All That and a Bag of Mail

It’s Friday and I’m still celebrating Tennessee’s improbable bowl game win last night over Indiana.

Entering last night’s games teams that were up by 13 or more with less than five minutes to play were 471-0 on the season. But then, boom, the Vols surged their way to an improbable come from behind victory and noted a sixth straight win to finish the season 8-5 after starting 1-4.

It’s one of the most remarkable season turnarounds I’ve ever seen.

With that in mind, let’s dive into the Friday mailbag.

Dibo writes:

“Given that 0-471 stat of teams trailing by 13+ points with 5 mins to go in the 4th, how stupid/improbable was the Vols win last night?”

First, the stat is a wild one, but it’s also worth noting that Tennessee was in the Indiana red zone on the drive with five minutes remaining in the game.

In other words, this was closer to a single score game than it was a two score game so the stat is a bit misleading.

I’m not sure that’s going to make Indiana football fans feel better because they have consistently snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, but it is relevant when you consider that stat.

Second, the onside kick, I think, was the difference maker in this game.

I’m still stunned that Indiana wasn’t in kick safe here. Even if you don’t think Tennessee will try an onside kick, you should still line up to prevent it and ensure they kick it deep.

Sure, you potentially give up the chance for a big return, but a fair catch is a pretty decent play there anyway. Plus, Tennessee had bombed several kicks through the end zone.

So I just think Pruitt and his coaching staff took advantage of an error by Indiana there.

You shouldn’t have lined up in a formation that even gave Tennessee the incentive to attempt that onside kick.

The onside kick — which to be fair, still had to be perfectly executed — won Tennessee the game.

I have several other thoughts on the game as well.

First, Jarrett Guarantano is an unbelievable rhythm thrower. It’s incredible how streaky he is. When he gets hot he can make any throw in football, when he gets cold, he can miss any throw in football. Both were on display last night.

I suspect both will still be on display next year too.

Guarantano also really, really struggles in goal line situations because he isn’t fast and decisive enough in his throws. That makes the running game that much more important down close, which, to Tennessee’s credit, they finally went to late in the fourth quarter in goal line situations. (By the way, had Indiana not done any film study? The play Tennessee ran to score its first touchdown was the play that Guarantano chose not to run late against Alabama. It was blatantly obvious to every Tennessee fan what was coming when Crouch came in and lined up in the backfield. Maybe the play’s just that hard to stop, but I’m surprised Indiana didn’t see it coming.)

Second, the end of the game possession was a calamity for the Vols. Tennessee took over after a missed field goal with 2:08 remaining in the game and Indiana only having one timeout. Yet the Vols only took 1:06 off the clock before they punted.

I hope the team goes back and looks at this end of game scenario because they left at least forty seconds on the clock that shouldn’t have been there.

Tennessee snapped the ball twice — in the wildcat no less — with ten seconds left on the clock both times and then took a penalty that stopped the clock as well. (It’s possible Tennessee was snapping the ball early in the wildcat to try and catch Indiana off guard, but I’d rather snap with one or two seconds left and lose my advantage on timing than give away twenty seconds there. It’s also possible Tennessee went wildcat because Guarantano has had an injured hand and they were afraid of him handing off in late game situations and fumbling, something that bedeviled them against Missouri, but he’d been handing off all game long and there didn’t appear to be any issues thus far.)

The big point here is that the wildcat, at least based on when the snaps occurred, was not a smart play to run the clock late.

Then you can’t ever, ever, have a penalty with a running clock late.

Rather than try to draw Indiana offsides, why not just let the clock run down to one second left and then take your timeout without your team lined up?

You can still try and draw Indiana offsides on fourth down and take another timeout with the clock stopped if you want to leave your offense on the field, but it makes no sense to risk the penalty there with a running clock.

I know Pruitt is a new head coach, but clock management issues drive me insane. Indiana should have never had the amount of time they did to try and mount another field goal try late in this game.

A situation like this can’t ever happen again because it might well cost Tennessee in the future.

Third, don’t underrate what Jeremy Pruitt accomplished in taking a 1-4 team to 8-5.  The Vols didn’t quit or collapse when it would have been easy to do so after tough early season losses. (I thought the BYU loss was even tougher than the Georgia State loss because Tennessee had the BYU game completely won.)

Yes, Tennessee was better than Georgia State and BYU, but I’m not sure they were that much better this year than Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina or Mississippi State. And if they were better, at least they weren’t substantially better.

Vegas certainly agrees with me since Tennessee was favored in one SEC football game this year.

One!

Yet the Vols won five SEC games.

That’s a credit to Pruitt and his staff.

Next year’s schedule is brutal — at Oklahoma, Florida, Alabama, and at Georgia will all be top ten opponents on the schedule — but the other eight games are very winnable, meaning 8-4 should be doable. (It’s also possible Tennessee could pull off an upset in one of these four games, but I just don’t think it’s very likely. Especially not if Lincoln Riley and Tua come back.)

Then the table will be set coming back for year four.

In other words, I don’t expect a big jump in year three just because I don’t think Tennessee will be ready to take down top ten opponents. But Pruitt is recruiting the players that should make that possible in year four.

By year four Tennessee should be back to being a top 15 program.

In the meantime, think about this: Butch Jones left this program in such rough shape that in his first 16 SEC games, Jeremy Pruitt was favored to win one SEC game.

He won seven.

That suggests once he gets near equal talent levels there are a lot of reasons for optimism.

In the meantime, Tennessee’s final game against Indiana was a microcosm of their entire season. Ultimately the Vols, over the course of a season, found a way to win close games.

Lucas writes:

“Where does Joe Burrow rank on the best college quarterbacks since 2000?”

If LSU beats Clemson then Joe Burrow will have, I believe, the greatest single season in college football quarterbacking history.

His team would be 15-0 with top ten wins over Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida. Alabama, and Auburn. (I’m not going to count Texas, but the Longhorns were top ten when LSU beat them in Austin).

He’s likely to set an all time passing touchdown record and helm the most explosive offense in SEC history.

Right now the most impressive single season for any quarterback I’ve seen in my life was Cam Newton with Auburn. If LSU finishes 15-0, Burrow will have the new most impressive season I’ve ever seen by any quarterback.

(Honorable mention best quarterback seasons: Vince Young with Texas in their national title year & Tim Tebow in his Heisman trophy season, his sophomore year which was, ironically, the year between his two national titles).

By the way, if Trevor Lawrence wins this game then he’ll be in position to win a third straight national title next year — and not lose a single game — as the starting quarterback for Clemson in his career. Which would, not surprisingly, put him in a position to have the greatest quarterbacking career in college history.

So I can’t wait for this game, it should be epic.

Royals fan writes:

“Why isn’t the CFB championship game this Monday? Seems like too long of a layoff.”

I think it’s a function of the initial schedule laid out for the playoff when the intent was to play both the playoff games on New Year’s Eve.

ESPN was able to persuade the college football playoff committee that ratings would be better if they put the game on the Saturday closest to New Year’s Eve as opposed to on New Year’s Eve itself. If they’d played the game on New Year’s Eve, which was on a Tuesday this week, then there would have been less than a week for the title game to be played on this coming Monday.

So I think that’s why the game is bumped all the way to January 13th. (It’s also the case that the Super Bowl always takes two weeks between the AFC and NFC title games as well. So maybe this is something college wants to emulate, I don’t know).

I always get asked, by the way, why the game is on a Monday and on cable as well and the answer, as with most things, is money.

ESPN’s most watched programming all year long, by far, is the college football playoff. By putting the playoff games on cable they guarantee that the cable operators will have to carry their cable channel.

Ironically enough this limits the overall college football playoff audience fairly substantially — especially with the rise of cable and cordcutting there are around 25 million more homes with ABC than ESPN. This is why we’re starting to see the rise of broadcast television anew.

It just offers scale that can’t be found elsewhere.

Which is why I wonder whether in the years ahead ESPN might start simulcasting the college football playoff on ABC as well as ESPN.

Jason writes:

“Would you rather make the College Football Playoff but lose in the semifinal game, or end the season with a win in a New Year’s six game (Rose, Sugar, Cotton)?” 

The goal is to make the playoff so I’d rather lose in the playoff.

Having said that, you don’t want to turn into Oklahoma and get run every year in the first round of the playoff. Because then you become way more of a punching bad for the nation than you would if you just lost a bowl game.

But in general the goal has to be making the playoff.

Michael writes:

“What’s your take on Iran?”

Any time you can kill a murderous terrorist who is intent on killing innocent Americans, I think you do it.

I understand some Democrats are nervous about Trump’s decision, but are we just supposed to allow a murderous terrorist to have free reign over our country’s soldiers and not respond at all? Especially when we have actionable intelligence that this man is currently planning a terrorist attack?

I think you have to act.

I also believe that killing a murderous despot makes as many people happy — if not more — in the countries where those murderous despots live. I suspect there are many in positions of authority in the Middle East who may appear to be publicly upset over this man’s killing who actually aren’t upset at all.

The bigger issue here is that Iran, and its terrorist allies, want to kill Americans (and Jews). That’s been the case for thousands of years in the Middle East when it comes to Jews and it has been the stated goal of Iran to kill Americans for forty years.

So Iran’s motive is the same as it was before we killed this terrorist.

Even the Democrats who disagree with this decision are saying they agree it’s better that he’s dead, but they are worried about escalating tensions.

That’s a tough line to walk.

So you agree this man deserved to die for what he’d done to American soldiers, but you don’t think we should do anything to do him because it might make things worse?

Things are already pretty bad.

I didn’t support the war in Iraq because I suspected we’d end up dragged into the internecine mess of Middle Eastern blood feud and civil wars.

I was right.

The war in Iraq cost us trillions of dollars and thousands of lives.

I don’t want to go to war with Iran either.

But the Iranian people are being held hostage by a murderous regime using religion as a cover for their power. What we need is for the Iranian people to rise up and throw down the theocracy they’ve lived under for two generations. I think the majority of the Iranian people would like to do it and it’s my hope that the pressure Trump is putting on Iran will make that more likely.

Ultimately we need a tear down the Berlin Wall like moment for both North Korea and Iran.

That would make the world immeasurably safer.

I’d like to think it will happen in my lifetime, but who knows?

I don’t believe anyone predicted the Berlin Wall was coming down either.

What we do know is that the 2010’s were the greatest decade in human history and I suspect the same will be true of the 2020’s.

The sooner the despotic rulers of Iran and North Korea are taken down, the better.

Liam writes:

“What kind of animal needs to be sacrificed for the gods to send Freeze to Miss State?”

I don’t think Freeze would take the job, but if you wanted pure SEC chaos, this would be tough to beat.

Can you imagine Hugh Freeze going up against Lane Kiffin in Mississippi?

Mississippi State needs some real sizzle now, but the problem is Dan Mullen isn’t walking through that door. It’s a really tough job in Starkville and I think Bulldog fans were spoiled by the success Mullen had there.

It is fascinating, however, that top college football schools, increasingly, won’t give their coaches more than two years. Willie Taggart, Joe Moorhead, and Chad Morris were all gone in two years or less.

Darren writes:

“What does the XFL have to do in order to be successful and appeal to the common fan? Not the degenerate that’ll bet on preseason and the Pro Bowl, but the average person that’ll tune in for their team, but do yard work if they’re getting blown out?”

Have quarterbacks that people care about.

The best thing the NFL could do is offer Trevor Lawrence — or Justin Fields — massive contracts to come play in their leagues. You need star players that fans care about to move the needle and the biggest competitive advantage I can see the XFL has is there’s no age limit.

So you could pay college underclassmen who are already established stars to come play in your league.

You can’t manufacture fandom immediately, you need quarterbacks — and to a lesser extent other players — that fans want to root for.

The reason most people cheer for the teams they cheer for is because they were raised cheering for that team.

Which is why the goal for the XFL should be to appeal to casual fans who just love football and will watch it on television instead of basketball.

Remember, you don’t have to produce similar ratings to the NFL, you just need one tenth of their numbers.

I’m genuinely curious to see how it does, but personally I like the idea of a summer football league more than a league that starts right after the NFL.

By the time the Super Bowl ends, I’m ready for a break from football.

Come summer, I’m ready again, long before the NFL or college football actually start.

So I don’t know how much I’ll watch, to be honest.

Thanks for reading the Friday mailbag and happy new year to all of you.

Let’s go Titans!

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