Tag Archives: Missouri Tigers

Here’s one not-so-optimistic projection for Vols in 2014

The Vols during a practice at Neyland Stadium this spring (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — In 2013, most preseason predictions for Tennessee seemed to fall between 5-7 and 7-5. (I split the difference and picked 6-6).

With an equally tough schedule and plenty of roster turnover in 2014, I expect most picks this summer will fall in that same range.

However, there’s already an outlier, and it’s not a good one for fans trying to be optimistic in their outlook for 2014.

Football Outsiders post-spring projections have the Vols going 4-8 overall and 1-7 in the SEC. (The full post is available only for ESPN subscribers).

The complete formula for the projections is proprietary, but here’s how Football Outsiders describes it in the post: “Factors include five-year program ratings, returning starters, recruiting success and quarterback reliance — statistical indicators of teams that may take a step forward or step back next season.”

The projection model expects solid seasons from South Carolina, Georgia and — perhaps surprisingly — Missouri in the SEC East. Less surprisingly, the model has Alabama, LSU and Auburn atop the West.

I’m much more optimistic about Florida having a bounce-back year than the Football Outsiders model seems to be. And I’m probably less convinced that Missouri will be a major factor in the SEC East.

Football Outsiders has some very cool metrics for both NFL and college football that are worth checking out.

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.

Vols commit Cory Thomas, en route to Starkville this weekend, among a few prospects UT trying to keep in fold


KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — When Cory Thomas verbally committed to Tennessee in November, he wasn’t quite ready to close the door on Mississippi State.

MSU coaches, in turn, have never relented in their recruitment of the three-star strong-side defensive end from McAdory High School in suburban Birmingham, Ala.

Thomas will visit MSU this weekend, but is slated to finish the recruiting season next weekend in Knoxville. Despite being verbally committed to UT, many prognosticators expect him to eventually end up in Starkville.

In interviews, Thomas has expressed concern about the size of UT’s class and the number of defensive lineman the Vols plan to sign. At 6-foot-6, 270 pounds, Thomas is listed as a strong-side end, but could easily move up to tackle now or in the future. UT coaches will undoubtedly try to impress upon the Thomas their need for big linemen on defense.

Who else must UT keep a close eye on in the final two weeks?

Dewayne Hendrix, another strong-side end, is scheduled to visit Missouri this weekend. Normally UT might win a head-to-head battle with Mizzou, but Hendrix is from O’Fallon, Ill., just outside of St. Louis, which is only a two-hour drive from Missouri.

Finally, there’s Gavin Bryant, a Jackson, Ala., native who has also received interest from in-state Alabama and Auburn. Despite those schools’ history of stealing in-state prospects at the last minute, Bryant visited Knoxville last weekend and pronounced himself fully committed to the Vols.

Here’s a list of UT’s current verbal commitments.

Vols weekly video roundup, including scenes from Mizzou’s campus

COLUMBIA, Missouri — I usually complain about the weather when it drops below 65 degrees or so, but this November day here in mid-Missouri feels like the way football was meant to be played.

The fall colors and cold breeze give it a nice fall feel. Check out my video above for some campus scenes, including the library where new News Sentinel colleague Ben Frederickson studied his craft. (I honestly don’t think his predecessor could spell the word library, let alone ever visited one).

Below we have some more video breakdowns, practice scenes and interviews.

The Vols (4-4, 1-3 SEC) kick off against No. 10 Missouri (7-1, 3-1 SEC) at 7 p.m. Join us on GoVolsXtra for a free live blog at game time.

Missouri beat writer Q&A: The view from Columbia

Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk (AP photo)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee’s first trip to Missouri is a tougher game than anyone anticipated in August.

The Vols (4-4, 1-3) play No. 10 Missouri (7-1, 3-1) on Saturday at Faurot Field in Columbia (TV: ESPN, 7 p.m.)

For the third week in a row, I turned to an old friend from my time on the Auburn beat, which should really be known as the Cradle of Beat Writers for its alumni network around the SEC.

I asked David Morrison of the Columbia (Mo.) Tribune to answer a few questions about the team he covers. I was also extremely generous with my time in answering some of his questions here.

1. Maty Mauk has received a lot of praise for the way he’s handled the offense in the wake of James Franklin’s injury, but his completion percentage hasn’t been pretty. What’s the real story?

Mauk is a kind of high-risk, high-reward proposition at quarterback. He’s fast and knows how to make plays with his feet, but that means he also escapes the pocket too early every now and then. He’s got a very strong arm and a lot of belief in it, but that also means he opts for the home-run try when sometimes he should check down to something safer and easier to complete. Mauk’s main problem on his incomplete passes so far has been a combination of trying to fit passes into places they shouldn’t go, as well as lacking the touch needed on some of the throws he should make. He tends to throw the ball as hard as he can, no matter the depth of the route. He also tends to lock onto his first or second read, no matter how many defenders are standing around.

That being said, you can see the potential in him. His footwork is sound in the pocket and he makes strong throws, even when he knows he’s going to take a hit. The more he learns how to settle and the more patient he becomes in his route progressions, the better he’ll get.

2. Could Mizzou have been this good in 2012 if the Tigers were healthy? What else has clicked for them?

I feel like the 2013 Tigers have started so well in part because of what the 2012 Tigers went through, so I’m not sure this same group — if healthy last year — would be getting the same results. James Franklin had to go through a year of adversity  — and the criticism that followed — after his breeze of a sophomore campaign to put in the offseason of work that he did and be better suited to deal with setbacks this year. The offensive line had to go through a year of mixing and matching before finding the chemistry that’s allowing it to be one of the more solid groups in the SEC this season.

The wide receiving corps had to learn to make themselves available with an inefficient delivery system last year and have carried the skills over to the Tigers’ more polished pass game this season. The team as a whole has a kind of toughness and togetherness that bred during its first losing season since 2004 last year. It’s the kind of intangible thing that passes better for coachspeak than analysis, but I think there’s something to it on this year’s team.

3. What should fans and players expect of the atmosphere in Faurot Field this week? Will fans be deflated after last week’s loss?

Missouri fans should fill up Memorial Stadium, even with last week’s disappointment lingering. At 67,124 seats, Missouri’s home is one of the smaller ones in the SEC, but it can still get loud when things are going well for the Tigers. Just ask Florida about the mass “Gator chomp” that ensued in the stadium after Missouri’s last score put the game out of reach a couple of weeks ago. It’s kind of a late-arriving crew, but that’s mostly due to the fact that Missouri fans love their tailgates. So it’ll be a lively scene around the stadium for hours beforehand that will start translating to the seats as kickoff draws near.

Even coming off the South Carolina loss, Missouri fans seems enthused enough by the team’s start to the season and the fact that the Tigers are still very much in the SEC East race. People will come, Evan. People will most definitely come.

4. What Mizzou position group has given other teams the most matchup problems this year?

It has to be the defensive line. Michael Sam has been the revelation. He’s tops in the nation with 16 tackles for loss and tied for the national lead with 10 sacks. He’s figured out how to use his reaction time and burst on the line to make it so that it’s difficult for any lineman to get a hand on him until he’s already by. But what makes Missouri’s line so dangerous is the sheer number of pass rushers it can throw at a team.

Kony Ealy‘s the strongest of the group, and he also uses his 6-foot-5 frame to get hands up in passing lanes. He’s tied for the team lead with six passes defended this year. Then you’ve got Shane Ray — who has a sack in each of the past three games — and Markus Golden — who has fit seven tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries and an interception into limited snaps this season. Missouri lost first-round talent in Sheldon Richardson, and somehow its line has managed to play better without him.

5. What’s your prediction for the game and why?

Missouri, 38-28. The Tigers’ rush offense has proven an ability to carve out yards against basically everyone this year, and Tennessee’s rush defense looks especially vulnerable. Missouri can’t have much of an idea of Joshua Dobbs‘ tools with the limited film it has on him, but the Tigers’ rush has been able to harass everybody it’s come across in SEC play, and a true freshman quarterback making his first career start could struggle with that as well.

If Missouri figures out how to defend the screen, plays its usual soft zones in the secondary and makes Tennessee beat it 6 or 7 yards at a time, the offense should be able to outscore the Vols.

Why did Mizzou get better ratings in Knoxville than St. Louis? World Series, or UT fans’ advance scouting

Michael Palardy kicks off in practice on Tuesday. (Photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Here’s something mildly interesting: Saturday night’s South Carolina-Missouri game got better television ratings in Knoxville than it did in St. Louis.

One HUGE caveat: There was a little bit of competition for TV viewers that night as the St. Louis Cardinals played the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.

In any case, here are the top metered markets for the game, according to ESPN: Greenville, S.C. (13.3), Kansas City (11.0), Birmingham (10.8), Knoxville (8.7), Jacksonville (6.5), Charlotte (6.4), St. Louis (5.3), Nashville (5.2), Atlanta (4.9) and New Orleans (4.0).

Yeah, the South really likes college football.

But college football is also a strong regional play, too. The top markets for  the Penn State-Ohio State blowout on ABC were: Columbus (38.0), Dayton (19.5), Cleveland (16.9), Cincinnati (6.5), Pittsburgh (4.5), Ft. Myers (3.5), Philadelphia (3.2), Orlando (3.2), West Palm Beach (3.2), Detroit (3.1) and Jacksonville (3.0).

I have no idea about the Florida markets in there. Maybe Big 10 transplants? Big Urban Meyer fans?

OK, just because I find this stuff fascinating, one more. The UCLA-Oregon broadcast: Portland (18.3), Birmingham (7.9), Seattle (6.7), Los Angeles (5.6), Louisville (5.2), Las Vegas (4.4), Greenville (4.4), Knoxville (4.0), Jacksonville (3.7) and Norfolk (3.7).

You can pretty much count on Birmingham being in the top 10 in nearly every college broadcast.

Vols’ odds to make a bowl game drop to about 70 percent after new projections

Butch Jones greets Nick Saban before Saturday’s game (AP photo by Dave Martin).

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Four games in November will decide Tennessee’s season.

A 2-2 record will send the Vols to their first bowl game since 2010, Derek Dooley’s first season. The Vols started that year 2-6, but won their last four games to reach bowl eligibility.

In 2013, the schedule is harder for first-year coach Butch Jones, but Tennessee must only win two of the final four games.

How likely are they to do so? We updated our Monte Carlo simulation after the Vols’ loss to No. 1 Alabama and tweaked some of the inputs to make them more consistent.

Here are the odds of Tennessee winning each of its last four games:

Nov. 2: @ Missouri: 23 percent

Nov. 9: vs. Auburn: 41 percent

Nov. 23: vs. Vanderbilt: 62 percent

Nov. 30: at Kentucky: 75 percent.

The odds listed above are educated guesses, but I tried to use a consistent method. I calculated an expected margin of victory based on Sagarin predictor ratings, which are sometimes similar to the point spreads set by Vegas. Then I converted the spread to a rough money line and converted the money line to an implied percentage.

Then I entered all the numbers in my make-shift simulator and ran the rest of the season about 1,000 times.

Here’s what it spat out:

4-0 finish, 8-4, 5-3 overall: 4.46 percent

3-1 finish, 7-5, 4-4 overall: 25.73 percent

2-2 finish, 6-6, 3-5 overall: 41.13 percent

1-3 finish, 5-7, 2-6 overall: 24.92 percent

0-4 finish, 4-8, 1-7 overall: 3.76 percent

The bold numbers give Tennessee bowl eligibility.

I ran a few smaller simulations just for the heck of it.

Missouri has a higher-than-I-expected 17 percent chance of winning out this season and a 45 percent chance of finishing 10-2, 6-2.

Will No. 1 Alabama finish the regular season with an undefeated record? My quick simulation put the odds at about 70 percent.

Updated predictions after Vols’ big win: UT’s bowl chances now nearly 80 percent

Infographic for Vols' final record

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee took a huge step toward reaching bowl eligibility with an upset win of then-No. 11 South Carolina on Saturday at Neyland Stadium.

The Vols (4-3, 1-2 SEC) only have to win two more games to guarantee a .500 record and a trip to the postseason.

How likely are the Vols to reach that goal? We recalculated our Monte Carlo simulation to find out.

Here are the somewhat subjective odds we are using for the final five games:

Opponent — Chance of winning

at Alabama — 8 percent

at Missouri — 38 percent

Auburn — 42 percent

Vanderbilt — 63 percent

at Kentucky — 81 percent

To make these percentages less subjective, I’ve tried to base them on the anticipated point spread for the game. Given that Alabama is favored by 28 over Tennessee, eight percent is extremely generous. (In other words, teams who are 28-point underdogs win much less often than that). Missouri could be undefeated and ranked in the top-5 when the Vols travel to Columbia, so that spread could grow, too. Auburn is likely to be 8-1 and in the top-10 when the Tigers travel to Knoxville, but the spread will be mitigated by the Vols’ home-field advantage. Vanderbilt is a wild card, too, as the Commodores just beat Georgia.

In any case, when we plug those numbers into the simulation and run it 1,000 times, here’s what we get.

Record in last five games — likelihood — overall record, SEC record

5-0 — 0.91 percent — 9-3, 6-2

4-1 — 9.75 percent — 8-4, 5-3

3-2 — 32.69 percent — 7-5, 4-4

2-3 — 36.45 percent — 6-6, 3-5

1-4 — 17.56 percent — 5-7, 2-6

0-5 — 2.64 percent — 4-8, 1-7

Bowl eligible? 79.8 percent

Miss a bowl? 20.2 percent

Because a Monte Carlo simulation uses random numbers, this projection may change every time the spreadsheet is edited. In other words, every time a change is made, the random simulation is re-calculated another 1,000 times, providing new projections.

[gdoc link=”https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/pub?key=0AgBQnqCTaaxzdGZtNzJjVlRBb2lLWjllaF9QcFNrT1E&output=html&widget=true” height=”500″]

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

Upcoming UT opponents South Carolina, Missouri, Auburn climb in AP poll

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — November is shaping up to be nearly as hard as October for the Vols.

Future opponents Missouri and Auburn surged in the Associated Press poll released on Sunday.

Missouri (6-0, 2-0 SEC) climbed 11 spots to No. 14 after beating Georgia in Athens. The Vols play at Mizzou on Nov. 2.

Auburn (5-1, 2-1) moved into the poll at No. 24 after routing Western Carolina. The Vols host Auburn Nov. 9 at Neyland Stadium.

Tennessee (3-3, 0-2) plays No. 11 South Carolina (5-1, 3-1) on Saturday (TV: ESPN, noon) at Neyland Stadium. The Gamecocks moved up three spots after thrashing Arkansas on Saturday.