🏈 Catch up on Tennessee's spring football

Plus, plenty of hoops

Hello. This is the Josh and Swain Newsletter, a quick roundup of the week’s top stories and topics involving Tennessee and the sports world.

Here’s what we have for you today:

  • Tennessee’s growing confidence in QB Nico Iamaleava

  • A Tennessee Hoops season to celebrate… and offseason to prepare for

  • Is major change coming to the world of college football?

  • Danny White’s search for Tennessee’s next championship coach

THE NICO HYPE ISN’T SLOWING DOWN

There’s a little more than a week remaining in Tennessee’s spring practice following Thursday night’s scrimmage at Neyland Stadium.

The scrimmage was closed to the media and public.

So everything you hear coming out of Thursday’s scrimmage will be just that… things that are heard, not necessarily seen.

But we can still pay attention to what’s being said.

Here are a few topics coming out of the second scrimmage as the Vols enter their final week of spring practice.

🟠 The Nico Buzz

Quarterback Nico Iamaleava has elevated the excitement around Tennessee's program.

There are several reasons the Vols believe they can make the College Football Playoff.

Nico is the biggest reason.

“Nico’s ballin’ man,” seventh-year senior John Campbell Jr. told the media last week.

Campbell, who will start at right tackle this fall, said Iamaleava is playing fast and making great decisions.

Iamaleava still has plenty to prove — he’s only started one game, after all — but the Vols’ confidence in their starting quarterback appears sky-high.

There’s talk of Tennessee’s offense returning to its 2022 form.

It will take more than just Nico to do that — don’t forget how good Jerome Carvin and Darnell Wright were for the Vols’ 2022 offensive line.

Nico’s potential and development is a good starting point, though.

He’s creating a lot of believers.

Tennessee’s corners are confident

Here’s another position that has created excitement.

Tennessee fans have clamored for new talent at cornerback for the last couple of years.

It’s here with sophomores Rickey Gibson III and Jermod McCoy.

McCoy is a transfer from Oregon State who played well as a freshman in the Pac-12.

Gibson came on late in the season for Tennessee, starting in the Citrus Bowl against Iowa.

Both players have impressed coaches with their athleticism and playmaking ability.

Gibson chose Tennessee over Georgia in the 2023 class — he was a highly-touted recruit.

McCoy was considered by many to be a wide receiver prospect and was ranked the 242nd-best prospect… in Texas.

He’s brought the chip on his shoulder that helped him perform well as a freshman defender at Oregon State.

Don’t forget: the same thing with Nico applies with UT’s cornerbacks… they still have a lot to prove.

🟠 Offensive Questions

There are several reasons to be excited about the offense, including Iamaleava’s development, returning starters on the offensive line, and talent at the skill positions.

But there are questions, too.

➡️ Is Tennessee deep enough at running back?

The injury to sophomore Cameron Seldon has Tennessee's staff taking a close look at the position.

We’ll see if the Vols go after help at running back in the transfer portal.

➡️ Is Tennessee deep enough on the offensive line?

The Vols’ O-line is deep when it comes to available scholarship offensive linemen.

It remains to be seen how many of those offensive linemen Tennessee’s coaching staff would trust to play in an SEC game.

In a perfect world, UT’s top starters will stay healthy and the O-line will become one of the SEC’s best units.

But Tennessee has to prepare for an imperfect world.

➡️ Will Tennessee’s young linebackers emerge?

Tennessee is excited to have Keenan Pili back after missing almost all of the 2023 season.

The development of Tennessee’s young linebackers will remain a bigger question during the offseason.

Arion Carter and Elijah Herring have missed spring practice and on-field work with new linebackers coach William Inge.

But a player like Jeremiah Telander continues to create excitement.

The potential of Tennessee’s linebackers is great when Carter and Herring factor in.

The Vols will just have to wait to get a better idea of what they can do.

Tennessee will hold a few more practices before the Orange and White Game on April 13.

Don’t expect that game to show us a ton; the Vols will hold out several key players to avoid injury in the final practice of the spring.

We discussed more spring practice and Tennessee football recruiting with Austin Price of Volquest. Check out the full conversation below.

A BOW ON TENNESSEE’S BASKETBALL SEASON

Tennessee fans will never forget these two

Tennessee’s basketball season came to a disappointing end when the Vols lost to Purdue in the Elite Eight.

But that doesn’t make the season a disappointment.

FAR from it.

There’s a strong case to be made that Tennessee just wrapped up the best single season in school history.

The Vols:

◼️ Reached the Elite Eight for only the second time in school history
◼️ Won the regular season SEC title outright for the second time since 1967
◼️ Produced the SEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year
◼️ Produced a consensus first-team All-American

Those accomplishments just start the conversation around this season, which includes an endless amount of storylines.

Zakai Zeigler returned from a torn ACL to help lead Tennessee while racking up several individual awards.

Josiah-Jordan James and Santiago Vescovi became two of the school’s best all-time winners.

Tennessee put up 103 points at Rupp Arena and produced an 18-0 run in the Sweet 16 win over Creighton.

It was a special season featuring players that Tennessee fans will always remember.

And they’re not all gone.

James, Knecht and Vescovi have to be replaced.

But Zeigler and Jahmai Mashack, whom James called the “cornerstone” of this year’s team, will help lead the way into next season.

Jonas Aidoo had a forgettable final game against Purdue, but he was also earned All-SEC honors and will have a chance to improve again.

Tobe Awaka and JP Estrella will both have a chance to make a big impact on Tennessee’s front court next year.

So what about the needs for next year?

Here are a few.

1️⃣ A wing scorer

Tennessee won’t replace Knecht with one player.

But looking for a wing who can score consistently will be a priority in the transfer portal.

Cam Carr will have a chance to develop and help next season.

But the Vols will need more than just him.

2️⃣ Guard depth

Freddie Dillione could have been a candidate to help more in the back court next season.

But Volquest reported Thursday afternoon that Dillione will enter the transfer portal.

That’s no big surprise, but he is a player that could have helped (assuming he leaves).

Zeigler will need more help next year.

3️⃣ One more big man

If Aidoo, Awaka and Estrella are all back (as well as Cade Phillips), Tennessee will have a lot to work with in the post.

But the Vols could use a little more help.

Finding a big man who can score and hold his own defensively against opposing big men would help.

That was a challenge for Tennessee this season — and not just against Zach Edey.

➡️ Reminder: No one knows what college basketball rosters will look like next year.

The transfer portal will feature all kinds of movement… and surprises.

Players we expect to return can always opt to go somewhere else.

But Tennessee has a strong core to build around for next year.

Duplicating this season’s success won’t be easy.

But you can bet on Tennessee’s coaches and players expecting even more next year.

We discussed the end of Tennessee’s season as well as offseason goals with VFL Ron Slay on this week’s Slay Ride. Check it out below.

SPORTS NUGGETS

🏈 A judge denied Florida State’s motion to dismiss the ACC’s lawsuit.

🏈 Here’s an NFL Mock Draft that might have a surprising pick for the Washington Commanders at No. 2.

🏀 UConn coach Dan Hurley “spiraled” while the Huskies waited on a travel plane but added perspective once the team arrived Arizona for the Final Four.

🏀 Here’s a Final Four preview to get you ready for Alabama-UConn and NC State-Purdue.

🏀 Could USC coach Lindsay Gottlieb be a candidate for the Lady Vols job? Here are five things to know about her in case.

Here’s a preview of Tennessee at Auburn as UT goes for a third straight SEC series win.

⚾ The Tennessee Smokies will begin their final season in Kodak on Friday. There’s plenty of talk about the move to Knoxville for 2025.

⚽ One Knox SC will shoot for a world record on April 12. The team is winning and making things fun for the fans.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL’S ‘SUPER LEAGUE’

What does Greg Sankey think about a CFB Super League?

Stewart Mandel and Andrew Marchand released a pretty big story in The Athletic on Wednesday.

It had to do with a college football “Super League” that’s being planned by a 20-person group called “College Sports Tomorrow” (CST).

Some of the CST members include:

• West Virginia president Gordon Gee
• Philadelphia 76ers owner David Bitzer
• the NFL’s No. 2 executive Brian Rolapp
• “lead organizer” Len Perna of TurnkeyZRG

Here are a few notes from the story:

The current CST outline would create a system that would have the top 70 programs — all members of the five former major conferences, plus Notre Dame and new ACC member SMU — as permanent members and encompass all 130-plus FBS universities.

The perpetual 70 members would be in seven 10-team divisions, joined by an eighth division of teams that would be promoted from the second tier.

Think European soccer with the promotion format featuring the 50-plus second-division teams. (The 70 teams would be secure in the “Super League.”)

And how would the postseason work?

The playoffs would not require a selection committee, as the eight division winners and eight wild cards from the top tier would go to the postseason. The wild-card spots would be determined by record and tiebreakers, much like the NFL.

The Athletic notes that the group is “struggling to gain traction” with the schools they’d want in the Super League.

But conversations have taken place: the story notes that the ACC board of directors heard a presentation from the group in February.

Will this proposed idea come to fruition?

Who knows?

But what everyone seems to agree on is that the world of college football is changing rapidly.

And everyone involved — presidents, chancellors, athletic directors and conference leaders — are trying to figure out a path into the future.

“The current model for governing and managing college athletics is dead,” said Syracuse chancellor Kent Syverud, who’s part of the 20-person CST.

The conversation about changes to the support will remain alive and well.

Tennessee AD Danny White knows his way around a coaching search

Tennessee athletic director Danny White is in the middle of a search for the next head coach of the Tennessee women’s basketball team.

Many UT fans want to see a big hire — and it’s a safe bet than White will go for a proven coach.

Tennessee has seen the recent rise in popularity of the women’s game — and noticed that the Lady Vols brand hasn’t been part of it.

Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, USC’s JuJu Watkins, and the teams at LSU and South Carolina have drawn a ton of attention.

Monday night’s Iowa-LSU game produced 12.3 million viewers, according to ESPN, making it the most-viewed women’s basketball game on record.

Tennessee wants a piece of that attention.

➡️ Here’s a crazy note for anyone who witnessed the Lady Vols’ dominance under the late Pat Summitt:

Tennessee hasn’t been to the Elite Eight in eight years, and the Lady Vols’ last Final Four appearance was in 2008.

Tennessee’s brand is still strong; Kellie Harper’s firing was the top headline on ESPN’s website on Monday afternoon.

But the basketball results haven’t matched the expectations of the program.

Expect Danny White to try to change that with a big hire.

Women’s basketball isn’t going to draw the same attention as football or men’s basketball.

But there’s value — more than ever before — in a strong women’s program.

We’ll see if White can help Tennessee get its name back in the discussion.

A QUICK REQUEST

We are approaching the final few weeks of an important fundraising campaign for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS).

LLS is an important organization that does many things, including funding research to help fight blood cancers (and other forms) and supporting cancer patients and their families during their battle.

How can you help?

By donating to our fundraising campaign as well as sharing the link to anyone you think would be interested in supporting the cause.

Thanks for your support!

NEVER miss an episode of Josh and Swain. Here are a few ways to listen to the podcast:

Thank you for reading. And if you haven’t subscribed, please do so below to receive a free weekly email. ⬇️⬇️