A Preseason Look at Tennessee

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.

Jeremy Pruitt fired as Tennessee football coach for cause after internal investigation (msn.com)

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.

Recruiting:

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).

2021 College Football Transfer Portal (247sports.com)

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:

247Sports Rating 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.

The Fulmer Cup – World’s Most Prestigious College Football Award Based on Criminal Record

These two links are for recent activities at Tennessee.

Josh Heupel updates status of suspended Tennessee Vols Football players – Rocky Top Talk

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.

Tennessee’s Aaron Beasley suspended indefinitely for allegedly abusing kitten – CBSSports.com

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
https://www.rockytopinsider.com/2021/06/24/aaron-beasley-animal-cruelty-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).
https://www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/tennessee-dismisses-former-top-50-qb-prospect-kaidon-salter-after-weekend-drug-citation/)

Questions? Concerns? Something you want me to add for the ACC? Worried about The Citadel?

45 thoughts on “A Preseason Look at Tennessee

  1. Since I wrote this article, there has been two updates on the two arrests.

    The alleged kitten abuser has had his charges dismissed
    https://www.rockytopinsider.com/2021/06/24/aaron-beasley-animal-cruelty-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).
    https://www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/tennessee-dismisses-former-top-50-qb-prospect-kaidon-salter-after-weekend-drug-citation/

    Like

  2. Well at least Pitts players rescue kittens from tall trees as part of their community service. No Player to worry about being listed on the Fulmer report

    I expect Pitt to win but Knoxville can be a intimidating place. Orange can be a sexy color. It always makes me hungry though.

    Like

    1. No football player in the Fulmer Cup. Hugely should make the list (3 points vehicle thief). The old Fulmer Cup site included any arrest/citation for any sport (including cheerleading).

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent article, Richard.

    UTENN’s saga shows how tough it can be to succeed in college football – even for those willing to do whatever it takes…

    Hoping ike is feeling a little bit better each day…

    Go ike.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Tennessee has everything going for it. No excuses. It comes down to hiring the right people and having the culture they need to succeed. That’s why fit is important.

    Tennessee has the money, good conference, good recruiting footprint. Good fanbase. That’s all you need for any easy 7 wins. Quality coaches put you over the top. And that elusive QB.

    They like Texas have been huge underperformers. At least these schools aren’t afraid of change. Pitt is too hung up on stability.

    Like

  5. Just get your damn covid shot

    Like

  6. UT is pretty much in disarray, Pitt is catching them at the right time.

    The Vols have lost to Pitt twice in Knoxville and I like the Panthers chances to win their third in a row.

    Fulmer is an egocentric individual who stabbed Majors and many others in the back when he was at UT. Affectionately in SEC country Fulmer is still hated with a passion and I could go on rambling about UT but their actions over the years have spoken regarding their character and a win at all costs mentality.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with your take on UT, Pitt chances to win and Fulmer.

      I still have some SEC affinity from my late wife. It’s fading but still can’t pull the trigger on a Pitt win.

      Tennessee can be an unpleasant experience for visiting fans. Especially if your team wins. I found that out when my wife warned against going to away games at Clemson, Georgia and Tennessee. But she had no problems with going to Kentucky, Vandy, Ole’ Miss, Miss State, and yes even Alabama.

      Like

  7. What would a cheerleader have to do to make that list. Certain Pitt coaches had a fondness for cheerleader coaches. 🤠

    Like

    1. I’ve finally met a commenter with more vinegar than me. Took ten years. But thank you James!

      Like

    1. The traditions I remember besides losing are getting drunk before the game, walking up cardiac Hill, getting more drunk once inside, seeing at least three fights break out in the stadium, using the porcelain troughs, waiting 30 minutes in line for a watered down limp hot dog, rolling down cardiac hill into peters Pub, meeting a nice girl later that evening, waking up the next day with a smile on my face.

      Like

    2. When “ Sweet Caroline “ is your #1 listed tradition#%+@#…. Really fires upthis ole PITT grad…..

      Like

  8. Rich–Already have my plans for going to the Vols game. Hope you’re wife is wrong about visiting fans going there. My experience at Clemson is quite the opposite. The Clemson fans were terrific hosts, even when they felt the loss to Pitt ruined their season.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ m back raring to go and it looks like Tex hasn’t gone to bed yet.

    Thanks to everyone helping me through the tough times. No more medical updates but know your thoughts, prayers and kindness were all heard and helped. See you all soon. 🙂

    Liked by 11 people

  10. Tennessee will be favored by 3 over Pitt and will crush the Panthers by 21. Looking forward to making some $$ with my short term investment broker!

    Like

  11. Welcome back Ike. Robots rock!

    Richard – very well done and entertaining. I can’t justify going to the Tennessee game right now – only planning to attend home games in 2021. Everyone is focusing on how down the Vols program is right now – conservative Duzz and the Whipple O are set up to disappoint. I’d rather golf that day.

    Besides Tennessee does have two QB’s who beat Narduzzi’s Pitt team in 2019 – Milton with UCF and Hooker with VT. In 2020, Narduzzi’s Pitt team beat Tennessee HC Huepel will he lead UCF and QB Hooker with VT.

    Like

    1. Thanks Rick.

      The 2018 UCF QB McKenzie Milton is now at Florida State. The Joe Milton now at Tennessee is from Michigan.

      Like

      1. Oh, thanks for the correction. That makes Duzz 2-1 and not 2-2 against Tennessee personnel.

        Interesting stats on – Joe Milton – he lost to penn state – he is a 6’5” 243 lb athletic QB.

        Like

  12. In another update – Tennessee has lost another 3 players in the last 4 days to the TP. That makes 28 recruited scholarship players.

    Like

  13. Bill Battle… remember that name??? In 1970 Tennessee’s Battle was 29 years old and the youngest HC in college FB. He led the Vols to a 59-22-2 record over his 7 year tenure and was canned to make room for Johnny Majors.

    Like

  14. Tennessee currently ranked 42nd with 6 verbal recruits committed so far for the 2022 class.

    Pitt is currently ranked 66th with also 6 verbals.

    Cuse currently ranked 74th with 4 verbals.

    Like

    1. Pitt gets a no star commitment last night from Texas.

      That’s 7 verbal commitments and a ranking of 66th.

      NOTE: there are 65 P5 schools.

      Like

      1. Possibly three more verbals coming today. No offensive linemen though and the list is thinning out. Could see some speed committing, which isn’t a bad thing.

        Like

      2. He plays at Denton. Good school playing at the highest level. I’m surprised he didn’t have better offers.

        Like

  15. Great article.
    Great to see Ike is back.

    If we can’t beat a depleted Vols team ( think Stanford), then it’s going to be a long season.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Excellent work as always Richard…
    Even better to have Uncle Iek back!

    I also had a good experience with Clemson fans…even after we won the game.
    Although when Scooter and I went back to the bar we drank at pre game it was like a ghost town.
    We tortured the poor bartender though…😎

    Liked by 5 people

Comments are closed.