KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee is looking to recapture its glory from the 1990s. Join us at SEC Country for the latest recruiting news and notes on the next crop of Volunteers.
It’s “Battle at Bristol” week, and the (likely) largest attended college football game ever is less than three days away. Get excited.
With Tennessee’s odd Thursday opener, this is our second mailbag this week, but normally I’ll do this every Thursday.
Let’s get to it.
Matt asks: Who do you think is the next big recruit to commit to the Vols? Also, who do you think the Vols can flip from another school?
A two-parter! First, Tennessee has 24 commits already, so spots are TIGHT right now. With 5-stars Trey Smith (the White Whale in the Class of 2017) and Lamont Wade still on the board, as well as 4-star receiver Jeremiah Holloman, the Volunteers (currently) don’t truly have any room to take a commitment from anyone else.
Could they? Sure, but the likelihood is they’ll let the fall evaluation period play out and then see what happens in late November, early December (read: recruiting turnover).
Smith, the 5-star tackle from Jackson, won’t decide until Dec. 6, while Wade, the star cornerback who recently visited UT, will announce his decision in mid-December, too. Both players are early enrollees.
A potential sneaky commit later in the fall? North Carolina defensive end Matthew Butler. Tennessee is still recruiting a number of defensive lineman (both in high school and from the JUCO ranks) and Butler, an underrated 3-star prospect, is someone the Vols continue to evaluate and show interest. Just last week, Volunteers defensive line coach Steve Stripling went to North Carolina and watched Butler play.
As for who Tennessee could possibly flip … it’s simply too early to say, Matt.
Once the leaves start changing and prospects begin seriously visiting (both officially and unofficially) schools, it will be much clearer as to which commits the Volunteers are targeting from other programs. Again, numbers are tight, so “the flip” won’t be a particularly popular buzzword for Tennessee this year.
If I had to pick one: The most obviously answer here remains 5-star receiver Tee Higgins. Now, it’s still a pipedream, but Tennessee won’t stop recruiting a gem that lives in its own backyard.
Interestingly, the Volunteers did just offer LSU offensive line commit Saahdiq Charles. The 3-star prospect from Madison-Rideland Academy (Miss.) has been a longtime Tigers pledge and isn’t a flip candidate right now, though.
William ask: How many people are they expecting at the game Saturday? Will there be a record set?
No doubt. The “Battle at Bristol” is being billed as the largest college football game ever because they’re expecting an attendance north of 150,000 people. That’s bananas.
To date, the most-attended game ever was at Michigan in 2013, when over 115,000 folks watched the Wolverines take on Notre Dame in the Big House.
Richard asks: I may have missed it, how did that visit go for the Wade kid?
Looking for a more detailed answer, checkout my story from Monday recapping Wade’s trip to Tennessee. The short version is the 5-star cornerback enjoyed his visit, reiterated his strong interest in Tennessee and confirmed plans to visit at least one more time over the next month.
Simply put, that’s huge news for the Vols. Penn State and Pittsburgh remain heavily involved, too, but Tennessee has made up a lot of ground over the last couple months.
Paul asks: Will they play Dormady at all at Bristol?
No. Not unless Josh Dobbs leaves the game with an injury. Butch Jones shutdown the idea of playing two quarterbacks on Wednesday.
Windy asks: I see other guys recruiting for their teams who does that for Tennessee?
Unlike say Georgia, LSU or Alabama, the Volunteers 2017 class doesn’t have a super large group of commits who publicly recruit for Tennessee.
That doesn’t mean it’s not happening behind the scenes, though.
Safety commit Maleik Gray, a 4-star product from LaVergne, is easily Tennessee headline recruiter. Along with LaVergne teammate and UT commit Princeton Fant, Gray has targeted the likes of Ty Chandler (now a Tennessee commit), 5-star Cam Akers, Smith, Wade and a bunch of others.
Fant recently told me, “Me and Maleik, we’re trying to get Trey Smith. I think he is leaning towards UT. I hope he actually does. I’m glad Ty Chandler made the commitment, too. Tennessee is blowing up. The program is getting bigger and bigger. We’re just trying to get some people here and put Tennessee back on the map. We’re trying to recruit the in-state guys, especially the ballers, to come play.”
Christopher asks (a long question edited for space) it seems to me that a lot of the issues that the team seems to have could be corrected in three moves: 1. playcalling 2. offensive line coach 3. a deep threat passing game. Do you agree?
Lots to sort out here, so I’ll answer in rapid fire. The three areas Christopher identified are universally considered the most concerning aspects of Team120.
1. Playcalling: It was stale against App State, but I expect Mike DeBord to open up the playbook facing Virginia Tech. You won’t see 4,000 outside zone reads against the Hokies. Throwing on first down would be nice, too. I said during Wednesday’s Facebook Live session I expect Tennessee to be aggressive Saturday.
2. The OL coach: Butch Jones has a lot of confidence in Don Mahoney. He’s not going anywhere. The offensive line was roughed up against App State, partly due to injuries up front. They need to play better though, no doubt.
3. A downfield passing game: Tennessee has to protect Dobbs first, but I agree, taking more shots downfield would open up the offense and let guys like Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara run wild underneath. Dobbs isn’t the most accuarte passer, but Bud Foster is going to challenge Tennessee’s quarterback (and its receivers) to beat Va. Tech’s cornerbacks 1-on-1 this weekend.
That’s it for this week’s mailbag.