🏈 Tennessee's New Number 1

Does UT have the nation's best football player?

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:

  • Why Tennessee might have the best player in college football

  • The wait continues for Tennessee Basketball’s top portal target

  • Tennessee Baseball continues to put up monster numbers

  • The takeover of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament

TENNESSEE (AND THE NATION’S) TOP PLAYER

Tennessee has the best football player in college football, according to On3’s Clark Brooks.

Brooks put together a list of the nation’s top 100 players to recognize 100 days until the college football starts (on Aug. 24).

Number 1 on the list: Tennessee edge rusher James Pearce Jr. 

Brooks wrote:

James Pearce is simply a defender who you need to know where he aligns on any given snap. He launches like a rocket and has great B-gap rip/swim counters to keep tackles stressing. Coming off a season where he tallied 13 sacks, no returner defender is better at snatching impact plays (17.1%).”

We talk a lot about the hype surrounding Tennessee’s starting quarterback, but Pearce is receiving plenty of national attention, too. 

Several websites have projected him as the No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL Draft. 

An NFL draft choice can also be based on potential. 

Brooks is saying Tennessee has the best player in college football right now. 

Is he really the best?

That’s subjective, obviously, but his talent is obvious and the jump he made from his freshman to his sophomore season creates excitement about what he could do next. 

Pearce was the only Tennessee player on the top 100 list, by the way. 

Was any Tennessee player snubbed?

We didn’t think so while discussing the topic on Josh and Swain

Swain and I both agreed on Nico Iamaleava as the second player we’d choose. 

But it’s also understandable why he wasn’t on the list; Nico has plenty to prove with just one career start to his name. 

Who else from Tennessee could make the list by season’s end?

Besides Iamaleava, center Cooper Mays, running back Dylan Sampson, and wide receiver Chris Brazzell II came up. 

“Chris Brazzell is going to be the real deal,” ESPN analyst Cole Cubelic said on his podcast, The Cube Show, recently. 

How about other defenders besides Pearce?

Defensive linemen like Bryson Eason, Omarr Norman-Lott or Omari Thomas could have a big year and join this discussion.

Rising sophomores Arion Carter and Jermod McCoy are other possibilities. 

And remember: this time last year, no one talked about Pearce having the kind of season he ended up producing in 2023. 

So there are plenty of candidates for a big season on Tennessee’s roster. 

Just none more obvious than Pearce.

THE LATEST ON LANIER

Not much has changed as Tennessee shoots for Chaz Lanier

Another week has passed without a decision from North Florida transfer Chaz Lanier. 

The 6-4 guard took part in the NBA G League Elite camp last weekend. 

The result led to everyone anticipating he’ll return to college for one more year. 

He has until May 29 to pull his name out of the draft.

So where will he play next season?

Last week, Matt Norlander of CBS Sports suggested Kentucky was the favorite. 

With the draw of Kentucky’s name and reports of the Wildcats offering big money to Lanier, UK might be tough to beat out. 

Tennessee can pay as well, but no one has suggested the Vols will match what Kentucky might be willing to offer. 

Lanier’s negotiating power might’ve gotten a boost this week when ESPN reported that Washington will pay big man Great Osobor $2 million for one season of play. 

The cost to land big-time transfers is high. 

So how high is Tennessee willing (and able) to go?

Lanier could still choose the Vols even if their financial offer isn’t as high as Kentucky’s — or another school, like Arkansas. 

Tennessee can still pay a lot of money and offer good coaching and a chance to compete at the highest level. 

But if Lanier goes elsewhere, Tennessee’s roster is still strong. 

Transfers Darlinstone Dubar, Igor Milicic Jr., and Felix Okpara should all make an impact. 

Zakai Zeigler, Jahmai Mashack, and Jordan Gainey all return with a lot of experience.

And Cameron Carr, JP Estrella, and Cade Phillips offer potential to make a jump as sophomores. 

Lanier would give Tennessee’s roster a boost.

But nothing is guaranteed — with or without Lanier — in terms of how the team will gel together.

What will happen?

The wait continues to find out.

SPORTS NUGGETS

🏈 Nico and Tennessee received some mentions in ESPN’s 100-day countdown to the college football season.

🏈 See where Jesse Simonton ranked Tennessee’s offensive line and defensive line in his national unit workings.

🏈 The biggest story in college sports: details from Yahoo Sports on the cost of the NCAA settlement and major changes coming to how college players will be paid.

🏈 We have a release date, cover art, and more info on the return of the college football video game.

🏀 Here’s the info on Washington transfer Great Osobor, who’s set to make $2 million next season.

🏀 Doug Gottlieb became the head coach at Green Bay this week. He plans to continue hosting his daily national radio show.

🏌️‍♂️ CRAZY scene on Friday at the PGA Championship as Scottie Scheffler was detained by police over a traffic misunderstanding (video in the link).

NO. 1 KEEPS SWINGING AWAY

Christian Moore is Tennessee’s new Home Run King

Tennessee baseball beat South Carolina 9-3 on Thursday in the first game of the Vols’ final regular season series.

If Tennessee wins one of the next two games, the Vols will finish the regular season winning their final nine series in SEC play.

Christian Moore hit two home runs for Tennessee on Thursday, giving him 26 for the season and breaking Sonny Cortez’s previous school record of 24 in a season in 1998.

Tennessee’s program continues to destroy the ball under head coach Tony Vitello.

Tennessee hit another home run after this tweet, giving the team 138 on the season.

The No. 1 team in the country has a shot at the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and more importantly has set itself up to host a regional and super regional (assuming UT advances).

This team hasn’t received the same amount of attention as the 2022 team that entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed.

But this year’s team has just as good of a chance to make the College World Series and compete for a national title.

That’s something Tennessee has gotten used to.

MORE ODDS FOR TENNESSEE IN 2024

People believe in Nico

Circa Sports and The Action Network each put out win total numbers for the upcoming college football season this week.

Circa put Tennessee’s win total at 9 while The Action Network (TAN) put Tennessee’s number at 9.5.

That means the Vols would need to go 10-2 in the regular season to go “over” the number.

Few teams in the SEC (or around the country) have higher numbers than Tennessee.

Using TAN’s numbers, only Georgia (10.5) and Texas (10.5) had a number higher than Tennessee.

Alabama and Ole Miss were ahead of Tennessee, according to Circa.

But the overall point is that oddsmakers are putting Tennessee in contention for a College Football Playoff spot.

Go over there number and a 10-2 regular season would give the Vols a great chance at a playoff spot.

It’s also worth noting that Alabama and Georgia are the only schools on Tennessee’s schedule with a win total than Tennessee.

The Vols avoid LSU, Ole Miss and Missouri, three SEC teams at or above Tennessee’s win total.

That doesn’t mean Tennessee’s schedule will be easy.

Games against Oklahoma, Florida and Kentucky will present obvious challenges.

But the nation sees Tennessee as a contender.

That’s all the Vols can ask for right now.

We talked about offseason preparation and growth of Tennessee’s defense with Tennessee linebacker Keenan Pili. Check it out below.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Joey Chestnut will trade his hot dogs for bologna in Knoxville

Hope you’re hungry.

Because the 2024 Ultimate Bologna Showdown is coming to Knoxville this weekend.

Dead End BBQ and Elm Hill Bologna are bringing Joey Chestnut — the GOAT of competitive eaters — for the sanctioned Major League Eating competition.

Five of the world’s top six competitive eaters are scheduled to take part at the event, which will take place at The University of Tennessee RecSports Field Complex.

Knox County Mayor and former WWE World Champion Glenn Jacobs will also compete.

“We were doing some videos and I brought out 10 pounds of bologna and I sat it in front of Mayor Jacobs,” Dead End BBQ owner George Ewart told us. “And he was like, ‘What is this?’ I said, ‘This is 10 pounds of bologna. That’s what Joey Chestnut and Geoffrey Esper will be eating.’ He’s like, ‘There’s no way.’”

But as you’ve seen during the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog eating contest, Chestnut always finds away.

And he and the world’s best eaters will make their way to Knoxville for what hopefully will become a yearly event.

The event will start at noon with gates opening at 11 AM. It’s free to attend.

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