What 5-star quarterback Ty Simpson's decision could mean for Tennessee
There’s a line during the climactic action sequence in Bad Boys II when Will Smith’s character is forced to call an audible after his initial extraction plan goes horribly wrong.
“Go to Plan B! Plan B!”
One of Smith’s mouthy SWAT teammates immediately responds, “Plan B? What Plan B?”
In less than 24 hours, Tennessee looks positioned to face that same tough question.
The Vols’ marquee recruiting target in the 2022 class is set to make his college choice on Friday afternoon, as 5-star quarterback Ty Simpson, an in-state product out of Martin, Tenn., will pick between finalists Tennessee, Alabama, Clemson and Ole Miss, among others, in a ceremony at Westview High.
The nation’s No. 3 pro-style quarterback, per 247Sports, would undoubtedly be the crown jewel of new Vols coach Josh Heupel’s inaugural recruiting class, but despite years of groundwork from the previous staff, it appears Simpson is destined to simply become another diamond to leave the Volunteer State and and play for one of UT’s rivals (among others recently, see: Tee Higgins, Amari Rodgers, Jordan Davis and Cade Mays, who did transfer back to play for the Orange & White last season).
Ever since the firing of Jeremy Pruitt, Simpson has trended away from the Vols, but that only makes Friday’s likely decision sting more, not less — no matter the recent slow burn.
Simpson is a potentially generational talent from the Volunteer State. Just how rare is it for the state of Tennessee to produce a blue-chip quarterback? In the modern era of recruiting rankings (2002 to today), it has happened exactly 4 times, per rivals.com — BJ Coleman in 2007, Barry Brunetti in 2010, Chad Voytik in 2012 and Jauan Jennings in 2015 — the last one barely counting since Jennings was never going to truly play the position in college.
While Simpson has not totally tipped his hand on his final decision — and the word is he doesn’t plan on revealing a choice to anyone until Friday morning — Alabama is the rumored favorite and looks set to add the 6-2, 185-pound gunslinger who has long eyed playing in the SEC.
Now, if he shocks folks and opts to play for the home state Vols, then Heupel nets a win bigger than any real game he’ll coach in 2021 and builds instant momentum for a class loaded with in-state talent in 2022.
But the likelier outcome is a brutal blow for Tennessee, with Heupel, as well as offensive coordinator Alex Golesh and quarterbacks coach Joey Halzle, seeing a stacked deck crumble in real time.
The new UT staff had just weeks to build a relationship with one of the most sought after quarterbacks on the market, and sure, while the Tide lost offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian to Texas, the game’s GOAT still holds residence on the sidelines in Tuscaloosa. Heupel made Simpson the priority from Day 1, with the quarterback saying earlier this month in an interview with Nashville radio 104.5 The Zone that he’d spoken to the head coach more than 20 times already, but it doesn’t look like it’ll be enough.
Although Heupel has a track record as a quarterback whisperer who operates an exciting offense, Simpson was actually much giddier about signing up for an offense stuck in the 20th Century. In some bitter irony for Vol Nation, Simpson was set to play for the Vols had Pruitt remained the head coach.
Despite Tennessee’s eye-gouging offense the last 3 seasons, Pruitt had devoted a lot of time developing a strong rapport with the state’s best player. Simpson visited Knoxville many times over the last couple of years, building deep relationships with Pruitt, as well as former offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke. Just last month in an interview with volquest.com, Simpson even said of Pruitt, “We had such a good relationship that I always thought I would play for him one day.”
Tennessee will certainly continue to recruit Simpson even if he commits to Alabama or Clemson, and perhaps some offensive fireworks this fall could get the West Tennessee native to change his mind. There’s always the transfer portal down the road, too. But in the meantime, the larger concern is the domino effect of Simpson’s potential decision.
Heupel & Co., haven’t completely focused all of their resources on Simpson in the 2022 quarterback market, also actively recruiting Peach State native Sam Horn over the last month. While Horn, a 4-star and No. 6 pro-style passer in the class, has some family connections to Tennessee, the Top 100 prospect isn’t a slam dunk backup option just yet, with Missouri, Michigan State and others aggressively chasing the 6-4, 190-pound Collins Hill (Ga.) product.
But Plan B could be much more than just looking for another signal-caller in the 2022 class. With the caveat that recruiting rankings are fluid, the Volunteer State could produce more blue-chip talent this cycle than any year in the state’s history. Simpson is the fulcrum of a historic group, with connections all over the state.
Will Walter Nolen, a 5-star defensive tackle, or 4-star playmakers Jordan James, Dallan Hayden or Isaiah Horton jump to join Simpson at Alabama or wherever he lands? Not necessarily. But those prospects, as well as a slew of others, would be way likelier to play for Vols if Simpson jumped in the boat and decided to stay in state.
For now, it looks like Heupel better have a heckuva Plan B ready to go.