There’s been a lot of talk this week about whether or not the Tennessee Vols have “locker room problems” after their shocking 63-38 loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Starting linebacker Jeremy Banks didn’t make the trip to Columbia amid rumors of an altercation between him and Vols quarterback Hendon Hooker.

Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel was asked about the alleged altercation on Monday, but he declined to get into “what transpired” and instead said that Banks simply “wasn’t available” for the South Carolina game.

On Tuesday, offensive lineman Cooper Mays, a key team leader for the Vols, was asked about Tennessee’s team chemistry and if it was an issue during the South Carolina game.

“I wouldn’t say it was an issue, I don’t think so,” said Mays. “I don’t think it was an issue last week. I don’t think it’s an issue this week. I think they just came out and played better ball than us on that night. It kind of showed in the score.”

“I can’t say it’s about team chemistry,” added Mays. “I think it was just them playing better than us.”

I’m sure Mays’ comments will be scrutinized to some extent, but based on what we’ve seen from this team so far this season, I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt.

One really bad night against South Carolina doesn’t erase the resiliency and closeness the Vols showed in games against Pittsburgh, Florida, and Alabama. I don’t think the whole season can be trashed because of a poor performance against the Gamecocks. And I don’t think the team deserves to have their closeness challenged because of that loss.

Sometimes bad losses happen in college football. Guys have off nights. Teams have off nights. When you have a group of over 100 players, there are going to be disagreements or times when not everyone sees eye to eye. It happens at Georgia and it happens at Alabama. It happens everywhere.

What matters now for this team is Vanderbilt. They have to keep their focus in the right place and not let the negative outside noises this week impact them. They know they still have a lot to play for this season (10 or 11 wins and a possible Sugar Bowl appearance).

Let’s hold off on making any hasty judgments about Tennessee. Let’s see how they bounce back against Vanderbilt before we start questioning the makeup of this team. If they lose to the Commodores, then the conversation will shift. But until then, I think they deserve some grace after starting the season 9-1.

Which of these teams should make the college football playoff?