Pitt’s 2021 Opponent Series – By Rich Hefner (Rich in SC)
I plan on writing a series of articles focusing on the offseason activities of Pitt’s P5 2021 opponents. I will touch on recruiting, transfer portal activity, list of players loss to the pros, list of players to “know” based on returning All-conference or 2021 preseason selections. Lastly, some data based on 2020 NCAA stats (I know you all are waiting breathlessly for that). Of course, I will add my opinion when I feel something needs to be pointed out.
Editor’s Note: Rich will be doing more of these and if I can remember I’ll also post them in the week before the game against the opponents…
First in Line -Tennessee.
It has been a long and contentious offseason for the Tennessee Volunteers. Jeremy Pruitt, already on the hot seat with Vol fans at the start of the 2020 season, made it past the December signing date but not January 18’th. He was fired with cause. The AD who hired him, Phillip Fulmer retired.
Tennessee has a long and proud football tradition. From Bob Neyland (the stadium is named after him), Doug Dickey, Johnny Majors & Phillip Fulmer (a BCS national championship in 1998) and others guided the Vols to winning seasons, division and SEC championships. But following Fulmer’s 2009 (5-7) season, he was fired/let go/upgraded to school ambassador (where he plotted his revenge). Things changed.
The first hire was Lane Kiffin and the Vols fans were ecstatic. After his first season (7-6, 4-4 SEC, 0-1 Bowl), Lane abruptly quit to go to Southern Cal (later fired on a runway, joined Sabin’s rehabilitation facility for fired coaches as an analyst (later offense coordinator), took the HC job at Florida Atlantic and is now the HC at Ole’ Miss. Phil lurked in the shadows. The Vol Fans vilified Kiffin.
After Kiffin left and a worldwide search for his replacement, Tennessee hired Derek Dooley from Louisiana Tech. He had a losing record at La. Tech and continued that trajectory at Tennessee (16-21, 5-19 SEC, 0-1 Bowl). He was fired with one game left in the season. (I included that loss in his overall record.) Vols fans continued their vilification of Kiffin, and Phil continued waiting in the shadows.
Dooley was replaced by Butch Jones who, as we remember, was previously the HC at Cincinnati. Jones was the best of the bunch with an overall winning record in his 5 years at the helm (34-29, 14-26 SEC, 3-0 Bowls). Jones started his time 5-7, 7-6, 9-4 & 9-4, but after a 4-6 start (0-6 SEC) he was fired with two games left in the season. (I included those 2 losses in his overall record.) It seems that Jones over promised on delivering SEC wins and titles. Not overall wins. When confronted on his SEC record he said something like “the team may not be winners on the field, but they are winners in life”. The Vols fans mocked and waved good-bye. Vols fans continued vilifying Kiffin but a slight smile adorned Phil’s face – an opportunity.
If I remember correctly or maybe incorrectly, John Currie was hired as new AD in early to mid-2017. He was the one who fired Jones and tasked with finding his replacement. Another worldwide search occurred. It went on for what seemed like months. Names were thrown out that were either rumors or denied by the coaches involved. Even Kiffin’s name was mentioned, and the Vol’s fans said all is forgiven, come back, we always loved you.
Greg Schiano (past and current Rutgers HC) was near signing when a Vol’s fan uproar over his alleged links to Psu, Sandusky and Paterno nixed that deal. Currie settled on a new name, booked a flight to Dallas, and was to meet with Mike Leach (he of the air raid offense at Texas Tech, Washington State and now Mississippi State but best known for mistreating the son of Craig James (Ex ESPN talking head and along with Eric Dickerson where the SMU pony express). The visit never occurred. Currie had a phone message from the AD to return to Knoxville. He had been fired.
While Currie was spending his time searching for a new coach, Phil was spending his time backstabbing Currie (it had worked against Majors) to the new Tennessee president who was hired after Currie was hired. It worked Phil was the new AD. He beamed.
Phil shortened his search. He asked Alabama’s Nick Sabin (Tennessee’s archrival and permanent division crossover opponent) for suggestions. Phil soon announced the hiring of Alabama’s defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.
Pruitt record in his 3 years – 16-19 (10-16 SEC, 1-0 Bowl). I am not going to get wordy. This USA article says it all.
Level I and II NCAA infractions. A two year extension announced a week or so before the start of the shortened all SEC 2020 season. Be sure to read the praise heaped on Pruitt by Phil. How was the compliance department involved? Did they talk with Phil? Afterall, Phil had a Level III infraction in a prior year as the AD. Minor (he was caught giving instructions to OL men) but was there mistrust between the AD and compliance? I have all sorts of other questions, and we think Pitt is a den of Machiavellians.
From 2010 (Kiffin) through 2020 (Pruitt) (12 seasons), Tennessee’s overall record is 73 wins and 75 losses (33-65 SEC, 36-8 OOC, 4-2 Bowls. That is an average of 6.1 wins and 6.25 losses per season. Thank God for their OOC games record (36-8 & Bowl games 4-2).
Phil was replaced by Danny White, the Central Florida (UCF) AD. He launched a worldwide search that soon targeted and hired the UCF HC-Josh Heupel. Heupel in his 3 years at UCF, was 28-7 (19-5. 1-0 AAC championship, 8-1 OOC and 2-1 bowls. Both solid hires but Heupel’s 2020 6-4 record was below expectations. As wonderful as Heupel’s offense was (#2 in Total Offense and #8 in Scoring Offense, his defense was horrendous (#123 in total Defense #92 in Scoring Defense).
Here is a comparison of the upcoming 2021 schedule.
For Tennessee, the goal this year is to make a bowl. 6 wins will suffice but 7 is better. A win over Pitt will probably get them 7.
I looked only at the 2021 year in detail. Since I knew Tennessee was on Pitt’s schedule, I doubled check my early February download. It had changed. Still good but lower. In 2021, Tennessee released from their NLI – 2 5.9 4 stars, 1 5.8 4 star & 1 5.6 3 star.
I use the 24/7 Transfer Portal (TP) site to gather my data. The Rivals site sucks (or at least it did when I started gathering TP data).
But I do use the Rivals recruiting data, so we are all on the same page. 24/7 began revising their portal and recruiting data and layouts beginning 6/1/21. They are still in the process of updating all their files & layouts. I am not happy as early data for this time period is not readily available.
Tennessee has grabbed these players from the portal.
One of the neat things that 24/7 does is re-rank players based on their actual college play. This reranking is an ongoing affair, so not everyone has been re-ranked. A player actually has to have enough actual game experience (not just special team). Here is the 24/7 ranking explanation:
QB transfers Hooker and Milton, based on their college play, played at a low 3-star level (equivalent to a Rivals 5.5 3-stars.
The star of the portal gets is Texas LB Juwan Mitchell. He led Texas in tackles with 62. A commentor made that announcement and a short burst of “woe to Pitt” broke out. But that is not the whole story.
Who are the players to know?
Athlon is the only site that has published a preseason All SEC selection listing. Usually, I list returning 2020 All SEC conference selections. I cannot because there are none.
The last of my items to review are the losses to the TP. Here is a tweet I saw that listed Tennessee as the leader in TP “scholarship” losses with 25.
Max Olson on Twitter: “Power 5 programs have lost an average of 12 scholarship players to the portal in this year’s cycle. @NicoleAuerbach and I talked to HCs about the need to increase the 25-man signing limit…and why it won’t happen soon: https://t.co/981NPa9StP https://t.co/pFO1cDRvzC” / Twitter
I actually have 26, as a walk-on was granted a scholarship in 2020. Still, 25 is max NCAA limit on recruits in a year.
I have made this key to help navigate my chart:
So many things to say:
Saw another tweet where half of the starting lineup in 2020 was in the portal.
Starting LB’s To’To (72 tackles), Crouch (58) and Johnson (26) and that is the other side of Texas transferee (62).
Oklahoma got 3 ex-Tennessee starters. North Carolina picked up their replacement for the unexpected loss of one of their two 1,000+ RB’s. Heck, Georgia Tech got a kicker off the Tennessee fire sale. GT had a tremendous punter but were horrendously bad when it came to FG’s, XP’s and kickoffs.
QB Jarrett Quarantano started 7 and played in all 10 games in a remarkedly average career. He was replaced (at times) by Harrison Bailey (Rivals 2020 5-star). Bailey will fight it out with ex-VT transfer Hendon Hooker, Michigan transfer Milton and 2021 4-star (5.8) Kaiton Salter. My money is on Hooker to a least start the season as Vols adjust to their new coach’s upbeat tempo offense.
One last thing before my finally. I used to read a site that had something called the “Fulmer Cup”. It was a satirical look at college players doing bad. It was named after you guessed it – Phillip Fulmer. His players were not known to be angels. I am almost positive that this is not the site I visited. Still an interesting site.
These two links are for recent activities at Tennessee.
Some dope smoking leading to suspensions for the 4 involved. Followed by 2 TP entries and surprise, surprise the unsuspending of the ‘21 QB mentioned above and another highly ranked 2021 4-star LB.
I rather have a roster of kitten rescuing players then have 1 payer allegedly abuse a kitten.
IMO, this matchup is not an easy win for Tennessee. It will be close, and Pitt could win. That is if the offense finally steps up. Tennessee is a train wreck. Most of the good players in the TP have already found a new home. Then there are NCAA Level I and II infractions. But those are future years worries.
(Editor’s Note: Since writing this Rich has found two corrections:
The alleged kitten abuser has had his charges dismissed
The 2021 QB recruit is no longer with Tennessee. He has been charged with another marijuana infraction(a different 2021 recruit then the two in original charge was involved).
Questions? Concerns? Something you want me to add for the ACC? Worried about The Citadel?