We begin this edition of the War Room as we always do. The War Room is a collective effort of Tennessee notes and news gathered throughout the week by the Volquest staff. And now, it’s on with the news.
For the football team and for all student athletes, this month is about finishing up academically. Classes in next week and exams conclude on May 17th. If a football player is not going to spring mini-term then they will all head home and elsewhere for 10 days or so before returning for a team meeting Memorial Day night (May 29th).
They are continuing workouts with strength coach Kurt Schmidt and his staff, but the focus is really on finishing up the semester.
Leadership on the team continues to grow and will be paramount this summer. And there will be plenty of attention on Joe Milton in that role. A year ago it was Hendon Hooker’s team and everyone knows the work he put in. Milton’s work ethic is very good so that’s not a concern, but Milton is in a different place than Hooker was a year ago thanks to Hooker himself. Because of Hooker’s success and where he would have been drafted had he not been coming off the ACL, plus the drafting of Anthony Richardson at #4 to the Colts, Milton’s name is popping up on mock drafts and people are making all kinds of comparisons, so the challenge for Milton is to not get caught up in all of that and make sure he’s taking care of his business and helping his team grow daily. It’s something Hooker never had to deal with a year ago.
Later this month, SEC schools plus representatives from Texas and Oklahoma will be in Destin, Florida for SEC spring meetings.
There are several key topics up for discussion but none bigger than scheduling. Everyone expects the SEC go to a a 6-3 model for league games where teams have three yearly common opponents then a rotation of six conference games. That means every 4 years you would play in every stadium in the conference. Now the question with that is who are the three common opponents. For Tennessee it’s expected to be Alabama, Vanderbilt and either Kentucky or South Carolina.
Head coach Josh Heupel has never had a public opinion on scheduling because he says he has no say in the matter.
“I don’t know if I’m Switzerland, but I have no effect on what is going to happen on that,” Heupel said earlier this week. “There has been a lot of debate from the commissioner to the athletic directors. I have no idea where they’re at at this point … I think it’s important you keep traditional rivalries. That you get a chance to play those games that mean a bunch to your fanbase and guys inside your locker room too.”
While the 9 game conference schedule seems a given, the real scheduling question is non-conference scheduling. Currently, the SEC has a mandate that says you have to play a power 5 school every year, but that’s with an 8 game conference schedule. Once you go to 9 league games is that mandate going to stay in place meaning 10 of your 12 games are against power 5 opponents. That’s a concern for some because of injuries, wear and tear etc.
But television is in favor of the 9 +1 model (9 league games and a power 5 opponent) because it means more viable games for them to draw an audience which means more revenue and we know how much revenue the SEC is making off this new TV deal.
Going the 9+1 model would also ensure that some in-state rivalries would continue like Florida-FSU, Kentucky-Louisville, South Carolina-Clemson, etc. If you go to a model that doesn’t require a power 5 non-conference opponent then it would put those SEC schools in an interesting place. Would they continue to play those games or would they feel they were at a disadvantage playing them.
As Tennessee continues to wait on some kind of word from the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions following their hearing in Cincinnati last month, there remains some optimism and hope that they are going to get a favorable ruling. But no one knows anything for sure. The reality is the ruling is likely not to come before early June but it could honestly come any day. It just depends on when the 7 member panel who heard the case comes to a resolution.
Interesting we have heard from multiple people that former coach Jeremy Pruitt was adamant in his conversations with the panel that the current Vols should not be punished meaning no bowl ban as they were not involved in anything in the case.
Tennessee continues to wait on good news from NFL Academy athlete Emmanuel Okoye. We believe Tennessee is the team to beat for the Nigerian who now resides in London. Texas Tech appears to be the biggest competition, but all signs point to Rocky Top based off people we have spoken with.
Tennessee currently sits with three commitments for 2024 on the offensive line if you work off the theory that Jeremias Heard is going to eventually end up there. There will likely be a lot of turnover on the offensive line after this season which means they need help across the board. Interior guys like Ronan O’Connell and William Satterwhite are two names Tennessee has interest in but the Vols will be battling Clemson on both. Elarbee was in Texas last week to see Max Anderson who can play tackle and guard so his flexibility is a plus. Tennessee will also swing big with California lineman Brandon Baker and fellow tackle Ethan Calloway.
St. Louis defensive lineman Kellen Lindstrom is one that plays everything close and doesn’t do many interviews. Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Tennessee are the ones drawing most of the attention in this one. The Vols and Sooners are the most recent and most frequent trips. He will officially visit Tennessee next month.
As Tennessee continues to be active with multiple linebackers, they continue to sit in good shape with Jordan Burns. He plans to return to Knoxville for Memorial Day Weekend and then take an OV the third weekend of June. We believe a late June/early July decision is most likely at this point. Arkansas is the primary competitor at this stage.
Daniel Calhoun is one the Vols are still working on. Georgia and Alabama are out in front but it may not be as much as some think. Tennessee will get their chance in June with his 3rd official visit. He continues to have consistent, positive communication with Glen Elarbee and the Tennessee staff. Josh Heupel’s personality has also caught the attention of Calhoun and his parents. We believe Calhoun will make a decision in late July.
A lot of you have asked about Jordan Ross. The Vols are deep in this one, but the competition is growing. Florida and Oregon have both made strong impressions of late. Ross will be back to Knoxville the weekend of June 23rd for an official visit before most likely making a decision in mid-July. Georgia and Texas are both involved here as well, but the Vols may sit in the best position heading into June OVs. We don’t expect him to visit anywhere else in May.
Tennessee coaches were back on the road again this week, checking on prospects with the evaluation period rolling along.
Tim Banks worked the West Coast early in the week, stopping in Nevada, Arizona and California to check on prospects across multiple classes. On Thursday, Banks returned to the Southeast and checked on two elite prospects in the state of Georgia, Kamron Mikell and Demello Jones. Jones is already committed to Georgia, and Mikell could be leaning in that direction, but the Vols are not ready to throw in the towel with either. The hopes are to have them both back on campus in May or June.
Joey Halzle worked the West Coast early in the week as well. He was by Mater Dei to check on four-star running back Nathaniel Frazier and elite offensive tackle Brandon Baker. Tennessee is pushing for official visits with both. Halzle also stopped by the schools of Cutter Boley and Tavien St. Clair during the week as well.
Willie Martinez spent the majority of his time during the week on the road in Florida, checking in on recruits across various classes. He also stopped in to check on coveted 2024 cornerback Aaron Scott during the week. He is one that is planning to return to Tennessee over the summer for an official visit. It continues to look to be a tough task to pull him away from Ohio State or Michigan, but he does have a genuine interest in the Vols.
Brian Jean-Mary checked in on multiple recruits during the week, starting on the West Coast and ending on the East Coast. Jean-Mary checked on Ohio State linebacker commit Payton Pierce in Texas, and he also checked on top-150 prospect Tylen Singleton. When Singleton left his visit in March, it felt like the Vols built some momentum, and they are still deep in this recruitment ahead of summer official visits.
Mike Ekeler worked in South Georgia throughout the week, checking in on multiple powerhouse programs and recruits across various classes.
Rodney Garner started his week in Chicago by seeing five-star defensive lineman Justin Scott. Can the Vols get an official visit to try and make a move in this recruitment? Only time will tell, but the rule change allowing prospects to take more than five official visits helps Tennessee’s cause with a guy like Scott. Garner also checked in on prospects in North Carolina and Georgia during the week.
Glen Elarbee worked through multiple states during the week. He was in Pennsylvania and stopped in at the school of four-star OT Kevin Heywood. It still feels like Tennessee is chasing Penn State in this one. Elarbee also checked in on four-star lineman Grant Brix. He stayed in the Midwest to end the week, checking on William Satterwhite and Marques Easley.
Kelsey Pope checked on Arkansas standout WR CJ Brown to start the week, and the Vols extended an offer on Wednesday. Pope also watched Tampa Catholic wide out TJ Moore practice during the week. He ended the week in South Georgia by checking on four-star Georgia commit Ny Carr.
Jerry Mack worked in Florida and Mississippi this week. Mack checked on Chauncey Bowens and Daniel Hill during his travels. The Vols remain active with Bowens, a Florida commit, after he visited in March. Hill is one Tennessee is working to get to campus for Memorial Day weekend.
Alec Abeln worked in multiple states during the week. He checked in on 2024 Utah TE Roger Saleapaga during his travels. As a pass catcher, Saleapaga is one that provides some intrigue.
As of this writing, there have been no changes made to Tennessee’s scholarship situation with the 2023-24 roster. As we wrote last week, the expectation is that a current player will enter the NCAA Transfer Portal before the portal closes on May 11. We don’t have a name on that player as of yet but it feels like something could happen early next week. Obviously time is of the essence.
On the floor, though it’s extremely early in the offseason and all the pieces for the 2023-24 team aren’t together in Knoxville yet, Tennessee’s coaching staff already views the group as one of the most talented rosters Rick Barnes has had during his time with the Vols.
Coming off the second live-evaluation weekend, it’s safe to say 2024 four-star shooting guard Austin Swartz continues to climb Tennessee’s recruiting board in that class. At this point, the 6-foot-5, 180-pound Swartz, out of Cannon School in Concord, North Carolina, has become a big-time priority for the Vols, who will be doing everything they can to get him on campus for an official visit at some point.
Swartz is considered one of the best pure shot-makers in the class. He’s ranked No. 95 overall in 2024 in the On3 Industry Ranking. He’s ranked as the 21st shooting guard and the No. 10 overall prospect in the state of North Carolina.
At this point if there was a wish list for Tennessee’s 2024 class, Swartz four-star point guard Ahmad Nowell would be at the top.
Speaking of Nowell, Tennessee assistant coach Rod Clark was in Philadelphia late this week to see Nowell, the 6-foot-2, 185-pound prospect at Imhotep Institute. He took an official visit to Tennessee back in March. He’s ranked No. 45 overall in the On3 Industry Ranking, is the No. 8 point guard and the No. 1 overall prospect in the state of Pennsylvania.
A few other names of note coming out of the second live-evaluation weekend:
Four-star small forward Derrion Reid. The 6-foot-7, 180-pounder out of Grovetown High School in Grovetown, Ga., is ranked No. 56 overall in the class and No. 16 overall among small forwards. He’s No. 4 overall in the state of Georgia.
Four-star small forward Marcus Allen. The 6-foot-6, 190-pound Allen, a Miami native who attends Compass Prep in Arizona, is the No. 25 overall prospect in the class in the On3 ratings. He’s ranked No. 12 among small forwards and No. 5 overall in Arizona.
Four-star point guard Curtis Givens. The 6-foot-3, 180-pound Givens is a Memphis native who attends Montverde Academy in Florida. He’s ranked No. 60 overall in the On3 ratings and is the No. 10 point guard in the class.
Tennessee this week also offered four-star shooting guard Kiyan Anthony, the son of Carmelo Anthony. He’s ranked No. 68 overall in the On3 Industry Rankings and is the No. 18 shooting guard. He attends Long Island Lutheran, where he’s teammates with fellow Tennessee target VJ Edgecombe, the four-star small forward who is ranked No. 22 overall in the On3 ratings.
Tennessee baseball looks to keep the momentum rolling as it heads down to Athens this weekend for a three-game Southeastern Conference series at Georgia. The Bulldogs are good enough to beat you, but have been a bit all over the map this season (25-20, 8-13 SEC), dropping two of three at Ole Miss after sweeping Arkansas at home two weeks ago.
The Vols have won eight-straight and are now above .500 in conference play for the first time this season with an 11-10 mark. Tennessee’s reason for the improved play? They haven’t beaten themselves defensively. They haven’t run into outs on the base paths. They are pitching more to the standard and they are hitting in timely situations.
In other words, they are playing up to their potential right now.
Though the more wins in conference play the better, Tennessee has put itself into excellent shape to get into the postseason. Usually, 14 wins in this conference with a top-40 RPI is good enough. Tennessee currently sits at No. 17 in the RPI, and under this logic, you’ve essentially got nine more games to secure three wins. Still, leave no doubt.
Tennessee has also played itself into a position to potentially host a regional. Usually, 16-14 with a top-30 RPI will do the trick, but winning a couple of games in Hoover would likely ensure it. The Vols will probably be playing a little earlier in the tournament this year, so staying alive towards the end of the week would be huge. Becoming a top-8 seed is possible, but you’d need to win the majority of these last nine games + a good showing in Hoover. It’s possible, but we’ll cross that bridge later.
The Vols will be without Kavares Tears this weekend as he’s still recovering from an oblique injury. Feels like he’s still at least a week away at minimum. A guy Tennessee would love to get going is Seth Halvorsen who has given up a combined nine runs in his past three appearances that spans over just 3.0 innings. Feels like he’s leaving too many pitches up in the zone and his off-speed is not getting the swings and misses it once was. The Vols are hoping he gets going this weekend.
And finally, this weekend is a chance for the Vols to once again prove they have turned a corner. Feels like it’s a new team since the last time it went on the road. That record away from Lindsey Nelson Stadium is 1-9. Good teams win on the road – especially this time of the year. Tennessee is good enough to win this series, now we see if they can get it done away from home.
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