5-at-10: Friday Mailbag on Mandela, football playoffs and grading Butch Jones

5-at-10: Friday Mailbag on Mandela, football playoffs and grading Butch Jones

December 6th, 2013 by Jay Greeson in Sports - Columns

Gang, it's been a crazy week, and if you are not listening to Press Row, well, that's your loss. You can listen on the timesfreepress.com main page starting at 3 p.m. today. Giddy-up.

We are going to move very quickly today because we are volunteering to teach kindergarten at Donaldson Elementary this morning. Giddy-giddy-up.

From the "Talks too much" studios, we truly believe that children are the future, teach them well and let them lead the way.

From Believer

A statue of former South African President Nelson Mandela stands outside the Groot Drakenstein prison near the town of Franschhoek, South Africa, where Mandela was released on Feb. 11, 1990.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

The news of Nelson Mandela's death was sad no doubt. It got me thinking about the people in this world that we all know are better than the rest of us, you know.

Who is on your all-time "Good person" Rushmore? Thanks, and thanks for the 5-at-10.

Believer -

That's a great question that deserves more brain power than we are capable of giving to the topic. If we're forced to make a swing at it, we'll got with Mandela, Mother Theresa, Gandhi and either The Dalai Lama or Gus Malzahn on our Rushmore of Sainthood. (Long the Lama, big hitter.)

Although we're a little worried about how this may affect the way folks view our man-crush on Cam Newton.

Not to be undersold, the Rushmore of Morgan Freeman roles deserves a brief mention here considering Morgan nailed his portrayal of Mandela in Invictus.

We'll go Shawshank, Unforgiven, Lean on Me and Glory. Remember, these are not the best movies Freeman has been in - Dark Knight was OUT-standing - but his best roles.

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From Moctastic

You know what guys...we are developing scenarios for what happens if you get a bunch of teams with one loss each. What does that tell us? What would rememdy that? Hmmmmmm..maybe a playoff? And more than 4 teams, a minimum of 8.

MT -

We realize you were asking this rhetorically with a touch of sarcasm, but we thought it was worth a discussion.

A playoff would still yield what-if scenarios this week, they would just be focused on Oklahoma State and the Pac 12 conference saying they deserve a title shot more than Alabama, which would be lobbying for a spot in the field along with the SEC winner, FSU and THE Ohio State.

We have said eight teams from the beginning, going back several years, long before next year's playoff was shaped. That said, we're scared any playoff will damage the regular season, which we are strongly against.

Still, an eight-team field seems the best for the actual playoff - but with each added level, the value of the best regular season in sports suffers. But, the best way to do this is blend the computers and the selection committee with an eight-team field that has the five champions from the high-ranked conferences in the country according to whatever computer generation scale you want to use. If you want to force teams to play meaningful non-conference games, this would help greatly.

The other three teams would be selected by the committee and at least one of that trio would have to be a conference champion.

That said, whether you are picking two or four or eight teams to make a postseason, teams ranked No. 3, No. 5 and No. 9 are going to complain about getting robbed. Heck the hoops tournament has 68 and teams 69-72 are miffed. The FCS has 24 and the Mocs finished 25th and we were all hacked.

So it goes and here we are.

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From Sportsfan

Jay - I know the season isn't over yet, but for the Friday mailbag...briefly (it's a holiday and there's lots of football to watch)...what good things from season 1 does Butch Jones have to build on for the 2014 season?

Sportsfan -

To be fair, sportsfan asked this before the season finale, and we're just now getting there. That's on us, but like a fine wine or a marinated steak, hopefully time has enhanced the flavor of our response. That, or it's a glass of Boone's Farm with a $2 flank steak.

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones yells on the sidelines in this file photo.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Butch Jones' first year was filled with highs and lows. There was the high of beating South Carolina and the continued euphoria around a recruiting class that has rival fans calling Press Row on ESPN 105.1 FM saying UT has to be breaking NCAA rules. (SIde note: When opposing teams are taking shots at you - especially when you just wrapped your third consecutive 5-7 season - that's a good thing. Think of it this way: This time last year, Alabama fans felt a little sorry for Auburn. Not so much today.)

Year 1 for Butch also included a fair share of speed bumps. The September quarterback song and dance of replacing Justin Worley with Nathan Peterman against Florida was ill-advised and gave the appearance that Jones kowtowed to public opinion. There also was the disappointing showing against Vandy, the game that sealed the Vols' third consecutive postseason-less winter, considering the Vols looked underprepared and sluggish with their season hanging in the balance and coming off an off-week.

But let's look deeper and break Butch down in four crucial categories.

Public perception - B+

Butch was hired a year ago Saturday. He was not the Vols first choice, a fact he joked about in his introductory news conference. There were a slew of Johnny Vols Fans across the area and the country that were underwhelmed by the hire after hoping for a bigger name with a higher profile.

Jones had work to do to repair the guts of the UT program, but he also had work to do to unite a proud fanbase that had been dragged through the mud of a series of bungled decisions and washed cleaned with the bitter spirits of a budding dynasty of their most-hated rival.

So Jones worked and pressed the flash like Pappy O'Daniel. He was everywhere, and he floated catch phrases and cliches with a equal measure of hope and hype. BAsh 'Brick-by-brick' or Team 117 if you like, but the messages and slogans worked for recruits and for a fan base starving for something to believe in.

There are still those that are curious whether Butch can flip the script in Knoxville, but very few of them are in the Big Orange Nation, and that number is greatly smaller than what it was.

In the locker room - B+

The worst stretch in the modern era of the program had left a locker room of players who came to Knoxville to compete for titles in the SEC. They have competed the last three years to stay out of the basement in the SEC East. That's mainly because of the decisions made that were beyond the players' control, but the ripple effects were tangible and telling.

Former Baylor School and University of Tennessee standout Jacques McClendon is with his fourth NFL team, the Atlanta Falcons, and is on the Times Free Press list of all-time top 13 area offensive linemen.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

That said, the biggest ringing endorsement about a positive vibe for Jones, Year 1, is the quotes and testimonials from the players, especially the departing seniors such as Daniel Hood and Jacquez Smith and former players like Jacques McClendon. (Hey Butch is pretty popular with Jacques.)

On the field - C

We expected a bowl trip and a 6-6 mark before the season, but that was before everyone knew that Missouri and Auburn were going to be the top teams in the league. Still 6-6 was within reach until the final moments against Vandy, easily the most frustrating and confounding game for the Vols this season. It also was the game in which UT was most evenly matched, and the Vols could not finish Vandy at home. That fact is troubling and indictment of how far UT has to go to return to the upper echelon of the nation's best conference.

And that loss would have been a little more understandable if it had happened in September, like the ugly loss against the worst Florida team in a generation or if it was in true freshman quarterback Josh Dobbs' first start. But it came in November, in the season's penultimate week, in Dobbs' third start, after an open week and with the season on the line.

As for player development, Jones and company advanced the special teams beyond anyone's expectations, considering Michael Palardy went from liability to likely being an NFL prospect and possibly being UT's offensive MVP. Defensively, UT was better than expected, but those less-than-lofty expectations were forged in the misguided and myopic fires stoked by the lunacy that was the disastrous Sal Sunseri experiment.

Offensively, there was little improvement, which can be pegged to the injuries and inadequacies at quarterback, but there also was little improvement at that position at any point through the season. And the much ballyhooed offensive line underachieved mightily.

Former University of Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Even with the win over South Carolina - UT's first over a ranked foe since everyone in Knoxville thought Lane Kiffin was flamboyant and clever and Eric Berry was in Knoxville - the product on the field was less than average, and certainly less than what UT fans expect. Yes, the roster is under-talented, but other than Palardy and a couple of the freshman such as Cam Sutton and Marquez North, who on that roster improved greatly this year?

Recruiting - A+

Even the most avid Jones detractor can not throw stones at the collection of talent Butch has assembled in a recruiting class that is viewed as the nation's second-best by every service that is regarded in such matters.

In fact, the only quibbles that can be offered, as minor as they seem are, a) the commitments are only verbal and non-binding and, b) there is not a quarterback in this class to date and it's likely there will not be one. The first one is a hollow attempt to devalue Jones' stellar recruiting efforts. The latter complaint is easily explained once you realize that the quarterbacks UT wanted were already in another fold, and with a roster with this many needs at this many positions, taking a quarterback just to take a quarterback does not make sense, numbers-wise.

Overall - B that will be a B+ if Jones keeps this recruiting class together.

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From Stuck

I'm really excited about Missouri-Auburn and Michigan State-Ohio State games this weekend, not to mention Baylor-Texas, Oklahoma State-Oklahoma, Arizona State-Stanford, and even Duke-Florida State. Of course, I've got a serious problem. I have a family event that begins at 4:00. I'll be unable to get to a TV until probably 6:30 at the earliest, and even then, the family event will still be going on. And it is the side of the family that does not like football. So I may not even be able to watch the games closely at that point. What's a person to do?

BTW, the Duke-Florida State storyline is so much more entertaining than any of the other possible ACC Championship Game storylines. If it had been Virginia Tech-Florida State, I'd be shrugging my shoulders, but interested because of how important it is. With Duke, you've got this miracle season. Sometimes, a miracle season ends with a miracle. Could this be one of those times? Almost certainly not. But it's more entertaining than if Virginia Tech, Miami or Georgia Tech were in this game.

Stuck -

You most definitely have a serious problem. Let's pause for a public service announcement: Ladies and families of the sons of South, please do not schedule any lengthy events on Saturdays in the fall without consulting with us. Yes, we know that normally when matters of scheduling arise that we get that glazed over look that screams "Just tells us when and where" and we all agree that that system works best.

But from the first Saturday of September to the first Saturday of December, we've got stuff going on. We can work in a quick trip to the store or stuff around the house that we can juggle around schedules, but road trips and family gatherings where we have to pay attention to cousin Eddie or Aunt Edna are out of bounds without prior discussion. There are off-weeks during the regular season that we can work around, but Championship Saturday? Egad.

There, with that off our chest, we firmly believe the advancements in hand-held technology were pushed forward by a mismatched duo of geniuses that included one big-time gamer who could not go anywhere with access to Angry Birds or Jewel Mania and a big-time sports nut who needed full-time access to scores and fantasy updates. So make sure your ESPN alerts are tuned in and you can follow along the Twitter updates from our staff writers David Paschall (@DavidSPaschall) and Downtown Patrick Brown (@patrickbrownTFP) from the SEC title game or from us (@jgreesontfp) for all-day football updates.

As for the Duke point, you bet. Duke is a much better storyline - well at least for the first quarter. Who knows, maybe the awful weather will make the game interesting, but it's highly unlikely. In truth, FSU is so much better than the rest of the ACC, and ACC all-star team from the other schools against FSU would be a closer game than any of the other potential match-ups.