Even if they struggle severely on both sides of the ball this year, Tennessee football could have two advantages. The first is the notable one: They’ll score a lot of points under Josh Heupel. However, another advantage now appears to be special teams.
Both punter Paxton Brooks and new place kicker Chase McGrath, the latter of whom transferred to the Vols from the USC Trojans this offseason, have been named to their respective preseason watch lists, the Ray Guy Award and the Lou Groza Award. UT is one of two SEC schools, the Georgia Bulldogs being the other, to have a player on both lists.
Here’s the real kicker, though (no pun intended). Tennessee football brought in McGrath to offset the loss of Brent Cimaglia, who transferred to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, and Cimaglia wasn’t on the Groza watch list. Both lists were revealed on Twitter.
Given the fact that Cimaglia wasn’t on the list, this is an example of how the Vols upgraded in the transfer portal. Such a story is very underrated right now because all people can look at with UT is all the production lost in the portal this past offseason.
More from All for Tennessee
- How to Win a GUARANTEED $200 Bonus Betting Just $5 on the Vols vs. Florida!
- Tennessee Football at Florida: Five Keys to a Vols Victory
- Week 3 SEC Power Rankings: Did Tennessee Football’s Win Help At All?
- Week 3 AP Polls: Why Did Tennessee Football Drop in the Polls?
- Tennessee Football: Top Five Performers in 30-13 Win vs. Austin Peay
That lost production is certainly true, but Heupel has been bringing in new transfers to help offset some of that, and one of those examples appears to be bringing in McGrath. This is the story that should be told.
In three years with USC, McGrath hit 32 of 42 field goals and 118 of 119 extra points. He was 7-of-11 on field goals beyond 40 yards and 2-of-4 on field goals beyond 50 yards, demonstrating his range at the position.
More importantly, as McGrath gained more experience, he maintained his leg while becoming more reliable on easy kicks. His final year starting, he went 14-of-17 on field goals and 54-of-54 on extra points while hitting 10-of-11 attempts inside 40 yards. That earned him All Pac 12 honorable mention. Last year, he lost his starting job to Parker Lewis.
McGrath’s predecessor as a kicker for Tennessee football, Cimaglia, was incredibly reliable until last year. In 2020, he earned All-SEC honors while hitting 23-of-27 field goals, including 9 of 11 attempts from beyond 40 yards and both attempts from beyond 50, one of which was the longest made field goal on Rocky Top since Jeff Hall in 1995, 53 yards. He also didn’t miss an extra point.
However, last year, Cimaglia battled an injury and went just 5-of-9 on the year. Assuming he’s healthy, he’ll likely be reliable for Georgia Tech this year as a graduate transfer, but based on these preseason projections, more expectations are behind McGrath.
On the punting front, nobody is surprised by Brooks making the Ray Guy watch list. He’s been reliable for Tennessee football for a year and a half now, and his powerful leg is one of the few sure weapons on the Vols this year. Together, he and McGrath could give the Vols a huge, underrated advantage in SEC games.