After a spring of media speculation--much quite favorable to the men in orange--we now move into summer with projections from the people who put their money where their mouth is: 5Dimes has released preseason win totals for 10 of the 14 SEC teams. And while Vols fans have been talking about 10-2 and a trip to Atlanta as both reasonable expectation and standard for success in 2016, Vegas sets Tennessee's sights higher. Tennessee's 2016 total? Over/under 10.5 regular season wins.
In 2014, Tennessee's preseason projection was 5.5 regular season wins. They hit six. At this point in 2015, the Vols were expected to win 7.5 games (although that number moved to eight by September). They hit eight. But if Tennessee wants to hit their offseason expectation for a third season in a row, they can't do it at any worse than 11-1.
When I heard about the 10.5 projection, my first assumption was that it was juiced heavily to the under. Because 10.25 makes no sense as a win total, an oddsmaker that was undecided between 10 and 10.5 has to list one of the two. But they can adjust the lines in other ways. An oddsmaker who was torn between releasing a line of 10 and a line of 10.5 may release 10.5 with -150 on the under and +110 on the over. That means that a hypothetical bettor putting money on the under would have to risk $150 to win $100, while a hypothetical bettor putting money on the under would have to risk $100 to win $110. It indicates that while the line is between 10 and 11, the projection is much closer to 10 than to 11.
That's not what happened to Tennessee this year. In fact, just the opposite. The Vols' preseason projection is juiced at -145 on the over, +105 on the under. This is almost identical to the juice on the over 7.5 at this time last season (when the Vols were listed at -140 over 7.5 wins). That is to say that the dominant expectation in 2016 is 11-1. Put differently, 11-1 in 2016 is what 8-4 was in 2015.
Projecting a two-win increase--from 8-4 to 10-2--wouldn't have been noteworthy. After all, Tennessee improved two games from 2014 to 2015, and the Vols return enough starters and have a weak enough schedule (goodbye, Oklahoma) to expect the increase to repeat in 2016. Almost everybody has the Vols winning two more games this year. But right now, the money sees Tennessee as three games better than they were at this time last year.
Last season, the Vols' May win projection was even with Florida, 1.5 games behind Georgia, and even farther behind Alabama. This year? Tennessee is projected to win 2.5 more games than Florida and one more game than either Georgia or Alabama. The Vols are tied with LSU for the highest projected win total in the SEC, and at +500 to win the SEC, the Vols are the third-favorites to win the conference (behind Alabama and LSU).
Things don't change when we move past the SEC. At +1400, Tennessee is the seventh-favorite to win the national title, and Tennessee is considered roughly as likely (+130) to make a New Year's Six Bowl as they are to finish worse than 11-1 in the regular season (+105).
Hype is here. Even more than you thought it was. Let's live up to it. Go Vols.