When Jimmy Hyams talks Southeastern Conference and UT football, it’s not a bad idea to pay attention. This is his 37th year in Knoxville, and he remains the only journalist to be named as Tennessee’s Sportswriter of the Year (five times) and Sportscaster of the Year (twice). His sports writing career began in 1972, making this his 50th year.
Tonight, he may well receive his biggest honor when he is inducted into the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame.
Hyams, sports director for 99.1 FM The Sports Animal in Knoxville and co-host of Sports Talk five days a week, spoke to the Rotary Club of Farragut yesterday on the cusp of the 2022 UT football season. A week from today, Tennessee opens its season against Ball State (7 p.m. on the SEC Network), and today the Vols are 33-point favorites.
Hyams is predicting this to be first of nine victories this year with losses to Alabama, Georgia and LSU in Baton Rouge. “I will add that I think Pittsburgh is going to be a tough game for UT, maybe Kentucky coming off back-to-back 10-win seasons and South Carolina will be improved with its new quarterback from Oklahoma (Spencer Rattler).”
But losing to LSU this year? “It’s hard to win down there, they have a really good quarterback, and Brian Kelley knows what he’s doing. It’ll be a real tough game.”
UT’s fast and high-scoring offense is entertaining, but scoring so quickly, Hyams pointed out, puts the defense on the field for between two and five more series per game. “And the defense gets tired, especially the secondary when teams are throwing the ball to catch up and score,” he said. “This defense will give up a lot of points, but it’s going to have to make stops in the fourth quarter to win.”
He said this will be a “fun season” – quarterback Hendon Hooker will be better as will his favorite receiver, Cedric Tillman. Running back Jabari Small will add fireworks. As a sophomore last season, he ran for 796 yards and nine touchdowns on 141 carries while missing two games to injuries. And he’s put on weight for this year’s rugged life as an SEC running back.
Hyams mentioned the excitement by UT fans this year – more than 59,000 season tickets have been sold (the goal was 70,000) and 17,000 of those are new season ticket buyers. And people are still buying.
He also spoke briefly about the men’s and women’s basketball teams in 2022-23.
Coach Rick Barnes’ team: “They have some really good players at guard and on the wings, but they are still missing on having a really good, big man inside. Watch B.J. Edwards from Catholic High School. This freshman is a real player, and I’m very high on him.” Edwards, 6-3, averaged 20 points a game last year for Catholic and 19.9 points a year over four years.
Coach Kellie Harper’s team: “This is probably the best Lady Vols roster since 2008. They are loaded. They are probably going to be the second-best team in the SEC, just behind South Carolina. Kellie is getting better and better. This is going to be a great team to watch.”
Tom King has been the editor of newspapers in Texas and California and also worked in Tennessee and Georgia.