College football is under way, and although not here yet in the SEC, Tennessee Vols fans are ready to think about the Vols’ Sept. 26 season opener at South Carolina.
Let’s get to this week’s mailbag. Questions were submitted via email or my subscriber-only text group and have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Accounting for returning starters and depth on each roster, how will our Vols fare against South Carolina? Our defense should be a stiff first test for their new offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, I think. – Terry A.
I give the Vols a decided advantage.
I think the Gamecocks will be offensively-challenged. I’m not sold on quarterback Ryan Hilinski and would rather have Jarrett Guarantano. The loss of wide receiver Bryan Edwards will sting. Edwards was one of the more underrated SEC players last season.
The Gamecocks must replace their two running backs, Tavien Feaster and Rico Dowdle. Making matters worse, highly touted freshman MarShawn Lloyd was lost to a preseason ACL tear.
Tennessee’s offense, led by a stout offensive line, a veteran quarterback and running backs Ty Chandler and Eric Gray, is more stable.
Comparing defenses, it’s more even. The Gamecocks lost a pair of quality players in Javon Kinlaw and D.J. Wonnum, but Aaron Sterling is one of the SEC’s top returning defensive linemen, and Jordan Burch joins him as a blue-chip signee. Israel Mukuamu and Jaycee Horn form a solid cornerback duo, and Ernest Jones is a good linebacker.
I’d pick the Vols by 10 points, I think, especially considering the atmosphere at Williams-Brice Stadium will be neutered by a 25% capacity limit.
With Jalin Hyatt named to the 247Sports preseason Freshman All-America team, do you think he might crack the starting lineup at some point this season? – Joe W.
Yes, perhaps as soon as the season opener.
Josh Palmer, Ramel Keyton and Hyatt project as a trio of potential starters at wide receiver. Veterans Brandon Johnson and Velus Jones Jr. also are top options, and freshmen Jimmy Calloway and Malachi Wideman should find some playing time, too, but they are less likely to start than Hyatt.
Deangelo Gibbs’ decision to opt out of the 2020 season further increases the chances of Hyatt, a four-star signee, getting an opportunity to start.
With the changes to Tennessee’s schedule, what is a reasonable expectation for number of wins? – sdo
Tennessee finishing 6-4 is a reasonable expectation, given a stout schedule that includes five teams ranked in the top 13 of the preseason Amway Coaches Poll.
I wouldn’t begrudge fans for expecting at least seven wins, including at least one against a member of the Georgia/Alabama/Florida rivalry trio. But I predict a 6-4 record.
Any thoughts on redshirting freshman quarterback Harrison Bailey? – Jim E.
Tennessee has no reason to redshirt Bailey, its highest-rated quarterback signee since Guarantano in 2016.
The NCAA has deemed that anyone playing in the 2020 season will preserve his eligibility for 2020. For Bailey, that means regardless of whether he plays in zero games or 10 games, he’ll stay a freshman for 2021. So, the Vols might as well play him if he can help them.
Guarantano will be the starter, barring something unforeseen. Behind him, Tennessee must pick the backup who best positions the Vols for success. Don’t let class status or recruiting ranking factor into that decision.
Guarantano is prone to inconsistent performance, so backup quarterback is no small job on this team. Tennessee must have confidence in its No. 2 quarterback for if/when Guarantano struggles.
Plus, if Bailey is the heir apparent at quarterback in 2021, Tennessee would be wise to get him some meaningful playing time this season.
Some conferences are playing in the fall, and some possibly in the spring. Will there be two separate bowl game selections, or just a single bowl slate for the conferences playing in the fall? – Bob C.
That status of most bowl games, including whether they will happen. is undecided.
For now, expect the College Football Playoff and New Year’s Six bowls to be played as scheduled in January. If that happens, the Big Ten, Pac-12 and others not playing in the fall will miss out.
The Rose Bowl typically features a Big Ten team against a Pac-12 squad, but it already had been scheduled to host a playoff semifinal, so it can continue without a hitch.
It’s unclear whether bowls beyond the CFP and New Year’s Six would be played, and how matchups will be determined. And, there’s been little word on the possibility of bowl games following a spring season, although it seems unlikely that would be a priority.
Blake Toppmeyer covers University of Tennessee football. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Current subscribers can click here to join Blake’s subscriber-only text group offering updates and analysis on Vols football.