Tag Archives: Georgia Bulldogs

Early Tennessee football lines show Vols as heavy underdogs

Tennessee opens the season on Aug. 31 against Chuckie Keeton and Utah State.

KNOXVILLE, TennesseeEarly lines on eight Tennessee games indicate that Las Vegas oddsmakers have little optimism for the Vols in 2014.

Tennessee opponents are favored in seven of the eight games released by the Golden Nugget as part of their annual early lines.

Here they are:

UT (+19) at Oklahoma
UT (+17) at Georgia
Florida at UT (+4.5)
UT (+12) at Ole Miss
Alabama at UT (+20)
UT (+18) at South Carolina
Missouri at UT (+4)
UT (-3) at Vanderbilt

Interestingly, roughly one-fourth of the 200 games handicapped by the Golden Nugget had line movements after their initial release to reflect betting trends. But only one Tennessee game was adjusted: Georgia is now favored by 16 points, down from 17. In other words, it doesn’t appear the public is flocking to bet on Tennessee.

Of course, UT will likely be favored in the four games not listed.

If you’re inclined to optimism, think of it this way: The Vols must only steal only one upset after winning the five games in which they will be favored to become bowl eligible.

If you’re inclined to pessimism, the rest of this blog is for you.

A 19-point spread translates to a 2.7 percent chance of winning against Oklahoma. Or just an 11.45 percent chance at Georgia.

For the sake of this simulation, we’ll give UT a 6.5-point edge against Utah State and an 8-point advantage against Arkansas State and Kentucky. We’re giving the Vols a 99.95 percent chance of victory against Chattanooga.

Spin those figures through my simulator 1,000 times and this is what you get:

That’s a 32 percent chance of winning at least six games and making a bowl, a 31 percent chance of having the same record as last year and a 37 percent chance of being worse.

I’ll update the simulator with new numbers as the season goes on.

Think some of the odds are way off? Let me know.

In SEC recruiting game, focus of most teams starts in own backyard

A national view of SEC recruiting midpoints. See the maps below for zoomed-in versions.

A national view of SEC recruiting midpoints. See the maps below for zoomed-in versions.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Most SEC schools keep their focus close to home when signing recruits. That’s why the number of top prospects nearby is such an accurate predictor of a team’s success.

Consider this map a sneak peek of a story I’m working on for later in the month. I charted the high school of each recruit signed by an SEC school to produce the “geographic midpoint” for each team and the league as a whole.

(Yes, you know my obsession with geographic midpoints.)

The results weren’t that startling.

Collectively, the midpoint of every SEC prospect signed in 2014 was near Fayette, Ala., only about 45 miles south of the geographic midpoint of all 14 SEC campuses in Haleyville, Ala.

Only three teams travel a great distance from their home base, and I bet you could have guessed them before I charted this map: Missouri, Arkansas and Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt added a handful of California prospects, which pushed its midpoint west.

Vanderbilt added a handful of California prospects, which pushed its midpoint west.

Vanderbilt was much more pronounced because new coach Derek Mason added some California recruits and lost some in-state signees.

Although the Vols continue to recruit nationally, the midpoint of the class hasn't been this close to Knoxville in years.

Although the Vols continue to recruit nationally, the midpoint of the class hasn’t been this close to Knoxville in years.

What about the Vols? As we’ve written before, Tennessee has moved north under coach Butch Jones, but the new midpoint is in line with the SEC average. (That little pink line on the map points to the “expected midpoint” for each team based on the SEC average).

What schools are outliers, compared to the rest of the league?

Obviously Arkansas, Missouri and Vandy have to recruit nationally out of necessity. Both Arkansas and Missouri recruit aggressively in south Florida, which pushes their midpoint south and east.

Texas A&M and LSU, generally, stick to their own fertile territories without spending too much time fighting others in Atlanta or Florida. That’s reflected in their midpoints.

Alabama recruits nationally despite its talent-rich state, and prospects from Iowa, Colorado and Minnesota helped push the Tide’s midpoint north this year.

The green map marker circled in white is Fayette, Ala., the geographic midpoint of every SEC recruit signed in 2014. That's only 45 miles southwest of Haleyville, Ala., (the green circle), which is the geographic midpoint of all 14 SEC campuses.

The green map marker circled in white is Fayette, Ala., the geographic midpoint of every SEC recruit signed in 2014. That’s only 45 miles southwest of Haleyville, Ala., (the green circle), which is the geographic midpoint of all 14 SEC campuses.

Both Ole Miss and Mississippi State have nearby midpoints. The Bulldogs’ midpoint is in Macon, Miss., which is just 38 miles from Starkville.

I thought this was interesting: Florida and Georgia have very similar recruiting midpoints. The Gators did have plenty of south Florida recruits, but their 2014 class had much more of a national flavor than you might expect. Recruits from Brooklyn, N.Y., and Wyoming pushed the midpoint north and west.

Georgia, meanwhile, had a smaller class (after signing more than 30 last year) and had a strong south Florida presence. (You’ll recall that Tennessee didn’t sign a south Florida prospect for the first time in five years).

What does all this mean?

* Even for a conference in the southeast corner of the United States, most teams still push even further south.

* Texas A&M and Missouri have expanded the geographic boundaries of the conference, but the Aggies rule Texas and don’t have to venture far from there.

* Next to Texas A&M, LSU has the strongest commitment to owning its home base.

* Even teams with strong local bases have a balanced national recruiting strategy.

* If you cover recruiting in the southeast, you should buy a house in Fayette, Ala.

Any other stuff I missed? Let me know.

WR Josh Malone chooses Tennessee

Josh Malone makes his decision on NBC Sports Network.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Elite receiver prospect Josh Malone ended a fierce recruitment by verbally committing to play for Tennessee in a ceremony at his high school on Wednesday.

“Finally, after several family discussions and hours of prayer, I have decided to play football for the University of Tennessee,” Malone. “I felt like I had a better opportunity there. I put no emotion in it. Distance wasn’t a factor.”

Malone selected the Vols over Clemson and Georgia. He had signed aid agreements with all three schools, allowing coaches unlimited contact in the final days before his decision.

Tennessee coach Butch Jones and his staff had several lengthy in-home visits with Malone, a high four-star prospect in the 247Sports Composite ratings.

“Josh is a very, very talented young man who has a bright future ahead of him. He’s a complete football player,” Jones said.

(Coaches are allowed to comment about players who have signed aid agreements).

Malone, of Station Camp High in Gallatin, plans to enroll in January and participate in spring practice. He’ll be expected to contribute immediately in the Vols’ rebuilding receiving corps.

“I feel like the opportunity to come in early was better at Tennessee,” Malone said. “I talk to the coaches all the time about the quarterback situation, and I feel comfortable with that.”

The Vols now have 33 verbal commitments. Jones has said he would like to have 14 early enrollees in January.

Malone is the second highest-rated player in the Vols’ class of 2014, according to the 247Sports Composite.

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The Vols still wouldn’t mind adding a defensive tackle or offensive lineman (perhaps of the junior college variety), but most of their needs have been met. Even the weaknesses might not be so great, as some of the bigger ends could shift inside to tackle.

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Josh Malone’s decision is 24 hours away: Will it be Tennessee, Clemson or Georgia?

Josh Malone (photo by 247Sports)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Elite receiver prospect Josh Malone will make his college decision on Wednesday at 1 p.m. noon at his high school in Gallatin.

Some say the race is a dead heat between Tennessee, Clemson and Georgia. Others give Tennessee the edge. (That’s the opinion of the 247Sports Crystal Ball.) Some think Clemson has made a late push. A recent article ($) in which Malone referred to Tennessee’s offense as a “work in progress” and Clemson’s as an “established system.”

Malone has signed financial aid agreements with all three schools, allowing the coaches to have unlimited contact with him in the days leading up to his decision. (The aid agreements also allow coaches to comment publicly about him and how great he is).

Tennessee and its coaching staff have all but camped out at Gallatin over the last few weeks. If they don’t get Malone, it won’t be due to lack of effort. I’ve heard that Butch Jones and his coaching staff have spent more time on Malone than any other player, ever.

Why is Malone important? Coaches hope he can be Marquez North, version 2.0. That is, an instant-impact receiver who elevates the speed, talent and depth of Tennessee’s struggling receiving corps.

Malone is a five-star prospect on Rivals. He falls just short of five-star status on the 247Composite ratings, which use input from all major recruiting services.

What do you think? Vote below. The polls close at noon on Wednesday.

SEC bowl breakdown: Music City back in the picture if Vols go 6-6?

Derek Dooley walks off the field after the Vols lose to North Carolina in the 2010 Music City Bowl. (photo by Michael Patrick, KNS)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — A week ago, it appeared that Memphis was the most likely destination — perhaps the only destination — if Tennessee manages to win its final two games and become bowl eligible.

But a fresh round of projections indicates that the Music City Bowl in Nashville could still be in the mix.

You can see the projected standings and bowl match-ups below. I differ with national analysts mainly by projecting Missouri to win out and make a higher-tier bowl, while predicting that Texas A&M will lose out.

But that doesn’t concern Tennessee. What could impact the Vols is how Georgia finishes the season. Using Sagarin ratings, I’m projecting Georgia to lose to both Auburn and Georgia Tech, which would drop the Bulldogs to seven wins and cause them to plummet in the bowl pecking order.

If Georgia wins at least one of those games, it would ensure that the Vols would be competing with at least one eight-win team for the Music City Bowl.

Here’s how I came up with the projections…

Projected standings, with results according to Sagarin ratings*

SEC East
Missouri: 11-2, 7-1 (beat Ole Miss, Texas A&M, lose to Alabama in SEC championship game)
South Carolina: 10-2, 6-2 (beat Florida, Coastal Carolina, Clemson)
Georgia: 7-5, 5-3 (lose to Auburn, beat Kentucky, lose to Georgia Tech)
Vanderbilt: 7-5, 3-5 (beats Kentucky, loses to Tennessee, beats Wake Forest)
Tennessee: 6-6, 3-5 (beats Vanderbilt, Kentucky)
Florida: 5-7, 3-5 (lose to South Carolina, beat Ga. Southern, lose to Florida State)
Kentucky: 2-10, 0-8 (lose to Vanderbilt, Georgia, Tennessee)

SEC West
Alabama: 13-0, 8-0 (beats MSU, Chattanooga, Auburn and Missouri in SEC championship game)
Auburn: 10-2, 6-2 (beats Georgia, loses to Alabama)
LSU: 9-3, 5-3 (beats Texas A&M, Arkansas)
Texas A&M: 8-4, 4-4 (loses to LSU, Missouri)
Ole Miss: 8-4, 4-4 (beats Troy, loses to Missouri, beats Miss. State)
Mississippi State: 5-7, 2-6 (lose to Alabama, beat Arkansas, lose to Ole Miss)
Arkansas: 3-9, 0-8 (lose to Mississippi State, LSU)

* The Sagarin predictor ratings give Vanderbilt a slight edge over UT, but for the purposes of this blog, we are assuming that the Vols become bowl eligible.

BCS Championship, Pasadena, Calif.: Alabama makes it here if the Tide wins out. This doesn’t look like a good year for a one-loss team, but never say never. My pick: Alabama. Other picks: Pretty much all Alabama.

Sugar, New Orleans: Missouri might deserve it, but Auburn’s larger fanbase and compelling come-back story make it a more logical bet for an at-large BCS berth. My pick: Auburn. Other picks: South Carolina, Auburn.

Capital One, Orlando: South Carolina might be the greatest threat to jump over Missouri for this bowl. Depending on how the season plays out, LSU and Texas A&M could also be options. My pick: Missouri. Other picks: Texas A&M, South Carolina.

Cotton, Arlington, Texas: The Cotton usually takes a West team, while the Outback takes the East, although that’s not written in stone. LSU and Texas A&M would both be viable options, but the Aggies have been here two of the last three years. My pick: LSU. Other picks: LSU, Texas A&M.

Outback, Tampa: South Carolina would be a good fit here if still on the board, but the Gamecocks were here only a year ago. Would the Outback try a West team for a change of pace? My pick: South Carolina. Other picks: Missouri, Missouri.

Chick-Fil-A, Atlanta: Ole Miss hasn’t played here since 1971. For a bowl that frequently suffers from same-old-team fatigue, that makes the Rebels a compelling pick. My pick: Ole Miss. Other picks: Georgia, Texas A&M.

Gator, Jacksonville, Fla: This is the last sort-of-warm-weather bowl. If Texas A&M is still around, the Aggies are a logical choice. Most projections seem to think the Aggies will pick up one more regular season win and be gone by now. My pick: Texas A&M. Other picks: Auburn, Georgia, LSU.

Starting here is where it gets interesting for Tennessee.

Music City, Nashville: Under the current projections, Georgia, Vanderbilt and Tennessee would all be in the mix here. The Vols would almost certainly be the most attractive pick. It would be tough to turn down a eight-win team to take the 6-6 Vols. But choosing UT over a 7-5 team it just beat (Vandy), or a 7-5 team it almost beat (Georgia) is a much easier sell. My pick: Tennessee. Other picks: Ole Miss, Ole Miss.

Liberty Bowl, Memphis: An easy call for the Liberty Bowl if the Vols are available, but a somewhat more difficult choice when it’s Vandy or Georgia. My pick: Georgia. Other picks: Tennessee, Vanderbilt.

BBVA Compass, Birmingham: My pick: Vanderbilt. Other picks. Vanderbilt, Troy.

AdvoCare Independence Bowl, Shreveport, La.: My pick: No SEC teams available. Other picks: Notre Dame, Utah.

North Carolina celebrates its Music City Bowl victory in 2010 (AP photo)

For most fans, the difference between a trip to the Liberty Bowl and a trip to the Music City Bowl isn’t a huge deal. They’re both large cities with nice downtown entertainment districts. They’re both probably going to be cold in late December. Nashville is a more convenient trip for those in eastern or Tennessee, but Memphis might be more doable for fans in other parts of the South.

Tennessee has played in the Music City Bowl once, losing to North Carolina 30-27 after the 2010 season. The Vols are 3-0 in the Liberty Bowl, but haven’t been there since beating Minnesota 21-14 in 1986.

All this talk is contingent on the Vols beating Vanderbilt on Nov. 23 and Kentucky on Nov. 30 to earn a bowl trip. Given UT’s recent struggles, that’s far from certain.

A closer look at the 2nd half of Tennessee’s season: Can the Vols go 3-3, reach a bowl?

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — At the midpoint of the season, now is a perfect time to reevaluate my preseason predictions.

Let’s see how I fared so far and determine if we need to tweak any of the predicted outcomes for the rest of the year.

At the risk of bragging, my August predictions have been pretty spot-on so far.

Aug. 31 vs. Austin Peay

Speculative line: UT by 45.

Actual line: UT by 49.

My prediction: UT, 45-7.

Actual score: UT, 45-0.

Sept. 7 vs. Western Kentucky

Speculative line: UT by 21.

Actual line: UT by 14.

My prediction: UT, 31-14.

Actual score: UT, 52-20.

Sept. 14  at Oregon

Oregon’s Autzen Stadium (photo by Evan Woodbery)

Speculative line: Oregon by 20.

Actual line: Oregon by 28.

My prediction: Oregon, 45-14

Actual score: Oregon, 59-14.

Sept. 21   @ Florida   

Speculative line: UF by 17.

Actual line: UF by 16.5

My prediction: Florida, 31-14.

Actual score: Florida, 31-17.

Sept. 28   vs. South Alabama

Speculative line: UT by 23.

Actual line: UT by 16.5.

My prediction: UT, 38-17

Actual score: UT, 31-24.

Oct. 5  vs. Georgia

The Vols lost in overtime to Georgia.

Speculative line: Georgia by 15

Actual line: Georgia by 13.5

My prediction: Georgia 35-28.

Actual score: Georgia 34-31, OT. (fixed earlier error)

(I’m using line information from VegasInsider, which may differ slightly from other sites. All lines are for informational/entertainment purposes ONLY.)

The rest of the schedule looks more difficult in some areas, but could be easier in others. South Carolina is difficult to figure, but still quite dangerous. Auburn and Missouri have exceeded expectations, although an injury to quarterback James Franklin could be devastating for Mizzou’s powerful offense. (Coach Gary Pinkel strongly disputed a report that Franklin would be out for the rest of the year).

What about the other James Franklin? Well, he and the Commodores are having a rough year, but the UT-Vandy meeting in Knoxville still promises to be an important and emotional meeting.

Here’s a look at the final six games, with both my August predictions and any changes I care to make.

Continue reading

Was Geraldo Orta’s hit on Georgia punter Collin Barber dirty? (.gif)

A frame-by-frame look at Geraldo Orta’s block on Collin Barber in the third quarter Saturday against Georgia.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Georgia punter Collin Barber suffered a concussion after being blocked by Geraldo Orta in the third quarter on Saturday.

The Vols were returning a blocked punt and Barber was charging after the play.

Georgia coach Mark Richt was asked on the SEC teleconference on Wednesday whether he had complained to the league office.

Richt didn’t answer, saying any inquiries he makes to the league are private.

But the reporter who asked the question seemed certain that Orta should have been flagged for a targeting foul. So I went back and watched the video.

The stricter rules on “targeting” now include classifying punters and kickers as “defenseless players” at all times. That means cheap shots, blocks that blindside the punter during a return, are illegal.

So was this a blindside block? From Orta’s perspective, the punter charged toward him. It’s quite possible that the punter’s eyes were focused on the returner, Devaun Swafford, and that he didn’t see Orta until the last moment. But it’s hard to define this as a true blindside block. The would-be tackler was charging toward the ball-carrier. The blocker was in between. Orta didn’t swoop in from the side to obliterate him. He squared up and made a block.

The next question is whether Orta illegally targeted the head. While the punter’s head did snap back violently, Orta appeared to make contact with his forearms to the player’s chest. I wonder if Barber might have sustained the concussion when his head hit the turf?

Concussions should be taken seriously and college football’s crackdown on cheap hits and targeted shots to the head is commendable. But a review of the video makes it hard to find anything Orta could have done differently, short of getting run over by a punter who was charging at him.

Verdict: It was clean.

Butch Jones gets warm reception in Macon

Butch Jones speaks at a post-practice press conference (Photo by Evan Woodbery)

Butch Jones speaks at a post-practice press conference (Photo by Evan Woodbery)

Butch Jones spoke to the Macon (Ga.) Touchdown Club on Monday night, two days after the Vols lost in overtime to Georgia.

It’s no secret why he was there.

“Right now, we have 21 individuals from the state of Georgia,” he said. “Eleven of our starters are from the state of Georgia. Obviously, it’s a big part of what we’re doing.”

Read the full story here.

Questions and answers about Vols-UGA matchup

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Georgia beat writer Seth Emerson asked me a few questions about the Vols’ this week. After a long delay, I finally responded. Here’s what I told him about the Vols:

1. How much has Butch Jones changed the culture around the program so far, and is it showing any tangible results?

Woodbery: I think he’s done a good job of reaching out to various constituencies that might have felt marginalized over the last five years — whether that’s former players, in-state high school coaches or just average fans. At the end of the day, however, it all comes down to wins and losses, and UT faces some challenges in 2013 and 2014.

He has done a good job of reinvigorating recruiting and a top-five or top-10 class in 2014 is very possible. But sustaining that momentum during tough years was something that Derek Dooley couldn’t do. The success of Jones’ tenure likely depends on it.

2. Tennessee’s passing game has obviously been a struggle. How much of that is Justin Worley, how much is that not having proven receivers, and what are the chances Worley and co. can turn it around quickly against an inexperienced Georgia secondary?

Woodbery: I do think that good receivers can make a quarterback look better, and vice versa. In that sense, Tennessee’s problems at quarterback and receiver have only fed off each other in 2013.

Worley has been victimized by drops, poorly run routes and some interceptions that could have been saved by a more aggressive receiver. But that doesn’t absolve him of blame entirely.

For a brief time last week — perhaps the first time all season — Tennessee’s offense really clicked. So that’s something to build on, but given the passing game’s struggles this year, I would be skeptical that it might suddenly turn around against the No. 6 team in the country.

3. Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane are each averaging about six yards per carry, and Tennessee has an experienced offensive line. But the Volunteers didn’t run well at Florida (66 rushing yards, 2.9 yards per carry). What’s your read on the strength of Tennessee’s run game right now?

Woodbery: Florida’s defensive line was tough to run on, especially because Tennessee could offer no threat of a passing game. I think the offensive line has taken unfair criticism. It can dominate weaker opponents, and it can go head-to-head with tougher lines, but it can’t win the game alone.

Rajion Neal is coming off one of the best games of his career, but getting a healthy Marlin Lane back to act as a one-two punch is essential.

4. Now for the defense: Tennessee’s secondary is inexperienced (like Georgia), and its third-down defense ranks second-worst in the SEC (ahead of only Georgia). What can Tennessee secondary coach (and old friend here in Athens) Willie Martinez do to stop Aaron Murray and the pass?

Woodbery: I think this is a scary matchup for Tennessee, especially because Murray is an intelligent and experienced quarterback who can sniff out mismatches on the line of scrimmage. UT freshman cornerback Cameron Sutton has done well for essentially getting picked on every game this year. The Vols have struggled in nickel sets, and don’t appear to have any ready answers on the roster.

The third down defense took a step forward against South Alabama. The Vols were just killed on third-and-long against Florida and Oregon. Obviously, if UT wants to entertain upset hopes, the defense has to get off the field on third-and-long.

5. Tennessee’s front seven is filled with upperclassmen, but the Vols have struggled some in that area too (ranking 11th in the SEC against the run.) Tennessee’s cause may be helped by Todd Gurley’s absence, if he’s out, but what are the Vols’ chances against Keith Marshall and his backups?

Woodbery: I wonder how many of those rushing yards came from quarterbacks. That’s not an excuse, of course, but the Vols have struggled against mobile quarterbacks in each of the last three weeks. But the return of two speedy ends (Jacques Smith and Corey Vereen) has given coaches hope for improvement on the edges.

6. Finally, what would be the two or three key things that would have to happen for Tennessee to pull off the upset?

Woodbery: None of these answers are revolutionary, but I think the Vols will have to win the turnover battle. Not only must UT force a couple of Georgia turnovers, but they must also turn those mistakes into points.

The offense can’t get bogged down in a series of three-and-outs. Even if the Vols aren’t scoring, they have to keep the ball long enough to give the defense a breather.

Finally, a splash play in the special teams would be huge. The Vols coverage teams have been very strong, but the return game has lacked a game-changing spark play. That would help on Saturday.

The full link to the post is here: The view from Knoxville: Beat writer Q&A | Bulldogs Beat with Seth Emerson | Macon.com.