2019 Tennessee Volunteers Football Predictions and Odds to Win National Championship
It wasn't that long ago that Tennessee football mattered. People feared the Volunteers. They won a national title in 1998 and were dangerous both before and after that. But the Phil Fulmer era ended with a fizzle, Lane Kiffin was a stunning disaster of a hire, Derek Dooley was incompetent, and Butch Jones made no progress at all. So, suddenly, here we are. Jeremy Pruitt took over a team last year that was in such rough shape that 5-7 seemed like an accomplishment. But now Pruitt, unlike so many before him, needs to show that he can make progress at Tennessee, and can make the program relevant again. He had an aggressive offseason. But will it translate onto the field?
2018 in a Nutshell
There was some good news here. By winning at Auburn and beating Kentucky, they beat two ranked teams. And they beat outmatched teams like East Tennessee State, UTEP and Charlotte as decisively as you would hope. The problem, though, is that they lost every other game. Losing at Georgia and to Alabama are almost a given, and falling to West Virginia on a neutral field in the opening game and to Florida wasn't embarrassing, either. It's a close loss to South Carolina, a home massacre at the hands of Missouri, and a bad season-ending loss at Vanderbilt with bowl eligibility on the line, though, that the team really can't accept. A team that wants to be taken seriously can't go 2-6 in the SEC given what the bottom end of that conference looks like right now.
Key Additions and Departures
The coaching staff has gone through significant changes. Tyson Helton was the offensive coordinator last year, but he is now the head coach at Western Kentucky - because any team would die to have the architect of the 108th-ranked scoring offense in charge of their team, I guess. Helton's brother Clay is the head coach at USC, which would have been enough to scare me off of hiring him, but I am clearly not in charge at WKU. To replace him, Pruitt brought in Jim Chaney, who has previously served as OC at Tennessee and was most recently running the offense at Georgia the last three years. He's a huge upgrade. Pruitt also brought in former Tennessee QB legend Tee Martin to be assistant head coach and mentor the wide receivers, rescuing him from the mess that is USC. On the defensive side, Pruitt replaced a committee at defensive coordinator that didn't come close to meeting the very high expectations of the former DC with new DC Derrick Ansley. Ansley coached DBs for the Oakland Raiders last year and was in the same role at Alabama under Pruitt as DC for two years before that. They will have trust and familiarity that will be a big boost.
Jarrett Guarantano is back for his second year as starting QB, but grad transfer Keller Chryst is gone, and there is no backup who has taken a snap in college. The offense line is a bit of a mess, though, and a big reason why the offense was so underwhelming last year. The biggest issue is Trey Smith, a former five-star recruit who has been outstanding when he played at left tackle the last two years. But he missed the last half of last year with blood clots in his lungs and has not been cleared medically yet for this season. His status is unknown, and that's a problem for the team. The team's top two recruits in a strong recruiting class were both five-star offensive linemen - Darnell Wright and Wanya Morris. As good as they both look, it's not great news for the team that you don't have to look to hard to find a depth chart that has both penciled in as potential starters out of the gate. All of their key receivers return, and much of their running game, so the success of the line will dictate so much.
The defensive line is an issue, too. They play a three-man front but have to replace four guys who started multiple games last year. Savion Williams, the top-ranked Juco DT this year, could make an impact. The team also has Aubrey Solomon, a former five-star who transferred after struggling to break through at Michigan, aboard. He has not yet been granted an eligibility waiver, though, so he may have to sit out this year. The linebacking corps was already solid, and the top two four-star recruits in this year's class - Qavaris Crouch and Henry To'oto'o - could force themselves into the discussion as well. And the secondary is a strength.
The recruiting class ranked 12th in the country, which is a big jump from the year before - though it ranked only seventh in the SEC.
Biggest Area of Concern
They have lots to work with on defense, and they made excellent coaching changes. But the offense was a total disaster last year - 108th nationally in scoring, and 122nd in total yards. They just need to be better - much better - if they are going to improve.
Tennessee Volunteers Schedule Analysis
The nonconference schedule is pleasingly soft. They open with Charlotte, BYU and Chattanooga at home, and host UAB later. That should be four wins already, leaving only two from the eight SEC games needed to get back to a bowl. And they host Mississippi State, South Carolina and Vanderbilt, and play at Kentucky and Missouri, so there are certainly plenty of games they can expect to be competitive in. The other three games are at Florida and against Georgia in consecutive weeks, and at Alabama two weeks later. While Pruitt knows Alabama well, and Chaney knows Georgia, it's hard to imagine the Vols ready to compete in those games - especially the latter two. Still, it could be a much worse schedule.
2019-20 Tennessee Volunteers Betting Odds and Trends
Bovada has Tennessee at +35000 to win the national title, which has them behind such juggernauts as UCLA and Arizona. The school probably doesn't need to strike up a victory celebration committee just yet. At +6600 to win the SEC, they are tied with South Carolina as the ninth choice, ahead of only Ole Miss, Arkansas and Vanderbilt.
2019-20 Tennessee Volunteers Predictions and College Football Picks
So much depends on that offensive line and whether Guarantano can be productive and stay healthy if he does get protected better than he was last year. It's not guarantee by any means. Because of the offensive uncertainty, and the work left to do on the defensive line, it is hard to expect a big leap forward from the team. I will be surprised if they don't make a bowl game, though, and think 7-5, with three of those wins coming in the SEC, would be a reasonably successful season.
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