I always laugh when I see the ESPN "Way Too Early" college football poll. It's out right now, just a week after the national championship game won by Georgia. I found another reason why it's laughable. Of the 25 teams in the poll, seven are from the SEC, and Tennessee is not among them. That means that ESPN feels the Volunteers are not among the best seven teams in the conference but Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Kentucky, Ole Miss and South Carolina are.
I get it. Even though I have poo-pooed the Big Orange Nation's claims that ESPN is always against Tennessee, there may be something to it. Of those seven SEC teams that are ranked in the "Way Too Early" poll, Tennessee beat two of them, (Kentucky and South Carolina) and should have beaten another (Ole Miss.) The Volunteers have the 14th best 2022 recruiting class in the country as well as several starters returning from their 7-6 squad from 2021.
They have an early Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Hendon Hooker as well as one of the top returning receivers in the country in Cedric Tillman.
Head Coach Josh Heupel has done a fabulous job in his first year at Tennessee, that's well documented. By the early signing period in December, his 2022 recruiting class went from a 31st national ranking to number 14. The jury is still out on his ability to recruit, however he has already proven himself as a great developer of talent...one who can coach up good players to be even better.
Looking back, Butch Jones always did a decent job of recruiting at Tennessee, but he failed miserably in terms of player development. An example...Alvin Kamara is one of the best all around running backs in the NFL, but he wasn't even a starter at Tennessee when he played for Jones.
I understand completely why ESPN puts together this "Way Too Early" poll. College football fans are starving for any information they can possibly get. After all, they have to wait eight months or so before the start of the 2022 season and they need something to talk about and ponder until then. In other words, ESPN provides the cannon fodder and the fans provide the explosion.
I have another bone to pick with ESPN. They have Alabama tabbed number one in the poll, even though Georgia is the defending national champion. Why are the Bulldogs not respected enough to be ranked higher than third behind Alabama and Ohio State? I imagine it's because Georgia borders Tennessee and we all know how much ESPN hates Tennessee.
In all seriousness, I know how important it is to college football fans to have this poll to spark debate and interesting conversation. Until we begin the next season in late August and early September, we'll go through the traditional signing day, spring practice and the long boring summer. I at least still have college basketball and baseball seasons to get me through. Maybe ESPN will have a change of heart when they get around to putting together their next poll in July. But then again...what would Tennessee fans have to gripe about?
Randy Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org