2020 Preview: Tennessee Volunteers

Tennessee has been in the headlines all year for their outrageously elite recruiting, as they are challenging for a top-5 2021 class. The future could be bright for Tennessee, but 2020 will not be their year just yet. I think Tennessee’s offense could be relatively strong, but defense will doom the Vols this season, as I believe that unit is one of the worst in the conference. However, the Vols were last seen engineering a ridiculous comeback in their bowl game victory over Indiana, so if that type of energy rolls over, I could definitely see the Vols having the talent to at least challenge for a top-3 finish in the SEC East. 

Top Returners: Jarrett Guarantano, Bryce Thompson

Guarantano returns under center for the Vols in 2020, and he will be absolutely critical to Tennessee’s hopes at attaining SEC relevancy. He threw for 16 touchdowns and 8 interceptions in 2020, so if he limits the mistakes and gets some help from his playmakers. I think he’s the second-best signal-caller in the division to Kyle Trask of Florida, so no doubt he’s a crucial asset in Knoxville. 

While I have major questions about the Tennessee defense, many of those questions do not revolve around Bryce Thompson, who will lead the secondary in 2020. Thompson has gained some preseason recognition in the conference, but he remains a largely underrated asset for the Tennessee defense, after notching 32 tackles and 3 interceptions last season. 

Biggest Concerns: The Pass Rush

With pass-rush extraordinaire Darrell Taylor off to the NFL, the defensive line has some solid returners, but no dynamic game-changer. I think the secondary will be largely fine, but if the Vols don’t generate a pass rush, there’s only going to be so long that their safeties and corners can clamp down on opposing receivers. 

X-Factors: Shawn Shamburger

With three sacks and an interception a season ago, Shamburger is Tennessee’s best hope at a game-changing pass-rusher in 2020. With Taylor no longer roaming the gridiron, can Shamburger handle the attention that will come as the top rusher for the Vols. Can he increase his production and provide Tennessee with a viable and disruptive threat on the line? The answer to these questions will provide some major clarity when it comes to Tennessee’s 2020 prospects. 

SEC Record Prediction: 3-5
It’s not going to be a horrible season in Knoxville, and a bowl game berth seems pretty likely. But I don’t think they’re ready to challenge Florida and Georgia yet, nor with Alabama, one of their cross-division clashes. Those look like three losses that can be marked right away, and I think they’ll be competitive but not dominant with the rest of their schedule. 

Top Returning SEC Guards: #2 – Yves Pons, Tennessee

Tennessee has an elite recruiting class joining their roster this season, but they also have a huge difference maker in an elite returning guard who can help the Vols challenge for SEC supremacy and a potential deep run in March. Yves Pons made massive strides in his junior year, after two ho-hum seasons spent largely on the Tennessee bench. Pons minutes jumped from 11 minutes a game his sophomore year to nearly 34 in his junior campaign. Now it should be mentioned that Pons’ name is currently in the NBA Draft pool, so whether he returns is still up in the air. Many think he will return to the Vols, but the versatile wing has not announced a decision yet, with still nearly a month to make his decision. 

As a junior, Pons, hailing from France, averaged 10.8 points and 5.4 rebounds, but, as he expressed in a recent interview, the Tennessee guard will make his money defensively whenever he turns pro, as he averaged 2.4 blocks per game. Not only did that mark lead the SEC with relative ease, but he was the only guard ranking in the top 50 nationally – a leaderboard dominated by forwards and centers.  This mix goes hard – check out some of Pons’ top highlights.

Offensively, Pons does much of his damage inside the arc, but his three-point shot proved a dangerous enough weapon to keep defenders honest. He poured in deep shots at a 35% clip, allowing him to thrive in two-point range, shooting a blistering 55% on such shots. Pons came out of the gate ready to go, putting up four straight double-digit scoring efforts to start the season. In five of his first six games, he blocked at least three shots. As the season wound towards the SEC portion of the schedule, Pons continued to put up some notable performances, headlined by one of his two double-doubles against Florida State, and a monster 6-block effort against Jacksonville State. In the conference opener, the international star jumped LSU for 18 points and three blocks to set the tone for SEC play. Three weeks later, the Vols drew Kansas in the Big 12/SEC challenge, and, although Tennessee fell just short of the stunner, Pons was virtually the sole reason they kept it close, as he lit up the Jayhawks for 24 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks while not turning the ball over once. His other best effort of the SEC season was a 14 point, 14 rebound, and 3 block double-double performance, leading the Vols to a thrilling one-point win over Alabama. While maintaining his scoring average, Pons became more aggressive in the paint as well, snaring 6.6 rebounds per game over Tennessee’s final 10 contests. 

If Pons chooses to return to Tennessee, the SEC will be put on notice – a dangerous Vols team with a star senior returner and elite incoming class? Nobody’s going to want to face Pons and Co. next year.

Beating Vegas: Best SEC Bets After Latest Odds Released

The Las Vegas SuperBook released their latest SEC championship odds for, and whether you’re laying down 50 cents or a few thousand dollars, wanna be betters and sports fans should keep an eye on the odds given. Vegas is far from flawless (need we remind you of Joe Burrow’s 200:1 Heisman odds), so what are the best – and worst – ways to take advantage of these most recent odds.

Best Bets

Florida – 4:1

Alabama, Florida and Georgia were the only teams given odds of better than 10:1 to win the conference, and I love the Gators 4:1 odds here. Alabama is listed at 5:4 which, given the cutthroat nature of the SEC is not nearly good enough to lay a preseason bet on, and I’m very high on the Gators dethroning Georgia in the East. In my top 10 quarterback rankings, I had Kyle Trask as the top ranked signal-caller in the conference at #10, and I’d take Dan Mullen as a top-3 SEC coach, so if I’m betting on one of the favorites, I’m going with the guys out of Gainesville.

Auburn – 12:1

My favorite SEC West odds by far. As aforementioned, Alabama’s odds are too stingy to attract any kind of bet from me, and the second-best odds were stunningly given to the Texas A&M Aggies, which I’ll delve into more later. Auburn comes in at 12:1, with a rapidly improving ground game, perennially stiff defense, and a dynamic quarterback in Bo Nix that gives them more stability under center than many of their top competitors in the SEC West. Nothing against Myles Brennan and Mac Jones, but we haven’t seen the LSU QB in meaningful game action to this point, and Mac Jones just doesn’t excite me. Alabama and LSU are also ranked among the top-10 toughest schedules, so that seems to open a door for the Tigers. My biggest worry in potentially laying a bet on the Tigers is realizing that it will likely require a road victory in the Iron Bowl, so that may be a tough call.

Tennessee – 40:1

If I’m looking for a long-shot bet, I love this 40:1 payoff on the Volunteers, who ended 2019 on a six game winning streak, featuring an impressive road victory over Kentucky and gritty bowl game comeback against Indiana. After starting the year with discouraging losses against Georgia State and BYU, the Vols finished 8-3 in their final eleven games, with their only defeats coming in top-10 contests, two of which came on the road. Tennessee has a pretty talented roster and compete in the far more watered down SEC East. They have Alabama, Florida, and Georgia on the schedule, but two of those games are at home, and their other road conference games come versus Arkansas, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt, so Tennessee is an upset or two away from breaking into the SEC championship. Not too bad for a team that finished last season red-hot and features 40:1 odds.

Worst Bets

Texas A&M – 10:1

Far and away my least favorite odds given by Vegas – the Aggies slot in with the fourth-best odds in the conference, beating out defending national champions LSU and perennial SEC West contender Auburn. Head coach Jimbo Fisher and consistently overrated Kellen Mond lead Texas A&M into battle, and there is nothing that appeals to me less ( in the world of spending money) than placing a bet on the Aggies. They have exceeded 9 wins just once since 1998, which was also the last time they finished first in their conference, back in their Big 12 days. In their 8 SEC seasons, Texas A&M has finished between 6th and 9th in the conference six times, never appearing in the SEC Championship. And they’re suddenly supposed to challenge Alabama and beat Auburn and LSU. I could maybe see Mond and Co. squeaking out one of those wins, but between road games against the Tide and Auburn, and that rivalry weekend clash with LSU, I would like to bet a lot of money that I don’t have on A&M not finishing top-2 in the West.

Mississippi State – 80:1

I’m getting picky, because I really don’t have issues with the Alabama and Georgia odds near the top, as they’re both powerhouses with solid chances at advancing. 12:1 seems about right for LSU – the defending national champions with some uncertainty at quarterback and on defense. So that brings me to the Bulldogs, who aren’t likely to crack the top 4 in the West. Missouri, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Mississippi State are the four teams with 80-1 odds, and I’m not super high on any of those, although Kentucky may tempt be with Terry Wilson coming back from injury under center. The Bulldogs are the only team in the West on that list, and it’s quite the daunting task to emerge from that division with zero or one blemishes. With no SEC championships this decade and a wall of powerhouses to mow down in order to reach the title game, placing any kind of bet on Mississippi State seems no more useful than tossing a coin in a fountain and making a wish. Fun, maybe, but you’re not getting that coin back.

Vanderbilt – 2000:1

A wise man named Kevin Malone once said, “If anyone ever gives you 10,000 to 1 odds on anything, you take that bet”. Far be it from me to critique the wisdom of the Office and their infinite sports betting knowledge of Kevin Malone, but don’t place a bet on the Commodores for the sake of the long odds. Many people like to do that – drop a few bucks here and there on the teams with the worst odds for their shot at a ridiculous payday. Don’t do that with Vanderbilt and I’ll give you two numbers to tell you why – 1935 and 2012. Those were the only two years in Vandy’s 88-year history in the SEC that the Commodores have exceeded four wins in conference play. Since moving to an 8-game conference slate in 1992, the perennial jokers of the SEC have posted zero or one conference win a stunning 14 seasons. Just do everyone a favor and save your longshot bet for another conference. It isn’t happening in Nashville.

Daily Headlines: Tennessee continues to build 2nd-ranked 2021 recruiting class

4-star DE Saivion Jones commits to LSU

One of the first steps towards becoming a powerhouse is securing the top recruits from your state, and LSU, the defending national champions, did just that and continued to impose their will on the recruiting scene, picking up a 4-star commitment from Defensive End Saivion Jones. Jones is a top-10 defensive end in the 2021 class, becoming their second premier defensive commit, after safety Khari Gee picked LSU over Clemson earlier this week. Jones was favored to pick LSU for most of his recruitment, but he was also recruited hard by Florida State, Virginia, and others. It’s still a big win for the Tigers, as Coach O is building a monster of a defense with this 2021 class.

4-star Athlete Kaemen Marley commits to Tennessee

Tennessee may have struggled on the gridiron recently, but that is not stopping the Volunteers from reeling in big-time recruits at a rapid-fire pace. It’s almost a snowball effect at this point, as Tennessee landed a commitment from four-star athlete Kaemen Marley, one of the top players out of North Carolina in the 2021 class. Marley was a high-impact player at a bevy of positions in high school, playing as a receiver, running back, wildcat quarterback, safety, and occasionally corner. He’s an absolute luxury to add to the Tennessee roster, who can really slot him in where he best fits on their team. Along with in-state offers from UNC and NC State, Marley was a known target of Georgia Tech. However, choosing from a current slate of 15 offers, Marley joins the 2nd-ranked recruiting class in Tennessee, as the Volunteers continue to build for a very promising future in Knoxville.

MLB Draft Feature: Garrett Crochet, P, Tennessee

Left-handed pitchers are always a commodity in the MLB, and Garrett Crochet will be one of the best available come the 2020 Draft, as the Tennessee junior is ranked as the 18th best prospect on MLB.com’s Top 200, and he slots in as the third best available southpaw.

Crochet was a 34th-round draft pick out of high school, but he elected to honor his commitment to the Volunteers, and that decision has paid off, with his draft stock skyrocketing over two full seasons of pitching in the very competitive SEC. Crochet has been utilized as both a starter and a reliever, coming up clutch in both situations. His freshman year, Crochet displayed ice in his veins, stranding the bases loaded against #13 Kentucky to earn his first career save.

Despite only six starts in his sophomore year, Crochet still made 18 appearances and was third on the team with five victories. He was second with 81 strikeouts. In his first appearance of the year, he faced nine batters from Appalachian State, and he struck out all nine of them in a dazzling performance that had Crochet on every scout’s radar from the start of the season. In his return from injury in the NCAA Tournament, Crochet fired 2 1/3 scoreless innings with four strikeouts to help the Vols to their first tournament win in nearly fifteen seasons.

Projection

Crochet is a power-first lefty, with his fastball touching 99 mph, but his slider, curve, and change-up combination complement his heater well. If all four pitches develop, Crochet projects as a above-average middle of the rotation starter. Even with his fastball and his slider, his top off-speed offering, and deceptive delivery, Crochet can be an elite and valuable asset out of the bullpen, so he will be a solid pick in the mid-to-late portion of the first half.

Prediction: Round 1, Pick 14, Texas Rangers

There’s a little injury risk when it comes to Crochet, but his upside is too teasing to pass up here. Touching 99 with his fastball, featuring a wipe-out slider with the potential for another consistent swing-and-miss pitch in his changeup, Crochet has the pieces to be a huge asset in Arlington, and if he continues to rebound well from his injury, he will be a great pick-up at 14th overall for the Rangers.

Recruiting News: Zach Evans ends a wild process

With sports still on hold, recruiting updates are as big of news as we get, and when a five-star running back ends a wild recruitment with a surprise announcement, the headlines don’t get much bigger on that front. So here are today’s recruiting updates:

5-Star RB Zach Evans commits to TCU
Class of 2020 running back Zach Evans, a former Georgia commit, finally made his announcement, and it was a huge surprise, as Evans is opting to stay in state and play for the TCU Horned Frogs. After his initial top-four list included Alabama, Georgia, LSU, and Texas A&M, Evans was thought to be a lock to be competing in the SEC. Evans signed a letter of intent with Georgia, but he was released from that letter in January, after deciding not to enroll early. Although the up-and-down, wild recruitment process had hardly revealed a favorite, Evans’ announcement that he had chosen TCU on Monday was shocking, as the Horned Frogs had rarely been associated with Evans. A huge announcement that may help TCU rebound from their massive draft losses, as they look to climb back into the Big 12 conversation. 

4-Star ATH Julien Simon commits to USC
USC thrives on dynamic playmakers to thrive within both their offensive and defensive systems, and by securing Simon, the Trojans bring in an extremely athletic option; they’ve recruited Simon as an inside linebacker, which makes sense given they failed to bring anyone in at the position in their Class of 2020. The Tacoma, Washington product chose Clay Helton’s squad over an in-state offer from Washington, as well as Oregon, Cal, Stanford, Texas, and Michigan. 

Tennessee lands a pair of 4-star recruits
Tennessee’s window to win is fast approaching. They’ve been irrelevant in the SEC for a long time, but the Vols are reeling in top-level recruits at a ridiculous clip. Dual-threat quarterback Kaidon Salter announced he was headed for Tennessee, turning down a bevy of other offers – Salter had visited Baylor, and as a Dallas, Texas product, the in-state program seemed like a likely destination. However, a March visit to Tennessee clearly convinced Salter.

Tennessee also improved their recruiting class on the defensive side of the ball, bringing in linebacker Aaron Willis, a top-5 linebacker on many lists. Earning his commitment over national powerhouses Alabama and Clemson is a major win for the Volunteers, who will continue to try and build towards challenging Alabama, Georgia, LSU, and Auburn for SEC supremacy.

Recruiting Updates: LSU gets a big-time quarterback, Tennessee continues to dominate

Recruiting News

There was some big recruiting news dominating the college football headlines yesterday, with a few big names making commitments, but there will be bigger news tomorrow, as the #1 All-Purpose back of the 2021 class in Will Shipley announced he will commit on Tuesday, likely deciding between Clemson and Notre Dame. How about the major commitments that came out yesterday? Here are the top ones. 

Quarterback Garrett Nussmeier – LSU
Nussmeier is a four-star quarterback, who 247Sports has occasionally floated around as the top QB in the 2021 class. Although he had initially said he wanted to wait until he had a chance to visit all the schools who offered him, he decided earlier than expected, and he’s headed to join Coach Orgeron and the defending national champions, picking them over Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, and others. 

Running Back Cody Brown – Tennessee

Tennessee continues to kill things on the recruiting front, as they landed a commitment from 4-star running back Cody Brown. He’s the #9 running back in his class, and Tennessee scored big on this one, beating out Ohio State, Georgia, and Auburn for his services. Brown is the second running back to commit to the Volunteers and the seventh recruit they’ve landed in the past week. Tennessee on the come up?

Defensive End Najee Story to Northwestern
When Northwestern was ranked #5 on ESPN’s list of top defenses in their FPI projections, there was a lot of questioning about the ranking – does ESPN know something about the Big 10 cellar-dwellers that everyone else doesn’t? Even if the ranking was generous, the Wildcats are trying to back it up, and they took a big step in that direction, landing four-star defensive end Najee Story. Northwestern beats out a bevy of Big Ten rivals for Story, including perennial powers Ohio State and Penn State. They even beat out the recent recruiting heavyweights in Tennesse, as well as Minnesota. 

Other Notable Recruits

4-star Defensive End Rodney McGraw to Penn State

4-star TE Elijah Arroyo to Miami 

4-star Defensive Tackle Victory Vaka to Texas A&M