Category Archives: SEC football

Ranking SEC teams in recruiting over last 4 years: Vols fare better than you might expect

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KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Now that National Signing Day is in the books, let’s take a step back and look at recruiting in the SEC over the last four years.

These are the players — if they’re still around — who will have the greatest impact on a team’s success in 2014.

The numbers don’t lie: Alabama has dominated the recruiting game just as it has on the field.

That’s not a surprise. But Tennessee’s ranking relative to the league average might be better than many expected.

We used the 247Sports Composite rankings in order to get a broad perspective from all the major recruiting services. We also wanted to go beyond a simple ranking to see the relative strength of each class as it compared to the rest of the league.

A few takeaways:

1. Tennessee’s recruiting ratings are above the league average over the last four years both collectively and individually. The Vols have been above the league average in three of the last four years.

2. On the negative side, the Vols suffered serious attrition in the 2012 class. Some of it was natural (Cordarrelle Patterson) but there were also plenty of washouts. Also, some of the higher rated players from 2011 and 2012 simply haven’t lived up to expectations.

3. Florida, despite last year’s debacle, still has plenty of talent. If they can fix a few issues from 2013, they could be right back in the title race.

4. Auburn can still lean on several solid classes and has every reason to expect to be in the mix for the SEC championship again.

5. Texas A&M has put together three consecutive solid classes that should help mitigate the departure of Johnny Manziel.

6. The bottom of the conference is largely what you would expect. Despite recent improvements in recruiting from Kentucky and Vanderbilt, relative to the rest of the league, their ratings are still low.

7. Missouri’s recruiting may not be impressive on paper, but it’s worth remember that the Tigers won the SEC East in 2013 using classes that were ranked near the bottom of the league.

Mizzou’s case, of course, is why factors like retention and development and coaching still matter.

But if we were to judge the 2014 season solely by its inputs, here’s what the standings would look like. Just for fun, we’ll use the four-year relative score (with 100 being average) and give 10 points to the home team in each game.

SEC East

1. Florida, 7-1

2. Georgia, 7-1

3. South Carolina, 5-3

4. Tennessee, 3-5

5. Missouri, 2-6

6. Kentucky, 2-6

7. Vanderbilt, 0-8

SEC West

1. Alabama, 8-0

2. Auburn, 6-2

3. LSU, 5-3

4. Texas A&M, 4-4

5. Ole Miss, 3-5

6. Mississippi State, 2-6

7. Arkansas, 2-6

It would be hard to imagine Missouri and Vanderbilt plummeting so quickly, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Florida make a dramatic rebound.

Before you prepare your hate mail, remember this is just a “fun” excercise that does not necessarily reflect my actual opinion, nor does it have any effect on the real world.

Former Vandy commit Michael Sawyers, planning trip to Knoxville, could be last ‘free agent’ on Vols’ board

Michael Sawyers of Ensworth High (photo by 247Sports, a News Sentinel partner)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Defensive tackle Michael Sawyers is one of a dozen Vanderbilt verbal commitments who have jumped ship since the departure of coach James Franklin to Penn State.

He might also be the last free agent that Tennessee is pursuing in the final stretch before National Signing Day.

Sawyers visited Ole Miss last weekend and most prognosticators on the 247Sports Crystal Ball expect him to sign with the Rebels. The Vols, however, have kept in contact and Sawyer is expected in Knoxville this weekend.

 

As Barton Simmons noted on today’s #GVXAudio podcast, Sawyers would be able to connect with many other in-state friends in the Vols’ current class. But Simmons also said that Sawyers has always been one to do things his own way and not necessarily follow the crowd.

Simmons also raised another question: Just how much room do the Vols have? Sawyers would be No. 35 in the class, and while the Vols should be able to sign that many, finding scholarships for all of them this summer will be more of a challenge. So does the pursuit of Sawyers indicate a defensive lineman could be de-committing? Dewayne Hendrix now seems securely in the fold. But what about Cory Thomas?

As drug dealer goes to prison, parents of Aaron Douglas keeping son’s memory alive

Aaron Douglas

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — The man who prosecutors say provided the Methadone tablets that killed former Tennessee and Alabama football player Aaron Douglas is now in prison.

Rodney Young Odum pleaded guilty to manslaughter by culpable negligence and sale or delivery or a controlled substance in October. He was sentenced to two years in prison. He entered Florida State Prison in Raiford on Oct. 30, 2013 and is tentatively scheduled to be released on July 9, 2015.

A spokeswoman for the state attorney’s office said Odum would also have to serve two years of house arrest and 10 years of probation after his sentence is completed.

Subscribers can read the full story in today’s News Sentinel.

Douglas was 21 when he died May 12, 2011, on the second-floor balcony of a house in Fernandina Beach, Fla., just a few steps away from the Atlantic Ocean. Douglas was delivered to the open house party by Odum, who police say either gave or sold him two methadone tablets.

Douglas was a freshman All-American at UT in 2009 and was preparing for his first season at Alabama when he died.

His parents, both former UT student-athletes are starting a foundation to keep Aaron’s memory alive.

Karla Douglas said the organization plans to continue supporting scholarships for seniors at Maryville High School in Aaron’s memory, while also expanding to work on issues with prescription drugs and supporting children’s organizations.

Until the foundation is formally incorporated, the Maryville Booster Club (P.O. Box 6435; Maryville, TN, 37802)  is accepting donations on its behalf.

Tennessee’s coaching turnover in this century is about average for topsy-turvy SEC

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel has made few coaching changes on his staff since his hiring in 2001.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee has had 44 different coaches come through Knoxville since 2001.

That’s a lot, right?

Believe it or not, it’s almost exactly average for the cutthroat league. The average team has churned through 43.79 head and assistant coaches since 2001, according to analysis by David Morrison of the Columbia (Mo.) Tribune.

For Tennessee, the 2001 starting point is arbitrary. Morrison used it for his analysis because that’s when Gary Pinkel arrived at Mizzou. Pinkel and Georgia coach Mark Richt were both hired that year. Not surprisingly, the Tigers and Bulldogs have had the most stable staffs among the 14 teams in the league.

Check out this spreadsheet if you want to see every coach at every school since 2001. Florida leads the way with 56 total coaches. That’s a lot of turnover for a school that won two national championships during this stretch.

The offensive and defensive coordinator positions were two of the most volatile spots in the survey, changing hands eight times since 2001.

Tennessee beat them in that category, with nine coaches responsible for tight ends in the last 13 years: Doug Marrone (2001); Jimmy Ray Stephens (2002); Greg Adkins (2003-05); Matt Luke (2006-07); Jason Michael (2008, TEs); Jim Chaney (2009, also OC); Eric Russell (2010-11, TEs); Charlie Coiner (2012, TEs); Mark Elder (2013-14, TEs).

(Under former coach Phillip Fulmer, the tight ends coach often handled tackles as well).

The entire data-heavy blog is worth checking out.

10 best SEC games ever broadcast on CBS? Vols-Gators game in 2001 lands at No. 9

Travis Stephens dives over the goal line in the first quarter of the Vols’ victory over Florida in 2001. (News-Sentinel file photo by Michael Patrick)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Are we in a golden era for SEC football?

This list would seem to suggest that we are.

CBS Sports Network will run a countdown of the 10 best SEC games broadcast by CBS starting on Dec. 26 at 8 p.m.

The list was selected by a panel of experts, presumably including writers Bruce Feldman, Dennis Dodd, Jeremy Fowler and Tony Barnhart.

The first thing that stands out about the list is how many of the game occurred in just the last three years. Also, notice how many times Auburn and Alabama are included. I figure that’s appropriate for a state that is going for its fifth consecutive national title next month.

Tennessee makes the list with its thrilling 2001 victory over Florida. Current UT running backs coach Robert Gillespie was a senior on that Gators squad.

Here’s the full list, with game descriptions from CBS:

10. No. 1 Alabama at No. 6 Texas A&M (9/14/2013) – Airs Thursday, Dec. 26, 8 p.m.

Alabama got revenge on Texas A&M with a 49-42 win in College Station behind AJ McCarron’s four passing touchdowns. Not to be outdone, Johnny Manziel threw for five touchdowns and registered 562 yards of total offense.

9. No. 4 Tennessee at No. 2 Florida (12/1/2001) – Airs Friday, Dec. 27, 8 p.m.

Tennessee visits Gainesville as 17.5-point underdogs and upsets Florida to jump into national title contention. The Vols stop the Gators’ two-point conversion attempt with 1:10 left to seal a 34-32 victory.

8. No. 1 LSU at No. 12 Alabama (11/5/2011) – Airs Saturday, Dec. 28, 5 p.m.

The “Game of the Century” didn’t feature any touchdowns, but it had an exciting finish in prime time as LSU defeated Alabama 9-6 on a 25-yard field goal in overtime.

7. SEC Championship: No. 4 Florida vs. No. 1 Alabama (12/6/2008) – Airs Saturday, Dec. 28, 8 p.m. 

Tim Tebow’s three touchdowns lead Florida to a 31-20 upset win over Alabama and gives the Gators a shot at their second national title in three years.

6. No. 15 Texas A&M at No. 1 Alabama (11/10/2012) – Airs Sunday, Dec. 29, 5 p.m.
Johnny Manziel is spectacular in leading Texas A&M past top-ranked Alabama in the Aggies’ first ever trip to Tuscaloosa.

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A look at the SEC’s response to recruiting ‘loophole’ theory

Tennessee coach Butch Jones (photos by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Last week I explored a hypothetical method by which Tennessee could sign as many as 35 players in this recruiting cycle.

As I tried to emphasize, the ploy wouldn’t be as radical as it sounds on the surface, because the Vols would still have to overcome the NCAA’s limitation on initial counters (25 per year) and scholarships (85 overall), which is a separate issue.

But by using a new NCAA rules interpretation to get a handful of players to sign aid agreements before Dec. 1, the Vols might be able to effectively “over-sign” in a way that would otherwise be prohibited.

This is all complicated stuff, of course, but the SEC did offer a statement in response to a blog by the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

“It has been, and remains, permissible for mid-year enrollees to be included in the initial counter limits for the current academic year when a football team does not use the permitted 25 initial counters for fall enrollees.

“Institutional financial aid agreements signed prior to the December 1 are not binding upon the prospective student-athlete. Thus, until the prospective student-athlete enrolls and becomes an initial counter, the individual is able to determine the institution he wishes to attend or to sign institutional financial aid agreements with multiple universities.

“The numerical limits on football signees is now an NCAA Bylaw and, should the existing policy require modification, the SEC will work cooperatively with the NCAA national office to achieve the appropriate outcome.”

The SEC raises an issue that I should have included in my original blog. The NCAA has changed its “over-signing” bylaw, so that the SEC and NCAA now have identical rules. It’s no longer a conference-by-conference rule. That’s an important distinction that I should have noted.

But you’ll notice that the relevant NCAA bylaw provides the same “loophole” as the SEC one.

13.9.2.3 Limitation on Number of National Letter of Intent/Offer of Financial Aid Signings—Bowl Subdivision Football. In bowl subdivision football, there shall be an annual limit of 25 on the number of prospective student-athletes who may sign a National Letter of Intent or an institutional offer of financial aid from December 1 through May 31. [D] (Adopted: 1/16/10 effective 8/1/10, Revised: 1/14/12 effective 8/1/12)
13.9.2.3.1 Exception—Counter During Same Academic Year. [FBS] A prospective student-athlete who signs a National Letter of Intent or an institutional offer of financial aid and becomes an initial counter for the same academic year in which the signing occurred (e.g., midyear enrollee) shall not count toward the annual limit on signings. (Adopted: 1/14/12 effective 8/1/12)

For the purposes of the signing limit, those prospects who signed aid agreements in November still won’t count against the signee ceiling. That means the Vols can, in fact, sign more players in February than they would have been allowed without the early aid agreements. As always, remember that signees and scholarships are separate issues. The Vols still cannot go over the annual or overall scholarship limit, and they will have to use several strategies this summer to get to the desired numbers.

Meanwhile, the Vols added another brick this week.

Has Butch Jones found a recruiting loophole? Vols could use complex strategies to manage brimming class

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — When Butch Jones met with the Knoxville Quarterback Club last week, he dropped a nugget of recruiting information that most wrote off as hyperbole.

“If we can find a way to sign 35, we’ll sign 35,” he said.

Was he exaggerating for effect?

Perhaps.

Or perhaps not.

As Tennessee’s list of verbal commitments continues to grow (it should be up to 34 if lineman Charles Mosley commits on Friday as expected), the Vols are contending with two limits.

One is the NCAA-imposed limit on scholarships. The other is the conference-imposed limit on signees.

There’s no loophole on NCAA scholarship limits. Teams can have only 85 total scholarship players, of whom no more than 25 can be “initial counters” in any given year. (There are some strategies to minimize the impact of the NCAA limits, which I discussed here. More on that in a second).

But is it possible that Tennessee’s staff has stumbled upon a loophole that would effectively allow the Vols to “over-sign” in a way that was common a few years ago but has largely been eliminated because of new rules?

Take a look at the text of the SEC rule limiting signees that went into effect Aug. 1, 2011 (emphasis added):

13.9.1 Letter of Intent – Limitation. Each SEC member institution is limited to signing 25 football prospective student-athletes to a National Letter of Intent, Conference financial aid agreement and/or institutional offer of athletics financial aid from December 1 through May 31st of each year. [Adopted 5/29/09; effective immediately; revised 6/3/11; effective August 1, 2011]

(Here’s a .pdf link if you want to peruse the SEC rules yourself.)

The dates are critical, because the SEC bylaw collides with a new NCAA rules interpretation that impacted this recruiting cycle. Academically eligible student-athletes who plan to enroll early (in January) are now allowed to sign aid agreements with universities as early as Aug. 1.

Tennessee had a flood of players sign aid agreements last month — perhaps a half-dozen players or more. Why is this significant? By the letter of the law, those players wouldn’t count against the SEC’s signing limit. They’re freebies, if you will.

Now, make no mistake: This loophole, if it’s real, doesn’t affect the scholarship limitations. But it would give Tennessee more flexibility than teams that haven’t yet discovered the loophole.

For example, let’s say five players sign aid agreements before Dec. 1, 2013, and enroll at UT in January.

UT can count back at least five scholarships against 2013 because that year’s class was under the 25-man limit. So that’s now 10 that wouldn’t count against the SEC signing limit.

Jones has said he wants to welcome 14 mid-year enrollees in January. If the Vols were able take 10 of those players “off the books” for the purposes of the SEC signing rule, they could sign another 21 players to traditional Letters of Intent in February.

Grand total? 35.

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Juco defensive tackle Jarran Reed, a Vols target, commits to Alabama

Jarran Reed (from News Sentinel partner 247Sports)

KNOXVILLE, TennesseeJarran Reed, one of Tennessee’s top remaining targets, is off the board.

He tweeted today that he has committed to Alabama: “Want to thank God and everyone but my decision is final I will be joining Alabama…I’m committed to Tide Roll Tide Roll,” he said.

Reed originally signed with Florida but failed to qualify out of high school and enrolled at East Mississippi Community College.

The 6-foot-4 , 310-pound defensive tackle is considered an immediate impact player. The Vols are losing two senior tackles from an already thin interior defensive line.

Tennessee hopes to receive better news when receiver prospect Josh Malone makes his announcement at noon today.

Could Tennessee get a bowl invitation at 5-7? (Short answer: No. Long answer: Also no.)

Rajion Neal and teammates celebrate with fans after Tennessee’s victory over Kentucky on Nov. 30, 2013.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee’s football season is over, and there is no chance that the Vols could sneak into a bowl with a 5-7 overall record.

There were optimistic but inaccurate reports over the weekend that perhaps the Vols could find a way to score a postseason invitation.

Only in the rarest of circumstances would a 5-7 team get invited to a bowl. Even if it reached that point this year, the Vols would be among the last 5-7 teams on the list because of their struggles in the academic progress rate.

But that’s all a moot point. There are more than enough bowl-eligible teams to fill all 35 bowl games. Some 6-6 teams or perhaps even 7-5 teams will be left without a bowl. No 5-7 team from any conference will get in.

I believe the confusion about Tennessee’s status arose because the SEC might be unable to fill its bowl allotment. That happens occasionally, but it doesn’t allow the bowls to reach down and grab a 5-7 SEC team to fill the void (although the bowls would probably love that). Instead it means that the Independence Bowl will probably be scrounging around for a bowl-eligible MAC or Sun Belt team to fill the slot that would have otherwise gone to a 6-6 SEC team.

In a simpler time, the winner of the Tennessee-Kentucky game got a wooden beer barrel

Tennessee players celebrate with the beer barrel (photo from UTSports.com)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Remember when the winner of the end-of-season Tennessee-Kentucky football game got bragging rights and a wooden beer barrel?

Neither do I. But plenty of people do, including my brother’s father-in-law, who looked it up online during after our Thanksgiving meal.

Sure enough, starting in 1925, the winner earned a large beer barrel painted half orange and half blue. According to UT, “(The barrel) was rolled onto the field that year with the words “Ice Water” painted on it to avoid any outcries over an alcohol drum symbolizing a college rivalry.”

The tradition ended in 1998 after two people were killed, including a Kentucky football player, in an alcohol-related car accident just before the Tennessee game. Understandably, officials decided not to use the barrel that season. The following year, they decided to discontinue the tradition permanently.

The Vols (4-7, 1-6 SEC) play Kentucky (2-9, 0-7 SEC) on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington (TV: ESPNU, 7 p.m.)