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Tennessee Football: With the transfer portal opening, Tennessee is more secure than others

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North Carolina coach Mack Brown doesn’t seem real happy with the current state of college football. That’s understandable. Things have changed.

Brown said recently that 15 schools have reached out to one of his players, presumably quarterback Drake Maye, a redshirt freshman who looks like he just might be the second coming of John Elway. Maye is 6-foot-4 1/2 and 220 pounds and throws the ball as if he’s angry at it. With the modern day of immediate eligibility in college football’s transfer portal, Maye could transfer and transform plenty of schools from wannabes to contenders. Sorry Mack, things have changed.

There are rules when it comes to tampering, but those really don’t matter. Why? First, the NCAA doesn’t have the inclination nor manpower to enforce the rules on the books, which are already pretty loose. Second, there are too many ways to reach an athlete through second and third parties, including social media, to ever keep prospective transfer targets insulated.

I’ve said before that I would add another quarterback to Tennessee’s roster if I were head coach Josh Heupel. He and every other coach with any concern about their quarterback play should be interested in Maye, who went from unknown to becoming a Heisman candidate this fall. He would elevate Tennessee’s play at quarterback almost immediately as he would any program in the nation.

This is when the gap between the haves and the have nots gets really, really intense. Teams like Tennessee will make the 12-team College Football Playoff with regularity once it is fully instated in 2024. North Carolina will not unless something changes drastically.

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There are other players that could soon become prospects. Just think of any really good player that isn’t playing for a really good team. Would he like to play on a bigger stage with better facilities? It’s worth checking.

The top 15 to 25 programs won’t have to worry about being raided unless they have a head coach that isn’t getting the job done. Think Texas A&M. However, Tennessee isn’t one of those schools.

The whole notion of calling up current players, even via second or third parties, seems a bit grimy. I’ll give you that. However, you’re also not supposed to speed on the highway, but just what if you knew there were no police present and you were running a bit late for an important meeting? I’m guessing there’s a right-foot reaction.

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Let’s imagine the Vols still had one of their former, clueless coaches at the helm. Do you really think coaches from more accomplished schools wouldn’t be calling? Do you really think other schools wouldn’t be interested in a freshman like running back Dylan Sampson or receiver Squirrel White? If former Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt were still at the helm, those Vols would be prime targets. Fortunately, the Vols upgraded from a beater to a luxury ride when it went from Pruitt to current head coach Josh Heupel. There shouldn’t be that much concern that the Vols could get poached. If a player leaves Tennessee, concern about the direction of the program won’t likely be a primary reason.

Brown certainly isn’t Pruitt, but faces an incredible set of challenges in building a program. When Brown stumbles across a special player like Maye, Brown has to make sure he’s not recruited even after he’s on the roster. It’s almost as if National Signing Day is always tomorrow – or whenever the transfer portal is open.

Now, North Carolina is not some FCS school with inadequate facilities. However, one can be sure that the Tar Heels don’t stack up to the best facilities in college football.

Brown has always seemed like a players coach. That should help him in retaining players, but not every coach is like that. Not every coach has the feel-good emotions that players seem to have with Brown.

One could say that none of this is fair, that Brown should be able to retain his players without question. We’re way beyond that. Brown could pick up and leave for another job the day after National Signing Day if he chose to. Coaches have always had that freedom. Now, they’re dealing with players that have the same mobility. It’s hard to feel sorry for them.

I guess there’s a possibility that a school could get in trouble for tampering if they were just blatantly obvious about it, but what are the chances of being the one school that the NCAA – if it still exists — would like to make an example of? Slim to none.

Brown had better have a similar talk track that Heupel had leading into the 2022 season. Heupel didn’t try to convince his players that they would be hoisting a national championship trophy this year, even though that did become a distinct possibility at one point. Still, Heupel set the bar relatively high at winning the SEC East and playing for a conference championship in Atlanta. The Vols didn’t do that, but there aren’t any players that feel shorted by a lack of success this season.

Heupel also has instilled in his players that they’re building something special at Tennessee, that they’ll be remembered for resurrecting a once proud program with a rabid fan base. Heupel already has proof of that. Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker will never be forgotten for what he did in 2022. 

We’ll see if Maye is around in Chapel Hill to field the same sort of accolades in 2023.

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