Although Tennessee is shut out of a bowl game for the first time since 2013, there are still bowl games of interest. And I’m not just talking about rooting against UGA and Alabama and the rest of Tennessee’s SEC rivals in their respective game. Instead, there are three high school all-star “bowl games” in which Vol fans should have some real interest.
Below is a look at the three most prestigious, all of which include a combination of Vol signees and February targets.
O-D Bowl – Friday December 29, 7:30 EST
What to watch for:
The least prominent of the three, the O-D Bowl features three Tennessee signees in Cordova, HS teammates Jerome Carvin and Jeremy Banks as well as Knoxville star Jacob Warren. In addition, the roster includes Vanderbilt commitment (and another Memphis target) Rayshad Williams, a long CB/S target that the new staff has re-engaged with and who is expected to officially visit Knoxville in January. Another big Vol target is Nikko Hall, a WR prospect who is also expected to visit Tennessee officially. Hall played for former Vol QB Casey Clausen and got a quick offer from Coach Jeremy Pruitt and instantly became a high priority. Rounding out the Vol targets on the roster are Rush DE Caleb Tannor and recently offered power RB (and OU commitment) Tavion Thomas. Tannor has long been on the UT radar and was committed to UGA until decommitting a month or so ago. There have been concerns about his grades but those seem to have been resolved. Auburn is thought to be the lean here if the Tigers make a push, but Tannor has long liked the Vols and is the kind of pass-rushing talent this roster needs. Thomas received an offer this past weekend but it’s unclear how much interest he has – whether or not he sets up an OV to Knoxville will obviously tell the tale. He’s another power back like Banks and his talent is obvious.
Having three Tennessee signees around these targets can only help UT’s cause, especially since Carvin and Banks are known as big personalities. It will also be interesting to hear reports out of practice how well these prospects are performing in practice, as those are often more telling than the actual games, which often featured watered down rules (aptly) designed for player safety.
Under-Armour Game – Thursday 1/4, 6:00PM EST
What to watch for:
Like its namesake and sponsor the Under-Armour Game is an upstart that has made it to the bigtime. While once the Army Bowl was the end-all be-all of these types of events, the U-A Game now attracts as much fanfare and as many high end prospects as its rival. This year’s game features two Volunteer signees in Alontae Taylor and Paxton Brooks in addition to arguably the top two overall prospects on Tennessee’s board in WR Jacob Copeland and CB Olaijah Griffin. Both Copeland and Griffin took their Tennessee official visits the weekend before the dead period, and while they each come to their respective Tennessee interest in different ways (Copeland has a great relationship with Pruitt, while Griffin wasn’t even offered by the previous staff but has family in East TN) both were absolutely blown away by what they saw in Knoxville. Each of their recruitments will likely go down to the wire, as they’ll both take additional visits and have intense interest from bluebloods across the country. But Tennessee is in deep with both prospects, and having them around the dynamic personality of Taylor in particular (albeit of course around other schools’ signees too) can only help the Vols.
Other Vol targets include big NG Coynis Miller, an Auburn commitment likely to take an OV to Tennessee in January; Alabama LB commitment Quay Walker, a big fan of Pruitt (and new DC Kevin Sherrer) who many expect the Vols to take a big swing at; and WR Joshua Moore, an uncommitted prospect with national interest who was recently re-offered by the new staff after not signing with anyone during the early period.
Army Bowl – Saturday 1/6, 12:00PM EST
What to watch for:
The “original” and still the game with the most cachet, the Army Bowl is the last one before the dead period ends. Greg Emerson is the only Tennessee signee in the game, and he’ll likely have his peer recruiting sights set on LB JJ Peterson and CB Isaac Taylor-Stuart, and to a lesser extent (in terms of real chances for Tennessee) CB Kelvin Joseph. Peterson belongs right at the top of Tennessee’s board along with the aforementioned Copeland and Griffin, and Taylor-Stuart is like Griffin an elite CB. “IST” has yet to schedule a Tennessee OV but it sounds like he will, and if Pruitt and Co. can get him on campus they have a chance to blow him away like they did Griffin. Joseph is a Baton Rouge, LA product who the new staff offered likely as “see what sticks” gambit – we’ll see if he reciprocates the interest.
Wait ‘til Next Year
More often than not you can tell the overall quality of a school’s commitment (and now signee) class by how many players they have in these types of games. And not surprisingly, this year they are littered with players from schools like Clemson, Alabama and Georgia, while Tennessee has only a handful. However, there is still an opportunity for the Volunteer signees to make some waves on the field and in practices – thereby increasing the buzz around them as prospects and potentially even their rankings – and off the field with peer recruiting of specific targets. With this new staff Tennessee fans should expect to see the Power T next to many more prospects in the 2018/19 versions of these games. In the meantime, Vol faithful can take comfort in the fact that Tennessee is represented in each of these games and perhaps as importantly has multiple realistic prospects in each of them as well.