Saturday Football: Jeremy Pruitt's hot seat, Frost advisory and JT Daniels
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Good morning and happy Wednesday! We’re approaching another action-packed week of college football. Even though the COVID-19 pandemic has already forced a number of games to be postponed or canceled, it’s looking like we’ll still have dozens of games to sort through. It started last night with three MACtion games and will continue tonight with three more. Then, the Power 5 teams get going this weekend.
In today’s newsletter, we’ll talk about Tennessee fans’ growing frustration with coach Jeremy Pruitt. Then, we’ll look into similar issues at Nebraska involving Scott Frost. Finally, we’ll ask the question that has been on all Georgia fans’ minds — are we ever going to see JT Daniels on the field? Let’s get started!
After a hot start, Tennessee has fallen on hard times. Is Jeremy Pruitt on the hot seat now?
On Tuesday after, COVID-19 issues at Texas A&M were causing concerns that this weekend’s A&M-Tennessee game might not be able to be played. Shortly thereafter, the game was postponed. However, that postponement doesn’t affect this section at all, as we’re going to discuss some growing frustrations with coach Jeremy Pruitt.
After starting the year 2-0 with wins over South Carolina and Mizzou, the Vols now find themselves at 2-4 after losses to Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas. Based on the remaining schedule, which we’ll discuss in a bit, there’s a real chance the Vols could finish 3-7. Does that mean Pruitt is on the hot seat now? Let’s dive into what’s being said on Rocky Top:
- Saturday’s loss at Arkansas drew a lot of criticism toward Pruitt. Fans and media members took to Twitter to say first-year coach Sam Pittman out-coached Pruitt, who is in his third year with the Vols. Pruitt acknowledged fan frustrations, saying he’s told players that “I’m not discouraged, I’m not disappointed with with where we’re at, I’m pissed off, where we’re at, obviously.” Pruitt’s explanation of why Tennessee didn’t attempt a field goal down 11 in the fourth quarter caused AtoZSportsNashville.com to note that he sounded like Butch Jones in that moment. Yikes.
- At the heart of Tennessee’s issues is the quarterback position. Jarrett Guarantano probably isn’t the answer. He also got injured against Arkansas. Tennessee held the lead at that point, but 247Sports writer Wes Rucker expressed his frustration that the Vols had no Plan B for when things got tough. Saturday Down South’s Mark Nagi calls out OC Jim Chaney, wondering what, exactly, is Tennessee’s offensive identity? AtoZSportsNashville.com writer Zach Ragan cites no clear QB plan as one of the reasons he’s out on Pruitt as the Vols’ coach. Sports Illustrated’s Matthew Ray writes that if freshman Harrison Bailey is the future at QB, he needs to be installed as the permanent starter now.
- So, what should we expect from the Vols the rest of the year? Tennessee was supposed to host No. 5 Texas A&M this weekend, but will now host the Aggies on Dec. 12 instead. Then, trips to No. 24 Auburn and Vanderbilt loom large before ending the year at home against No. 6 Florida. What does ESPN’s Football Power Index think of the Vols’ chances? FPI gives Tennessee less than a 22% chance to beat A&M, Auburn and Florida. The only game the Vols will be favored in is the road trip to Vanderbilt. That would put them at 3-7 on the year. After the 2-0 start, that won’t be good for Pruitt’s job security.
One thing we know about Tennessee fans is that they don’t have much patience. This is a fan base that expects to win now. Pruitt has done some good things, but by Year 3, fans expect that to translate into the win column. Instead, this team seems to have taken a step back from last year. Will Pruitt face some tough questions this offseason? We’ll find out what happens as the strange 2020 season continues.
TOP UNCOMMITTED 2021 RECRUITS
This past month saw a run on 5-star prospects committing to their schools of choice ahead of the Early Signing Period in December. Now, there are no longer 10 or more 5-star 2021 prospects on the board. There are still plenty of elite athletes left in the ranks of the uncommitted, but the nation’s top high school athletes are making their final choices and narrowing their lists.
So, who are the best players who have yet to announce their commitments for 2021 and beyond? Here’s a look at the 10 best uncommitted recruits in the 2021 class (via the 247Sports composite rankings):
- 5-star DE Korey Foreman — No. 1 overall
- 5-star DE J.T. Tuimoloau — No. 2 overall
- 5-star WR Emeka Egbuka — No. 8 overall
- 5-star OL Tristan Leigh — No. 11 overall
- 5-star DT Maason Smith — No. 20 overall
- 5-star RB Camar Wheaton — No. 21 overall
- 5-star OLB Smael Mondon — No. 27 overall
- 4-star DE Tunmise Adeleye — No. 32 overall
- 4-star RB Donovan Edwards — No. 36 overall
- 4-star RB LJ Johnson — No. 42 overall
As mentioned above, the Early Signing Period is quickly approaching. This year has been one of the weirdest ever for recruits, but the players have adapted and are making the most of it. Now, we’ll see how many of the players listed above make their commitments before this time in December!
- The SEC has a pair of legitimate Heisman contenders at quarterback. Alabama’s Mac Jones is considered by many to be the frontrunner, but Florida’s Kyle Trask is right on his heels. It’s no surprise Saturday Down South’s Neil Blackmon has them ranked as his top two players in the SEC. Check out his full list of the top 10 SEC players this season here.
- Speaking of the Heisman Trophy, there are several great candidates. From Jones and Trask to Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence and others, this year’s race is as wide-open as it has been in recent years. Bleacher Report’s Kerry Miller breaks down where things stand in the Heisman race entering the weekend.
- The Pac-12 had a game kick off at 9 a.m. local time on Saturday. It was an exciting matchup, as USC came back to beat Arizona State. So, how’d the league pull off that early start time and what did players think? ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura goes in-depth on the unique game week for the Trojans and Sun Devils.
- At 1-2, Michigan has been one of the biggest disappointments of the year. Head coach Jim Harbaugh is taking a lot of the blame, and many wonder if it is time for the Wolverines to move on. Then, there are the rumors that Harbaugh could decide to head back to the NFL. Saturday Tradition’s Adam Biggers wonders if Harbaugh has already mentally checked out of Ann Arbor.
Nebraska is off to an 0-2 start, but Scott Frost is hinting at some changes. Will it help the Huskers turn the corner?
So close, yet so far away. That’s been the theme of Scott Frost’s tenure thus far as the head coach at Nebraska. Over the course of 26 games, the Huskers have managed to win just 9 and have found a way to come up on the wrong side of one-possession games 10 times since the 2018 season. Saturday’s 21-13 loss to Northwestern saw more of the same from Nebraska. According to Saturday Tradition’s Connor O’Gara, the 0-2 start has already cost the Huskers a chance at a B1G West title.
Frost was frustrated after the game, as he’s been so many times while sporting a red Nebraska baseball cap at the podium. This time, the head coach was pointing the finger at himself, saying it was “inexcusable to only score 13 points” in Saturday’s loss to Northwestern. And in Year 3 with a program that’s supposed to be producing a lightning-fast and highly-efficient offense, he’s absolutely right.
In the days after the game, Frost has talked about changes that could be coming. Players are taking more accountability, too. That’s all well and good, but it still leaves one question unanswered: Will it actually matter?
- It all starts at the QB position. Adrian Martinez or Luke McCaffrey? That’s the biggest question Nebraska faces heading into a Week 3 game against Penn State. Frost won’t say if a change is coming. Offensive coordinator Matt Lubick suggested that this week will be “an open competition” for every spot on offense, including quarterback. If fans had their way, they’d give the ball to McCaffrey and see what happens, as we saw on social media over the weekend. Saturday Tradition’s Steve Marik agrees, saying “it’s time to see what McCaffrey can do.”
- Urban Meyer says Nebraska’s issues run deep. The former head coach-turned-analyst sees a real lack of depth and talent, especially on the offensive side of the football. Meyer said that Martinez’s play has been far from ideal through the first two games, but the Huskers’ general lack of talent seems to still be an issue in Year 3 of the Frost era.
- A lack of talent, but no lack of accountability. If there’s one positive from another disappointing start, it’s that the guys putting on the uniforms know this type of play is unacceptable in Lincoln. LB Luke Reimer said the loss to Northwestern “hurt, for sure.” DB Dicaprio Bootle said it’s time the Huskers find a way to finish. Another DB, Marquez Dismuke, said now isn’t the time for Nebraska to hang its head and “go half-ass.”
- Nebraska has an opportunity on Saturday. This weekend’s game between Nebraska and Penn State features two teams that are off to less-than-ideal starts. The two teams are a combined 0-5 on the year, but after this week, the hardest part of the year is essentially over for the Huskers. In the remaining four games, Nebraska will play Illinois, Iowa, Purdue and Minnesota — all winnable games. Get a victory over the Nittany Lions and there’s still potential to end 2020 with a solid record.
During his weekly press conference on Monday, Frost talked about his desire to get the football program turned around. He said nobody is “more impatient than me,” and he’s the one who puts the most pressure on himself to be successful. If Nebraska doesn’t beat Penn State on Saturday, there will be plenty of others out there willing to turn up the heat on the third-year Huskers head coach.
JUST FOR FUN
The first AP Poll for the upcoming men’s college basketball season came out on Monday. There are four schools that have both their men’s basketball and football teams ranked in the top 25. For today’s quiz, can you name those four schools?
Scroll down to see the answers to today’s quiz.
The Georgia Bulldogs have some major concerns at QB. Why hasn’t JT Daniels gotten any playing time yet?
Stetson Bennett IV — former walk-on turned star QB for the Georgia Bulldogs — was one of the best stories of the early part of the 2020 SEC season. Now, though, he is struggling (and injured his right shoulder against Florida). D’Wan Mathis has looked lost during his time leading the Bulldogs’ offense, so he doesn’t appear to be the answer, either.
That all leads to one big question — where is JT Daniels? The USC transfer has been cleared to play by doctors, but we haven’t seen him on the field yet. Will this weekend’s game at Mizzou (assuming it isn’t postponed due to COVID-19) see him get some action? Here’s the latest from Athens:
- Coach Kirby Smart had plenty to say about Daniels on Monday. Ahead of the Mizzou game, Smart weighed in on how Daniels has looked at practice. He said Daniels has been getting first-team reps at times and has been working with the scout team at others. As of right now, it seems to be anyone’s guess who starts at QB this week.
- Georgia fans and media don’t seem to trust Smart when it comes to QBs. Fans roasted Smart on Twitter during the loss to Florida. In his weekly First and 10 column, Saturday Down South’s Matt Hayes writes about the bleak history of coaches who can’t develop elite quarterbacks. Will Smart follow that path, which includes Gene Chizik’s post-Cam Newton era at Auburn and the end of Les Miles’ tenure at LSU, among others?
- Look, Smart knows his QB play isn’t up to snuff right now. After the loss, he acknowledged that missing easy throws and catches was the most-disappointing thing about the offense. But, the definition of insanity, as the famous quote goes, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Thus, Saturday Down South’s Sydney Hunte says now is the time to move away from Bennett. Joe Vitale of UGA Wire agrees, making a case for seeing what Daniels can do.
- Finally, this section wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Justin Fields. The former Georgia QB-turned-Ohio State superstar is playing like a Heisman contender this year. SEC Network host Paul Finebaum said Smart is going to face a lot of questions moving forward about how he let Fields get away from the Georgia program. Indeed, after watching Georgia’s offensive struggles on Saturday against Florida, many fans took to Twitter to wonder what might have been this year with Fields.
Obviously, Justin Fields isn’t walking through that door any time soon in Athens, but that doesn’t make it any less strange that we haven’t seen Daniels. Based on the play Georgia has had at quarterback the past few weeks, it’s hard not to wonder why Smart hasn’t made a change and at least seen what the USC transfer brings to the table. We’ll see if he gets on the field at all this weekend.
The four schools with ranked football and men’s basketball teams are:
- Ohio State (No. 3 football, No. 23 basketball)
- Oregon (No. 11 football, No. 20 basketball)
- Wisconsin (No. 13 football, No. 7 basketball)
- Texas (No. 21 football, No. 19 basketball)
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“It means nothing at all right now, and I think especially in this year because it’s very, very difficult, even at this point in the season, to know who has really established them as the most dangerous teams in the country on a consistent basis. We have conferences that have played one game, conferences that have played three games, conferences that have played more games than we’ve played. So I think it’s very, very difficult to be able to determine that. So I think it’s even more meaningless this year than ever before.”
– Alabama coach Nick Saban has never been one to put much stock in the rankings, but in this crazy year amid a pandemic, he explains why the Crimson Tide’s No. 1 ranking is more pointless than ever.
TWEET OF THE DAY
As of Tuesday evening when this newsletter was finalized, three SEC games (Alabama-LSU, Auburn-Mississippi State and Texas A&M-Tennessee) have already been postponed for the weekend. Meanwhile the Georgia-Mizzou and Kentucky-Vanderbilt games are also in jeopardy due to COVID-19 concerns. Oh, and Arkansas coach Sam Pittman tested positive earlier this week. Could be a meager slate of games down south on Saturday.