⚾ Tennessee returns to Omaha!

How Tennessee can win the World Series

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:

  • How Tennessee’s QB situation compares to other top teams in CFB

  • Why this Tennessee baseball team is built to win it all in Omaha

  • Dalton Knecht’s set to join a short list in Vols basketball history

  • Tony Vitello as fired up as we’ve seen him at Tennessee


We’re in the middle of “lists” season in college football.

Different rankings of teams, position groups and players help fill the void and prepare us for the upcoming season.

Last week, ESPN put out a tier ranking of all 134 FBS “QB situations” for 2024.

The list (written up by David Hale) doesn’t just look at a team’s starter; it considers each team’s group of quarterbacks.

Tier 1 included four teams: Alabama, Georgia, Texas and Oregon.

Where is Tennessee?

Tier 4 — described as “the young and the restless.”

The Vols were joined by Kansas State, Nebraska, Oklahoma and USC.

All five schools will break in a first-year starter this fall.

Hale wrote this about Tennessee (and coach Josh Heupel):

As an FBS offensive coordinator or head coach (since 2011), Josh Heupel's offenses have averaged 3,551 passing yards and 29 passing touchdowns a year. In his six seasons as a head coach at UCF and Tennessee, his QBs have thrown a total of 30 interceptions. For comparison, Georgia Southern threw 20 last year. Overall as a head coach, his QBs have a 6.3-to-1 TD:INT rate. That's three times better than the FBS average, and only Alabama as a team has posted a better rate over that span (6.44).

Hale appears bullish on Tennessee’s QB situation with Nico Iamaleava.

Should Tennessee rank higher on the list?

There’s an argument, but schools in Tier 3 — just ahead of Tennessee — include Ohio State and Ole Miss, two teams with more proven and deeper quarterback rooms.

So Tennessee’s inclusion in the “need to prove it” group makes sense.

It also changes nothing about the potential of Iamaleava and UT’s offense.

Overall, Tennessee’s young quarterback has drawn rave reviews.

Last week, Josh Pate predicted on Late Kick that Iamaleava will be a “star” and a “household name in college football.”

Pate visited Tennessee in late April and said on Josh and Swain how impressed he was by the way other people talked about Iamaleava.

“Nico’s a high-profile guy. Nico can earn a lot of money, and he’s got every reason to have sort of those diva traits about him — and he has none of that. And they go out of their way to make sure you understand this guy is a big-time player, a lot’s expected of him, (and) he gets it.

“But from a neck-up perspective, Heupel told me … ‘we couldn’t hoped to have wired him any better mentally.’ It doesn’t mean he’s perfect; he’ll make mistakes. But he’s made of the right stuff.”

Perhaps Iamaleava belongs on a higher tier than ESPN’s ranking.

Iamaleava showed signs of what he’s capable of in Tennessee’s Citrus Bowl win over Iowa.

Either way, Nico will get his full shot at proving what he can do this fall.

All the summer talk will provide a fun filler until then.


The Vols are the team to beat for the national title

Tennessee baseball is back in Omaha. 

The Vols will play their first game of the College World Series on Friday night against Florida State.

📍 Omaha, Neb. (Charles Schwab Field)
7:00 p.m. ET
📻 99.1 The Sports Animal

Florida State advanced to the CWS after beating UConn in two games in the super regional.

Tennessee is favored to win the College World Series by multiple sportsbooks following the Vols’ championship(s) run through the SEC.

Tennessee’s four-team bracket in the CWS includes FSU, North Carolina and Virginia.

The winner of UT’s double-elimination bracket will face the winner of Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina State and Texas A&M in a best two-of-three series.

What will it take for Tennessee to advance to the final series of the College World Series?

Let’s bring in VFL Craig Cobb, a starting pitcher on the Vols’ 2005 World Series team and our NCAA tournament correspondent.  

Q: Did the way Tennessee responded on Sunday against Evansville tell you anything about this team? 

Cobb: It confirmed they are an extremely talented and veteran team.  

Q: What’s the experience like for a team to make the trip to Omaha for the College World Series? 

Cobb: It is amazing.  It’s what you wake up for early workouts for in the fall and what all of the individual and team practices are working towards. In 2005, we went two-and-out and it was still one of the best experiences I've had. The town revolves around the CWS and the event is fantastic. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves baseball – even if the Vols aren't there.

What do you think of Tennessee’s Game 1 matchup with Florida State? 

Cobb: It will be a good matchup as expected at this point in the year. They have an ace with Jamie Arnold who is very good and will be a tough matchup. (Editor’s note: FSU confirmed Arnold as the starter vs Tennessee.)

They have two projected top-15 picks in the upcoming draft with Cam Smith and James Tibbs.  We match up with anyone though and we've run the SEC gauntlet and won both the regular season and tournament. Preparing to play a talented opponent isn't new to the Vols.

Q: Do you think Tennessee’s pitching performance in the first two weekends of the NCAA Tournament could affect how Tony Vitello and Frank Anderson manage the arms in Omaha?

Cobb: I don't. Maybe Chris Stamos is on a shorter leash than he already is if he has a scoreless first inning, but he got pulled after two or three hitters vs. NKU. You have the advantage of a little built-in rest in Omaha thanks to TV schedules.

Q: How can Drew Beam improve from his recent issues? 

Cobb: Since the start of SEC play, Beam has given up 51 runs total. However, 28 of those have scored with two outs. So he's one pitch or play away from his stats looking much different. Also, he's tended to give up hits in bunches and they've coincided with walks, hit by pitches, and errors. I don't think he's a major tweak away, it's just executing pitches and getting some batted ball luck.

Q: What do you think of the dimensions/setup of Charles Schwab Field — and could that have an effect on how UT’s lineup performs? 

Cobb: It is bigger than Lindsay Nelson Stadium but not as big as the Hoover Met where the SEC Tournament is played.  UT hit six home runs in five games there and won close games against very good teams without an onslaught of home runs. Our lineup has good hitters who happen to also have a ton of power. We don't hit many wall scrapers or wind-blown homers when we hit them. The wind at home typically blows in and across from right field to left. Maybe Bargo's second homer on Sunday (vs. Evansville) doesn't leave Schwab but the rest would've been homers there. And the six we hit in the SEC Tournament would've all been homers in Omaha.

Q: Tennessee is kind of in the “ACC regional” with North Carolina and Virginia the other two teams in UT’s bracket. What will it take for the Vols to come out of that side? 

Cobb: Continue to play their game and not shoot themselves with errors or walks. Statistically we have the best offense and pitching and should be the favorite. The ACC teams all have good offenses and FSU and UNC have some good pitching. UVA's team stats on the mound aren't great – that’s their biggest hole.

Q: Is there anything I’ve missed that you think we should point out before the College World Series?  

Cobb: Go Vols!


🏈 Tennessee’s preparing for a HUGE recruiting weekend with a ton of visitors, including 5-star OL David Sanders Jr. Our interview with Volquest’s Austin Price sets the stage for the weekend.

🏈 The Athletic ($) mapped out a guide for the best SEC games for each window of time this upcoming fall.

🏈 The Big 12 is exploring selling its naming rights to a title sponsor. The story includes more talk of private equity entering the picture.

🏀 CBS Sports listed its transfer portal winners and losers. The good news: Tennessee wasn’t a loser. But the Vols didn’t get a winners mention, either.

🏌️‍♂️ Will the drought end this weekend? Rory McIlroy is positioned well to win his first major since 2014.

Here is the bracket and schedule for the College World Series, which will last until June 23 or June 24.

🌭 This year’s Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating contest won’t be the same without Joey Chestnut, who instead is set to face Takeru Kobayashi in a Sept. 2 battle on Netflix.


Dalton Knecht will soon learn about his new NBA home

Dalton Knecht received more validation as an NBA prospect this week when the league invited him to attend the June 26 draft and sit in the game room.

The Tennessee All-American and SEC Player of the Year was one of 12 players to receive an invitation.

The green room is “a staging area in front of the NBA draft podium where players, families and agents await commissioner Adam Silver to call a player’s name upon selection.”

ESPN’s latest mock draft exercise projected Knecht to the San Antonio Spurs at pick No. 8 or the Memphis Grizzlies at No. 9.

Either option could be intriguing for Tennessee fans — the Spurs would give Knecht the chance to play alongside rising phenom Victor Wembanyama while the Grizzlies would keep Knecht in the state where he became a star.

➡️ There’s also this angle: Knecht is trying to become just the fourth Tennessee player to be selected in the top 10 of the NBA draft.

The other three:

• 1983 Dale Ellis (No. 9 to the Dallas Mavericks)
• 1977 Bernard King (No. 7 to the New Jersey Nets)
• 1968 Tom Boerwinkle (No. 4 to the Chicago Bulls)

Knecht would also become the first lottery pick from Tennessee since Marcus Haislip went No. 13 overall to the Milwaukee Bucks in 2002.

Rarified air for Mr. Knecht.

The draft will take place over two night’s, on June 26 and 27.

The first round will take place at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center with the second round set for ESPN’s studio in Lower Manhattan.


Tony Vitello has his players’ backs

Tennessee’s NCAA tournament run hasn’t been perfect.

The Vols won all three regional games but dropped Game 2 of the super regional against Evansville.

As you know by now, Tennessee beat smashed Evansville 12-1 on Sunday to advance to Omaha.

But after Tennessee lost Game 2 to Evansville on Saturday, Tennessee coach Tony Vitello was asked about the possibility of losing Game 3 and how that would affect the view of this season.

If you guys lose could it be another unsuccessful season for you guys?” was basically the question.

That led to a fiery response from Vitello after Tennessee beat Evansville the next day — and a round of applause from UT fans.

To be clear, a series loss to Evansville would have been disappointing.

But we also know Tennessee turned around and won with ease.

And that continues a run of success that no one predicted under Vitello, who’s taken the Vols to Omaha three out of the last four seasons while winning multiple SEC regular season and tournament titles.

On a 1-10 scale, Vitello has been an 11 for Tennessee.

Before the Vols take the field in Omaha, check out the almost-seven-minute video below as Vitello discusses what “success” means to him.

And here are three quotes that stood out from the speech.

Noah, it’s Noah Webster— Webster’s dictionary. It says success is a degree or measure of achievement or if you read in another deal online, degree or measure of succeeding. So those two words right there, and I definitely ain’t the smartest fellow — degree and measure means you get a pick. You get to pick what success is, which is pretty awesome. So, Noah probably doesn’t know how to define it with these guys where you got to sweat, you gotta be in the weight room together. You got to trust the guy. If you give up a ground ball, he can make the play for you. Or if you give up a run, the other guy will go to work for you.”

If you’re talking about success for this team, the one thing I stated after last season, because I’m in a bathroom crying with just a lot of emotions after we’re able to beat Clemson last year, was to show up at work every day and get out of my car excited. And to have fun and to be around people that want to be here and be in an environment that you’re excited to get to every day. 100% success.”

“I get to do it the way I want to do it. You guys get to do it the way that you want to do it. So at the end of the day, success for me is, Omaha will be where Father’s Day is for me. But you know what, if you’re choosing, if you got a father figure in your life and they’ve done something to contribute for you— doesn’t even have to be your dad could be a coach maybe for you guys. You should appreciate him and you’re gonna have a successful day too, no matter where you are.”

Check out the full video, courtesy Rocky Top Insider.

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