a postseason franchise record 381 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 104.3 passer rating. He joined Pro Football Hall of Famers BRETT FAVRE and JOE MONTANA as the only quarterbacks to win a postseason game with one club after winning at least 10 postseason games for another franchise in NFL history.
  • At 43 years and 159 days old, Brady became the oldest player to throw a touchdown pass in a postseason game in history, eclipsing Pro Football Hall of Famer GEORGE BLANDA (43 years, 108 days).
  • Buccaneers wide receiver MIKE EVANS had six catches for 119 yards in the Wild Card win. Evans had 1,006 receiving yards in 2020 to become the first player in NFL history with at least 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first seven seasons.
  • Saints quarterback DREW BREES completed 28 of 39 attempts (71.8 percent) for 265 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions for a 107.3 rating in New Orleans’ Wild Card victory last week.
  • With his first-quarter touchdown pass to MICHAEL THOMAS, Brees has now thrown a touchdown pass in each of his 17 career postseason games. Only Pro Football Hall of Famer BRETT FAVRE (20 games) and TOM BRADY (18 games) have had longer such streaks at any time in their postseason careers in NFL history.
  • Brees has the most passing yards per game (307.8) of any player in NFL postseason history (minimum five games). He also ranks third in career postseason completion percentage (67.2, minimum 150 attempts), fifth in postseason passer rating (100.0, minimum 150 attempts) and sixth with 36 postseason touchdown passes.
  • Thomas averages 94.3 receiving yards per game in his postseason career, fourth in NFL history (minimum five games). He also averages 7.2 receptions per game during the postseason, second in NFL history (minimum five games) behind JULIO JONES (7.6).
  • Saints running back ALVIN KAMARA had 116 scrimmage yards (99 rushing, 17 receiving) and ran for a touchdown in his team’s Wild Card win.
  • Kamara led the NFL with 21 scrimmage touchdowns (16 rushing, five receiving), the most in a single season in franchise history, including six rushing touchdowns in Week 16, tying the NFL’s single-game record.
  • Kamara became the first player with at least 500 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in each of his first four seasons in NFL history. His 2,824 career receiving yards are the most ever by a running back in his first four seasons.

SURVIVE AND ADVANCE: The CLEVELAND BROWNS (12-5) and LOS ANGELES RAMS (11-6) both earned victories on Super Wild Card Weekend as the No. 6 seeds in their respective conferences. In 2019, both the MINNESOTA VIKINGS and TENNESSEE TITANS won on Wild Card Weekend as the No. 6 seeds while both the INDIANAPOLIS COLTS and PHILADELPHIA EAGLES advanced to the Divisional round of the playoffs as No. 6 seeds in in 2018.

This marks the first time in which two No. 6 seeds advanced past Wild Card Weekend in three consecutive seasons since 1990, when the NFL expanded the playoffs to six teams per conference.

The No. 6 seeds to reach the conference Championship since 1990:

SEASON TEAM CONFERENCE ADVANCED TO
2019 Tennessee AFC Conference Championship
2010 Green Bay NFC Won Super Bowl XLV
2010 New York Jets AFC Conference Championship
2008 Baltimore AFC Conference Championship
2008 Philadelphia NFC Conference Championship
2005 Pittsburgh AFC Won Super Bowl XL
2020 Cleveland AFC ??
2020 Los Angeles Rams NFC ??


In both conferences, the No. 5 [BALTIMORE RAVENS (12-5) and TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (12-5)] and No. 6 seeds (Cleveland and Los Angeles Rams) are all still alive in the postseason. With victories by Baltimore and Cleveland in the AFC or Tampa Bay and Los Angeles in the NFC, it would mark the first conference Championship game featuring a No. 5 and No. 6 seed since 1990.

— DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS —

YOUTH MOVEMENT: All four starting quarterbacks remaining in the AFC playoffs are under the age of 26. This is the first time ever that all four starting quarterbacks in one conference in the Divisional playoffs are under the age of 26.​

PLAYER TEAM AGE*
Josh Allen Buffalo 24 years, 240 days
Lamar Jackson Baltimore 24 years, 9 days
Patrick Mahomes Kansas City 25 years, 122 days
Baker Mayfield Cleveland 25 years, 278 days
*all ages as of day of team’s Divisional playoff game

Three quarterbacks selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft – Cleveland’s BAKER MAYFIELD (No. 1 overall), Buffalo’s JOSH ALLEN (No. 7) and Baltimore’s LAMAR JACKSON (No. 32) – are projected to start in the AFC Divisional round. This will mark the second time in the common-draft era that three first-round quarterbacks from the same NFL Draft will start in the Divisional playoffs in the same postseason. The only other time this occurred was in the 2008 postseason, when three quarterbacks selected in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft – ELI MANNINGPHILIP RIVERS and BEN ROETHLISBERGER – each started in the 2008 Divisional playoffs.

Saturday night’s game featuring Jackson (24 years, nine days old on Saturday) and Allen (24 years, 240 days old on Saturday) marks the fourth matchup in the Divisional round between two quarterbacks under the age of 25 in the Super Bowl era.​

Divisional round matchups between starting quarterbacks under the age of 25 in the Super Bowl era:

SEASON HOME TEAM QUARTERBACK VISITOR QUARTERBACK RESULT
1985 Miami Dan MarinoHOF Cleveland Bernie Kosar MIA 24, CLE 21
2000 Minnesota Daunte Culpepper New Orleans Aaron Brooks MIN 34, NO 16
2019 Kansas City Patrick Mahomes Houston Deshaun Watson KC 51, HOU 31
2020 Buffalo Josh Allen Baltimore Lamar Jackson ??

Mayfield and Los Angeles Rams quarterback JARED GOFF, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft, are each expected to make the second road postseason starts of their careers this weekend. Mayfield earned a victory in his first postseason start on the road last weekend while Goff won his first road playoff start at New Orleans in the 2018 NFC Championship game. JIM PLUNKETT, the No. 1 overall selection in the 1971 NFL Draft, is the only quarterback who was selected first overall to win each of his first two road postseason starts.

— DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS —

LEGENDS OF THE WINTER: When Tampa Bay quarterback TOM BRADY (43 years, 167 days old on Sunday) and New Orleans quarterback DREW BREES (42 years, two days old on Sunday), the two most prolific passers in NFL history, meet in the NFC Divisional playoffs, it will mark the first postseason game in NFL history to feature two opposing starting quarterbacks age 40 or older and their combined age (85 years and 169 days old on Sunday) is the oldest combined age of opposing starting quarterbacks in a single game (regular-season or postseason) in league annals.​

The players with the most passing yards and touchdown passes, including the postseason, in NFL history:

PLAYER PASSING YARDS RANK TD PASSES RANK
Tom Brady 90,973 1st 656 1st
Drew Brees 85,590 2nd 607 2nd
Peyton Manning 79,279 3rd 579 3rd

Brees, who has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 17 consecutive postseason games, needs a touchdown pass on Sunday against Tampa Bay (6:40 PM ET, FOX/FOX Deportes) to tie Brady (18 consecutive playoff games) for the second-longest such streak in postseason history. Green Bay quarterback AARON RODGERS has thrown a touchdown pass in 14 consecutive playoff games, tied for the fourth-longest such streak in postseason history.

The players with the most consecutive postseason games with a touchdown pass in NFL history:​

PLAYER TEAM(S) GAMES (DATES)
Brett FavreHOF Green Bay, Minnesota 20 (Dec. 31, 1995 – Jan. 24, 2010)
Tom Brady New England 18 (Feb. 3, 2002 – Jan. 14, 2012)
Drew Brees San Diego Chargers, New Orleans 17* (Jan. 8, 2005 – Jan. 10, 2021)
Tom Brady New England 14 (Jan. 19, 2014 – Jan. 20, 2019)
Aaron Rodgers Green Bay 14* (Feb. 6, 2011 – Jan. 19, 2020)
*active streak

Rodgers led the NFL with 48 touchdown passes and had a 121.5 passer rating in 2020, the second-highest single-season mark among qualified passers in NFL history. In 18 career postseason starts, Rodgers has 43 touchdowns (40 passing, three rushing) and a 100 passer rating.

With at least two touchdown passes on Saturday against the Rams (4:35 PM ET, FOX/FOX Deportes), Rodgers would tie JOE FLACCO (eight consecutive games) for the most consecutive playoff games with at least two touchdown passes in NFL history.​

The players with the most consecutive postseason games with at least two touchdown passes in NFL history:

PLAYER TEAM GAMES (DATES)
Joe Flacco Baltimore 8 (Jan. 15, 2012 – Jan. 10, 2015)
Terry BradshawHOF Pittsburgh 7 (Dec. 30, 1978 – Jan. 8, 1983)
Drew Brees New Orleans 7 (Jan. 21, 2007 – Jan. 14, 2012)
Joe MontanaHOF San Francisco 7 (Jan. 1, 1989 – Jan. 12, 1991)
Aaron Rodgers Green Bay 7* (Jan. 10, 2016 – Jan. 19, 2020)
*active streak

— DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS —

STRENGTH VS. STRENGTH: The GREEN BAY PACKERS led the NFL in scoring offense (31.8 points per game) while the LOS ANGELES RAMS allowed the fewest points per game (18.5) during the 2020 regular season. Saturday’s meeting between the two clubs (4:35 PM ET, FOX/FOX Deportes) will mark the eighth postseason game between the top scoring offense and top scoring defense since 1990.

The postseason games between the top scoring offense and top scoring defense since 1990:​

SEASON NO. 1 SCORING OFFENSE NO. 1 SCORING DEFENSE ROUND RESULT
2020 Green Bay (31.8) Los Angeles Rams (18.5) Divisional ???
2016 Atlanta (33.8) New England (15.6) Super Bowl LI NE 34, ATL 28 (OT)
2015 Carolina (31.3) Seattle (17.3) Divisional CAR 31, SEA 24
2014 Green Bay (30.4) Seattle (15.9) Championship SEA 28, GB 22 (OT)
2013 Denver (37.9) Seattle (14.4) Super Bowl XLVIII SEA 43, DEN 8
1997 Denver (29.5) Kansas City (14.5) Divisional DEN 14, KC 10
1993 San Francisco (29.6) New York Giants (12.8) Divisional SF 44, NYG 3
1990 Buffalo (26.8) New York Giants (13.2) Super Bowl XXV NYG 20, BUF 19

 

— DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS —

CHAMPS ARE HERE: The reigning Super Bowl champion KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (14-2) host the CLEVELAND BROWNS (12-5) in the AFC Divisional round on Sunday (3:05 PM ET, CBS/CBS All Access/ESPN Deportes). The Chiefs look to become the first team since the 2003-04 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS to win back-to-back Super Bowl titles.​

Dating back to the 2018 Divisional playoffs, the Chiefs have scored at least 30 points in five consecutive postseason games. With at least 30 points against Cleveland, Kansas City would tie NEW ORLEANS (six consecutive games from Jan. 16, 2010 to Jan. 14, 2012) for the most consecutive postseason games with at least 30 points in NFL history.

Kansas City quarterback PATRICK MAHOMES has led the Chiefs to the AFC Championship game in each of the past two seasons. With a win on Sunday against Cleveland, Mahomes can become the first starting quarterback under the age of 26 to make three Championship game appearances in NFL history.

Additionally, with a win, Kansas City would become the first AFC team to host three consecutive Championship games in NFL history. The 2002-04 PHILADELPHIA EAGLES hosted three consecutive NFC Championship games.​

Defensive end FRANK CLARK has registered a sack in five consecutive postseason games and can become the third player since 1982, when the individual sack became an official statistic, to record a sack in six consecutive postseason games.

The players with a sack in the most consecutive postseason games since 1982:​

PLAYER TEAM(S) GAMES (DATES)
LaMarr Woodley Pittsburgh 7 (Jan. 5, 2008 – Feb. 6, 2011)
Mark Gastineau New York Jets 6 (Jan. 9, 1983 – Jan. 3, 1987)
Frank Clark Seattle, Kansas City 5* (Jan. 14, 2017 – Feb. 2, 2020)
Willie McGinest New England 5 (Jan. 27, 2002 – Feb. 1, 2004)
Simeon Rice Tampa Bay 5 (Jan. 12, 2002 – Jan. 7, 2006)
Bruce SmithHOF Buffalo 5 (Jan. 9, 1993 – Jan. 23, 1994)
*active streak

— DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS —

ONE IF BY GROUND, TWO IF BY AIR: In the AFC Wild Card round, Baltimore quarterback LAMAR JACKSON rushed for 136 yards and one touchdown, his second consecutive postseason game with at least 125 rushing yards.

With at least 125 rushing yards on Saturday night at Buffalo (8:15 PM ET, NBC/Universo), Jackson would become the fourth player in NFL history with at least 125 rushing yards in three consecutive postseason games, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers TERRELL DAVIS (four games) and JOHN RIGGINS (three), as well as ARIAN FOSTER (three).

The players with the most consecutive postseason games with at least 125 rushing yards in NFL history:​

PLAYER TEAM GAMES (DATES)
Terrell DavisHOF Denver 4 (Jan. 11, 1998 – Jan. 17, 1999)
Arian Foster Houston 3 (Jan. 7, 2012 – Jan. 5, 2013)
John RigginsHOF Washington 3 (Jan. 15, 1983 – Jan. 30, 1983)
Lamar Jackson Baltimore 2* (Jan. 11, 2020 – Jan. 10, 2021)
*active streak

Green Bay wide receiver DAVANTE ADAMS recorded at least 100 receiving yards in both the NFC Divisional playoffs (160 receiving yards) and NFC Championship game (138) last season. Baltimore wide receiver MARQUISE BROWN had 109 receiving yards in the Ravens’ victory on Super Wild Card Weekend and had 126 receiving yards during the 2019 AFC Wild Card round last season.

On Saturday, Adams and Brown can become the seventh and eighth players in NFL history to record at least 100 receiving yards in three consecutive postseason games. Brown would also join LARRY FITZGERALD (first four games) as the only players with 100-or-more receiving yards in each of their first three career playoff games.

The players with the most consecutive postseason games with at least 100 receiving yards in NFL history:​

PLAYER TEAM GAMES (DATES)
Antonio Brown Pittsburgh 4 (Jan. 3, 2015 – Jan. 15, 2017)
Larry Fitzgerald Arizona 4 (Jan. 3, 2009 – Feb. 1, 2009)
Tom FearsHOF L.A. Rams 3 (Dec. 17, 1950 – Dec. 23, 1951)
T.Y. Hilton Indianapolis 3 (Jan. 4, 2014 – Jan. 4, 2015)
Randy MossHOF Minnesota 3 (Jan. 9, 2000 – Jan. 6, 2001)
Jerry RiceHOF San Francisco 3 (Jan. 8, 1989 – Jan. 6, 1990)
Davante Adams Green Bay 2* (Jan. 12, 2020 – Jan. 19, 2020)
Marquise Brown Baltimore 2* (Jan. 11, 2020 – Jan. 10, 2021)
*active streak

— DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS —

RUNNING ON THE TUNDRA: Green Bay running back AARON JONES recorded two touchdowns in both the NFC Divisional playoffs (two rushing) and NFC Championship game (one rushing, one receiving) last season, his first two career postseason games.

With at least two touchdowns on Saturday against the Los Angeles Rams (4:35 PM ET, FOX/FOX Deportes), Jones would become the fifth player in NFL history and first since LARRY FITZGERALD (2009-10) with at least two touchdowns in three consecutive playoff games.

The players with the most consecutive postseason games with at least two touchdowns in NFL history:​

PLAYER TEAM GAMES (DATES)
Larry Fitzgerald Arizona 3 (Jan. 18, 2009 – Jan. 10, 2010)
Emmitt SmithHOF Dallas 3 (Jan. 14, 1996 – Dec. 28, 1996)
Gerald Riggs Washington 3 (Jan. 4, 1992 – Jan. 26, 1992)
Ernest Givins Houston Oilers 3 (Dec. 31, 1989 – Dec. 29, 1991)
Aaron Jones Green Bay 2* (Jan. 12, 2020 – Jan. 19, 2020)
*active streak

Los Angeles rookie running back CAM AKERS totaled 176 scrimmage yards (131 rushing, 45 receiving) in the Rams’ Super Wild Card Weekend victory, the second-most scrimmage yards by a rookie in a postseason game in the Super Bowl era.

With at least 100 scrimmage yards on Saturday at Green Bay (4:35 PM ET, FOX/FOX Deportes), Akers can become the sixth rookie in NFL history with at least 100 scrimmage yards in consecutive postseason games.

The rookies with at least 100 scrimmage yards in consecutive postseason games in NFL history:​

PLAYER TEAM GAMES (DATES)
Jamal Lewis Baltimore 2 (Jan. 14, 2001 – Jan. 28, 2001)
Curt Warner Seattle 2 (Dec. 24, 1983 – Dec. 31, 1983)
Duane Thomas Dallas 2 (Dec. 26, 1970 – Jan. 3, 1971)
Shonn Green N.Y. Jets 2 (Jan. 9, 2010 – Jan. 17, 2010)
Sony Michel New England 2 (Jan. 13, 2019 – Jan. 20, 2019)

# # #

Cainer’s Corner: Why most Vols transferring comes as no shock

Cainer’s Corner: Why most Vols transferring comes as no shock

By: Eric Cain / @_Cainer 

It’s been rocky here lately on Rocky Top.

Tennessee is nearing the end (hopefully) of a lengthy internal investigation into the program for alleged impermissible benefits and the status of Jeremy Pruitt has never been foggier.

There was a hiring freeze and then there wasn’t one. One position coaching vacancy has been filled while another one remains. There’s two assistant coaching contracts up by the end of the month.

On top of allllll that, players are leaving for the transfer portal by the day it seems.

In relation to the portal – most haven’t been shocking. I’m not here carrying water for the program as some may believe (lol), but honestly, the numbers seem scarier than the reality and most were expected.

Let me explain. I’ll go player-by-player.

Yes, the loss of Deandre Johnson and Ty Chandler seem big. Tennessee doesn’t have much of a pass rush to begin with and now you’re taking your best one out of the mix. Not great, but he graduated and wanted to go home. And Chandler is a guy who has played a lot of football for you the past four years – but you have a better option available who won’t be taken snaps away from now.

The main concern with Chandler leaving is now finding a solid No. 2 option for Eric Gray – but the Vols have a plethora of options with Jabri Small and a host of newcomers and second-year players.

The conversation I keep coming back to with these two players and others – such as Jarrett Guarantano and Brandon Johnson – is that, we weren’t counting on these players to be factors in 2021 anyway. These players were seniors and before COVID, were expected to move on.

Sure, it’s nice to have some of these guys back, but players often know when it’s time to move on altogether or seek other opportunities following graduation. Overall, the program has already been replacing them in recruiting the past few cycles.

It’s prepared and now it’s time to see the development.

Austin Pope stung for Vol fans because he was a fan favorite and a Knoxville kid, but he wants a chance to be involved in the passing game. Never seemed like that was going to be an option for him in Jim Chaney’s offense – though he was vital in the team’s run game.

Can’t blame him.

As far as the quarterbacks – time will tell if Tennessee made a mistake with J.T. Shroutt. Some could argue he finished the 2020 campaign as the Vols best option at quarterback. Others, like me, still saw too many inconsistencies to say with any certainty he was going to be the guy in 2021.

Nonetheless, it was great to see how good he could be.

For Guarantano – it was time. Five years with the same college team is a long time. In these unordinary times, it would have been a sight to see if the former No. 2-rated dual-threat quarterback returned for a sixth year here in Knoxville.

Best of luck to JG moving forward. I hope he balls out at Washington State. But it was clear – time to move on.

Brandon Johnson was in Knoxville for an eternity it seemed. In fact, he was UT’s leading receiver back in 2017! After redshirting in 2019 to be available for a depleted receiving corps in 2020, I thought Johnson was good at times – specifically on third downs. But his production should have been greater.

There were more talented guys on the roster who needed to be in the game and that’s why you saw his playing time trimmed by season’s end.

Other guys such as Jackson Lowe, Jordan Allen and Savion Williams never played a major role on this team and are simply looking for better opportunities. Good for them. There’s depth at those positions – though unproven – they were about as valuable as those guys were for the Vols in 2020.

Baylen Buchannan played a major role on Jeremy Pruitt’s first defense back in 2018 – but has been plagued by injuries since. And Shawn Shamburger’s up-and-down Volunteer ride seems to be continuing, as he pulled his name out of the portal one day after submitting the paperwork.

Wanya Morris / Credit: Sam Forman – WNML Photos

The crushing loss to this transfer portal cycle thus far is Wanya Morris. The former five-star started 19 games in 22 appearances for the Vols as a freshman and sophomore. He was tabbed to the SEC All-Freshman team in 2019 and was named a True Freshman All-American by 247 Sports the same year.

But Morris is a guy who could have been great for Tennessee as an upperclassman. Though still raw and underdeveloped, the intangibles are there. He’s got a great base with good mobility. He’s strong in run blocking and is a seasoned veteran entering his junior season.

Morris, along with former five-star Darnell Wright, Jerome Carvin and Cade Mays – were set to be key returners for the Vols offensive line in 2021. And with a full, healthy offseason – Morris was finally going to have time to improve away from the field as he was injured last winter and spent 28 days in quarantine during fall camp.

Could he still come back? Yes, but the rumor mill is pointing towards Oklahoma at the moment. And furthermore, fans should hope other offensive linemen don’t join him in the portal – which is a possibility.

It feels like Tennessee is losing all its best players. You can somewhat make that case. There’s a lot of talent leaving the program – no doubt. But most were expected. Most were graduates and most are replaceable.

Still, there’s challenges ahead developing that depth, as Jeremy Pruitt’s track record in that regard has some serious questions following the 2020 season. We’ll see if Pruitt is given the chance to do just that.

 

2020 Vols in Transfer Portal (not in order; scholarship players)

QB Jarrett Guarantano (32 starts) – Washington State

QB J.T. Shroutt (1 start) – Colorado

RB Ty Chandler (25 starts) – North Carolina

WR Brandon Johnson (15 starts) — UCF

TE Austin Pope (14 starts)

TE Jackson Lowe (0 starts)

TE Jordan Allen (0 starts) – Weber State

OT Wanya Morris (19 starts)

DL Savion Williams (0 starts) – Florida A&M

OLB Kivon Bennett (4 starts) – dismissed

OLB Deandre Johnson (9 starts) – Miami

DB Baylen Buchanan (13 starts) – Louisiana Tech

DB Shawn Shamburger (16 starts) – pulled name out of portal to return to Tennessee

Vols adding SEC veteran Kevin Steele to coaching staff

Vols adding SEC veteran Kevin Steele to coaching staff

By: Eric Cain / @_Cainer 

Jeremy Pruitt is reportedly adding former Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele to his staff. The financials of the deal or the specific role are both unknown at the time.

Tennessee currently has a defensive line coaching position open while inside linebacker Brian Niedermeyer’s contract expires at the end of the month.

Newly-named Auburn coach Bryan Harsin brought in former Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason to run his defense last week – thus putting Steele out of work. Just over a year ago, Auburn made Steele the nation’s highest-paid assistant coach at $2.5 million annually over a three-year extension through the 2022 season.

Prior to taking the Tennessee gig, Auburn was to pay Steele $5.2 million in monthly installments through January of 2023. The amount the Vols sign the 62-year-old for will be subtracted from the total.

The move comes a week after ESPN reported the university placed a hiring freeze on the football program as it continues to navigate through a lengthy internal investigation into alleged impermissible recruiting violations.

The investigation is still ongoing.

Steele could take over a position group for the Volunteers that was oversaw by head coach Jeremy Pruitt last season for the final six games – following the firing of former defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh four games into his two-year contract agreement.

It received a big boost Monday afternoon when senior leader Matthew Butler announce his intentions on returning for the 2021 campaign. Senior Darel Middleton declared earlier this fall that he would return also, but the plans are still unclear on what fellow seniors Aubrey Solomon, LaTrell Bumphus and Ja’Quain Blakely will do with the extra year of eligibility.

Steele will also have returning lettermen Elijah Simmons, Omari Thomas, Kurrott Garland, Greg Emerson and John Mincey to work with in 2021, with the additions of Dominic Bailey and RJ Perry – who combined for one appearance in their true freshmen seasons.

Four-star KaTron Evans and three-star Isaac Washington signed with Tennessee in December as defensive linemen.

Jimmy Hyams is reporting the hire would likely to be to coach linebackers where sophomore Henry To’o To’o had little help following the loss of Daniel Bituli from last year’s squad.

Regardless, the unit was a disappointment in 2020 after surging late in the 2019 season. Tennessee’s defensive line helped aid the fifth-best rush defense (141.6 yds/game) in the SEC but failed to put pressure on the quarterback – finishing with only 20 sacks in 10 games (9th in SEC).

The Vols were picked on in the passing game all year long – surrendering 265.8 passing yards per game (11th in SEC). Failing to rush the passer did not help an injury-plagued and underperforming secondary in 2020.

Steele is a Tennessee guy – playing for the Volunteers in the late 1970s before breaking into coaching as a student-assistant in 1980. He was a graduate assistant on Then Hill the following seasons before coaching the outside linebackers in 1982.

After making stops as a defensive assistant at New Mexico State and Oklahoma State, Steele returned to Knoxville to coach the defensive backs for two seasons in 1987 and 1988. He then made two more pitstops that included a four-year stint with the Carolina Panthers, before taking over as head coach at Baylor in 1999.

Jeremy Pruitt – Vols HC / Credit: UT Athletics

As Baylor’s head man, Steele’s record was 9-36, including a 1-31 mark n Big 12 conference play.

Steele then made stops at Florida State, Alabama, Clemson and LSU before landing in Auburn as defensive coordinator in 2016.

In his first four years with the Tigers, Steele’s units ranked in the nation’s top-20 for scoring defense. He was also a finalist for the Tennessee head coaching vacancy in 2017.

Steele and Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt spent time together on Alabama’s staff.

Jimmy’s blog: UT hires Steele on defensive staff

Jimmy’s blog: UT hires Steele on defensive staff

By Jimmy Hyams

Tennessee has hired Kevin Steele to be an assistant on the defensive staff, according to sources.

Steele, a former Tennessee assistant and player, will likely coach linebackers. It is not known if he will carry a title, such as co-defensive coordinator or assistant head coach.

Steele, 62, was Auburn’s defensive coordinator for the past five years. He was not retained by new Auburn coach Bryan Harsin. Steele has two years left on his Auburn contract that pays him $2.6 million a year.

Whatever Steele is paid by Tennessee would be subtracted from the $5.2 million Auburn owes him.

It had been reported that Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt did not have the authority from UT to hire an assistant considering UT is undergoing an internal investigation from its compliance office for potential NCAA recruiting violations.

While sources said UT approved the hiring of Steele, it is not known if Pruitt has the clearance to hire an offensive line coach after Will Friend left in late December.

Also, Steele would be retained even if UT and Pruitt part ways, sources said.

Steele was one of three finalists for the Tennessee head coaching job in 2017 when Pruitt was hired. Pruitt and Steele are close friends and coached together at Alabama.

Steele has also been considered more than once for defensive coordinator at Tennessee, but one flirtation was nixed because Clemson’s defense allowed 70 points in a bowl game against West Virginia, although not all of the points allowed were the defensive’s fault.

At Auburn, Steele coordinated a defense that ranked among the SEC’s best for several years.

Before joining the Auburn staff, he was defensive coordinator at LSU for one year (2015) and had two different stints at Alabama (2007-08, 2013-14). He was defensive coordinator at Clemson (2009-11). He also had stops at Florida State, Nebraska (which won a national championship in 1994), Tennessee (1987-88), Oklahoma State and New Mexico State.

He spent four years in the NFL as linebacker coach for the Carolina Panthers.

His only head coaching job did not go well. He was 9-36 in four years at Baylor (1999-2002).

A native of Dillon, S.C., Steele played one year at Furman before transferring to Tennessee (1978-79) where he played with good friend John Chavis, also from Dillon.

Pruitt is also looking to replace assistant strength and conditioning coach Mike Farrell, who left in November.


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Vince’s View: CFP National Championship Score Prediction, Notes

Vince’s View: CFP National Championship Score Prediction, Notes

Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) runs past Tennessee defensive back Kenneth George Jr. (5) during a game between Alabama and Tennessee at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020.

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

Each week this season I’ve shared my predictions and info on SEC football games.

Below is broadcast info and analysis for the College Football Playoff National Championship game between Alabama and Ohio State.

2020 SEC Bowl Game Prediction Record: 7-1 (88%)
2020 SEC Season Prediction Record: 65-12 (84%)
2019 SEC Game Prediction Record: 103-20 (84%)


CFP NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 3 Ohio State

Monday, January 11, 2021 • 8 p.m. ET
Miami Gardens, Fla. • Hard Rock Stadium
ESPN

THE TEAMS:  Alabama (12-0, 10-0 SEC) will face Big Ten Champion Ohio State (7-0, 6-0 BIG) in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. Alabama is looking is looking to win its sixth national championship since 2009 under Nick Saban.

NATIONAL RANKINGS:  Alabama is the No. 1-ranked team in the College Football Playoff rankings, while Ohio State is ranked No. 3 by the CFP. Last season LSU became the first No. 1-ranked team in the CFP rankings to win the national championship in the College Football Playoff era.

SEC IN THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME:  This will mark the 14th time in the last 15 seasons, and 16th overall since 1998, a team from the SEC has advanced to the national championship game. Ten times since 2006 the SEC has won the college football national championship. Overall, the SEC has won 12 of the previous 22 national championship games since the 1998 season, while appearing in 15 prior to this season.

TELEVISION:  ESPN will televise the game nationally for the ninth straight year (Chris Fowler, Play-by-Play; Kirk Herbstreit, Analyst; Maria Taylor and Holly Rowe, Sidelines). ESPN has aired the game nationally since the 2011 BCS National Championship Game when Auburn defeated Oregon. ABC carried the game 1999-2006, and 2010, with Fox Sports owning broadcast rights in 2007-09.

RADIO:  ESPN Radio will broadcast the game (ESPN Radio:  Sean McDonough, Play-by-Play; Todd Blackledge, Analyst). The game is available on SiriusXM  Channel 80, with the Alabama broadcast airing on Channel 84. ESPN Radio has carried the game since 1999.

SERIES:  This is the fifth time Alabama and Ohio State have squared off and the second time in the College Football Playoff. The two teams met previously in the CFP semifinals following the 2014 season, with Ohio State winning 42-35. Alabama won the three meetings prior. The first meeting was in the Sugar Bowl following the 1977 season, and the teams next met in East Rutherford, N.J., to start the 1986 season. Alabama defeated the Buckeyes 24-17 to win the 1995 Citrus Bowl in Orlando.

SEC vs. OHIO STATE:  Ohio State is 1-9 all-time versus the SEC in the postseason, with the lone victory coming in the Sugar Bowl Semifinal duri