First guess on whether football Vols can make playoffs

Marvin Westwestwords

You think we are approaching the peak of basketball season?

I checked my dependable news barometer, serious coffee drinkers at Hardee’s in downtown Maynardville, to find the facts. They had skipped lightly over the chance of more snow sometime and predicted three votes for Biden in Union County.

To my surprise, they had settled discussion on the 12-team college football playoff and whether Tennessee will be in the field. What say you, Famous Scribe?

Even with my best binoculars, I can’t see December. I thus had no definitive answer.

Why was that subject on the front burner? Could be coaching changes at Michigan and Alabama moved the Wolverines and Crimson Tide from almost certainties to the hopeful list with 25 or 30 other teams. Could be some are thinking Nico can change the world.

They agreed to accept a guess on whether the Vols will be in or out. You get it, too: Maybe, could happen, probably a little less than 50-50 that they will.

Southeastern Conference teams with 10-2 records against difficult schedules will undoubtedly receive consideration. For Tennessee to go 10-2, it would have to win a big one – at Oklahoma, at Georgia or polish off the Crimson Tide again at beautiful, historic Neyland Stadium.

That same history says the nine other 2024 foes are not automatics. The challenge includes Florida, Kentucky and Mississippi State in Knoxville, Arkansas in Fayetteville and North Carolina State in Charlotte.

I went all the way out on a limb and counted Chattanooga, Kent State, Texas El Paso and Vanderbilt as done deals. General Robert R. Neyland once told me to always fear Chattanooga’s passing attack. He said beat the heck out of Vandy but don’t take it for granted.

OK, the Commodores will eventually win another game – and continue to cash SEC checks.

Still guessing, 9-3 for the Vols is a better bet than 10-2. Guessing again, three SEC teams should fit comfortably in the tournament. If there are four, other conferences will scream.

Georgia, Texas, Alabama, Ole Miss and Missouri are ranked ahead of Tennessee. LSU and Oklahoma believe they should be.

Lest we forget, the Volunteers were 17th in the final Associated Press poll. You do remember what a joke that was, that UConn coach Jim Mora and a few others left them out – entirely.

Logical expectations:

Nico Iamaleava can do more things with a football than Joe Milton did. Nico can throw on the run. Nico can run and not throw. Say a prayer that Nico does not run into a very large linebacker on bad behavior.

The return of experienced offensive linemen should be a blessing. Cooper Mays will be a big help to Nico. The procurement of Lance Heard (6-6, 305) from the transfer portal was a season-saving move. The Vols had to have a tackle.

A year ago, Heard was LSU’s No. 1 prep recruit. He played a lot for the Tigers. He made a move because he was trapped behind two starters. He is now bigger, better, stronger, perhaps ready to be a main man in the SEC.

I was never convinced the 2023 Tennessee offensive line was as good as the numbers – 19th nationally in total offense, 20th in yards per play, 2,663 rushing yards. Jaylen Wright’s big-play ability skewed the totals.

On the to-be-determined list is whether Vol receivers are good enough to make the playoffs. They weren’t last year. The addition of Tulane transfer Chris Brazzell and five-star recruit Mike Matthews changed the preliminary look.

The return of Bru McCoy from a really bad ankle injury will make a difference. Squirrel White can play but there is just one of him.

If you watched the Citrus Bowl, you saw the 2024 running backs – Dylan Sampson and Cam Seldon. Other youngsters await their turn. Nico projects as a bonus in the running game.

Don’t expect greatness from the defense. The front will be solid. James Pearce has all-America potential as an edge rusher.

Sixth-year linebacker Keenan Pili (modern rules are wonderfully flexible, this will be his seventh season) could be the key to the entire operation. He came from BYU a year ago to provide leadership to younger associates, played part of the first game, suffered an arm injury and thereafter helped however he could as a student coach.

Indeed, maturity is a Pili strength. He’ll be 26 in late May.

The Vol secondary will be younger. Most of the older guys went away. Applause, in this case, is rude. We’ll see if greater athletic ability is an adequate replacement for experience.

Alas, none of the above tells you whether Tennessee will or won’t make the 12-team playoffs. Here is free advice: Don’t bet the rent.

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is


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