Tennessee football: Vols' biggest challenge? Keeping 4-star QB commit Harrison Bailey in the fold
Tennessee is 1-3 and has suffered just about every way possible to lose a football game. If there’s another way, the Vols will likely find it.
Tennessee has been upset, undisciplined and blown out. Pretty bad, huh? Well, it could get much worse.
Let’s not talk about this year for a moment. It seems all but lost. Let’s focus on what could happen to UT’s foundation, which is and will always be recruiting.
If Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt is ever going to resurrect the Vols, it’s not going to be by outscheming his opponents. He’s proven that. Let’s just say that out-thinking opposing coaches isn’t Pruitt’s forte.
Pruitt’s only chance to get the Vols back to a championship level is to recruit with the SEC’s elite programs. That takes hard work. Pruitt has built has coaching résumé on that. He had better continue to do so. So far, the Vols are lagging in that department. If UT’s roster doesn’t get better soon, the Vols will struggle to compete for a Liberty Bowl bid. Don’t even concern yourself with playing for an SEC Championship.
UT’s 2020 class is ranked 23rd in the nation and, much more important, 11th in the SEC. That’s not good enough. Not even close.
Given how this season is taking shape, it’s hard to imagine Tennessee’s recruiting getting that much better if the Vols don’t turn things around on the field quickly. Some have suggested Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer take over for Pruitt sooner rather than later. It really doesn’t matter who the coach is if the Vols don’t get a significant upgrade in overall roster talent.
After UT quarterback Jarrett Guarantano’s recent performance, it appears the Vols could use better quarterback play — or at least their coaches think so. Harrison Bailey from Marietta (Ga.) High School would appear to remedy that. He has been committed to UT since November. Rated the No. 4 pro-style quarterback in the nation, Bailey was supposed to arrive on campus destined to deliver championships.
More Harrison Bailey (Guys he can hit an open WR downfield!) pic.twitter.com/U1I7X5tO4E
— Smokey Vol (@theSmokeyVol) September 23, 2019
The table was seemingly set for Bailey to be the heir apparent before UT’s football team went horribly awry. The Vols would allow Bailey to grow under Guarantano, who would be entering his final season in 2020 while Bailey was a freshman. Now, who knows what might happen.
Guarantano was replaced by freshman Brian Maurer on Saturday in a 34-3 beatdown against Florida. Could that scare off Bailey since Maurer has 3 full seasons of eligibility remaining? One would hope Bailey would be up for the challenge of unseating a 3-star recruit, but Mauer’s possible ascension and UT’s free fall into the SEC abyss makes one wonder what Bailey is thinking. It can’t be great visions of hope and glory about the Vols.
If Maurer or UT’s struggles scare off Bailey, then the Vols will continue to struggle for the foreseeable future. Don’t rule out the possibility of that happening.
If Bailey bolts, then what happens to UT’s already mediocre signing class? If it falls apart and the Vols continue to lose, then what does Pruitt have to show Tennessee’s fan base in hopes of convincing him that he is the right man for the job?
If I were an opposing coach, I’d be calling Bailey early and often. Bailey has to have concerns and he hasn’t signed any legal document. Bailey committed to the Vols when they had momentum. Will he sign with the Vols if Pruitt can’t turn things around or — heaven forbid — if there’s a coaching change? Fulmer or not, change is bad when it comes to recruiting.
Pruitt needs to be selling Bailey on the fact that he can be a savior for the Vols. UT’s coaching staff doesn’t have much else to sell. The Vols are losing and coaching a quarterback who seems to have regressed from last season. Still, UT offensive coordinator Jim Chaney is in his first season during his return to Knoxville. He has proven he can develop quarterbacks over his career. The Vols need to make Bailey well aware of that if they haven’t already.
Fortunately for the Vols, they can’t push Bailey further away with their play on the field this week. Tennessee has a merciful bye week to prepare for Georgia. That game seems unlikely to go well for the Vols. Maybe they can put together an impressive showing against the Bulldogs. Probably not. Georgia is one of the top teams in the nation. Ah, well.
The Vols don’t need anymore bad publicity. If they somehow lost Bailey, others would follow. Then it would be up to Pruitt to cobble together a 2020 signing class. Hopefully for UT fans, he’s better at that than cobbling together a winning season.
Cover photo via Twitter @HBailey_05.