With a combined 2-15 record in conference play their past 17 games, Tennessee has been the laughingstock of the SEC, falling all the way to 84th in the CSD Prime computer rankings by the end of last year. However, new head coach Jeremy Pruitt has started to recruit incredibly well. His 2019 class was bordering on being top-ten in the country, and after playing an incredibly young rotation last season, 16 starters are back for the Vols, so I’d expect a pretty big turnaround after back-to-back bad years.
This offense returns practically everyone of importance from last year’s team. Jarrett Guarantano is back at QB, their two top running backs, everyone with more than 50 yards receiving, and seven of the eight guys who started a game on the line, so yeah, practically everyone that will be asked to start on this team already did it last year.
Guarantano is the leader of the offense, and after being inconsistent in 2017, he stepped up his game. He is a junior, as are the top two returning running backs, so this team is built to be good for at least one more year. Senior receiver Marquez Callaway (16.0 YPC) could challenge for All-SEC status, and his stablemates Juan Jennings and Josh Palmer each averaged over 14 yards per catch last year as well.
This team returns center Brandon Kennedy, a former Alabama transfer who was out for the year with an injury after one game in 2018. They also bring in a couple of new faces in four-star running back Eric Gray and a pair of five-star tackles, Wayna Morris and Darnell Wright. This offense should improve dramatically.
The defense “only” returns six starters, but the good news is that most of that turnover comes on the line, where the Vols were already bad, and not in the back two levels, where they’ll get the vast majority of the two-deep back.
Senior LB Darrell Taylor (11 TFL, eight sacks) is the veteran leader of this defense, but there are a lot of exciting faces around him, most notably corner Bryce Thompson, who had seven PBUs and three interceptions as a true freshman. The Vols bring in a few new faces in Georgia transfer Deangelo Givvs, Michigan transfer Aubrey Solomon, and a trio of four-stars that probably won’t start but should provide quality depth. The defense will improve.
Tennessee is going to be one of the most improved teams in the country this year, although a tough schedule with Mississippi State and Alabama from the West might not give them a chance to show it too much in the record. Nonetheless, despite facing one of the ten toughest schedules in America, I feel good about Jeremy Pruitt’s chances of getting the Vols to a bowl in just his second year on the job.
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Average Projected Record: 6.0 wins, 6.0 losses (2.5 wins, 5.5 losses)