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Recalibrating expectations for the Vols after Ohio

How do we feel about the Vols’ chances the rest of the way after the first three games?

NCAA Football: Ohio at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

We now have three weeks of data in the 2016 college football season. It's all still insufficient, of course, but is also more than we had. So how do we now feel about the Vols' chances the rest of the way as we head into SEC play?

Explanations are below, but here's the updated chart:

5-30 SCALE Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
6 Alabama Alabama Alabama
10 Georgia
11 Alabama
12 Georgia
13 Texas A&M Texas A&M
14 Georgia Florida
15 Texas A&M Texas A&M Georgia
17 Florida
18 Florida
19 Missouri Missouri
20 South Carolina Florida
21 Virginia Tech Virginia Tech (W; 45-24) South Carolina
22 Kentucky
23 South Carolina Missouri Vanderbilt
24 Kentucky Vanderbilt South Carolina
25 Appalachian State (W; 20-13 (OT)) Missouri Vanderbilt
26 Vanderbilt Kentucky Kentucky
28 Ohio Ohio Ohio (W; 28-19)
29 Tennessee Tech Tennessee Tech Tennessee Tech Tennessee Tech

Recalibrating the Vols after Ohio

Deep breath. So. (Funny, I wrote that yesterday, before this post from Will.)

The Vols are 3-0. They remain unscathed, even after the meteor shower of the first week. They didn't start the season as a popular preseason pick for the College Football Playoff and then finish the first three weeks 1-2, like Oklahoma did. They didn't lose to North Dakota State, like Iowa did. They have done all of this.

But each of those three wins for Tennessee has been accompanied by some frustration, and none of them -- yet -- have provided much evidence that this team is what we all believed it to be this summer. Shoot, many of us are still wondering if this team has even improved since last year despite having almost everyone back.

Maybe the coaching staff is looking at the season as a whole, planning for each game by turning this dial to that and that dial to this, making strategic decisions about just how much they will need to win and how much they can ration out and save for when they think they'll really need it. If so, though, they're going to have to live with the consequence of an uneasy fan base that hasn't seen the team with every one of the dials turned up to 10 all at the same time yet. Maybe we'll see that this week. But maybe we'll discover that one of those dials is actually on the fritz, and so based on what we've actually seen, I have to admit that I feel less confident about almost everything than I did before the season began. At least until we actually see what we've been believing all summer.

Recalibrating the Vols based on new results from past opponents

Appalachian State (1-2, 0-0 Sun Belt, NR)

  • W1: Lost to Tennessee in OT, 20-13.
  • W2: Beat Old Dominion, 31-7.
  • W3: Lost to #25 Miami, 45-10.

Well this one didn't help matters. Miami QB Brad Kaaya used -- gulp -- a vertical passing game to dominate the Mountaineers. Ouch.

9/10/16: Virginia Tech (2-1, 1-0 ACC, NR)

This one helped quite a bit, though. It was what you thought you might get when you marry Justin Fuente's offense with Bud Foster's defense. QB Jerod Evans had five touchdown passes, and the Hokies defense held Boston College to 124 total yards. It does make you feel a bit better about last week's game.

9/17/16: Ohio (1-2, 0-0 MAC, NR)

  • W1: Lost in 3OT to Texas State, 56-54.
  • W2: Beat Kansas, 37-21.
  • W3: Lost to Tennessee, 28-19.

Recalibrating the Vols' future opponents

9/24/16: Florida (3-0, 1-0 SEC, #23)

  • W1: Beat UMass, 24-7.
  • W2: Trounced Kentucky, 45-7.
  • W3: Beat North Texas, 32-0.

Expectations for a Vols win (on a scale from 5-30): Okay, a few early notes on Florida. The defense looks dominant (they held North Texas to 53 total yards and 0 points), and the offense looks . . . okay but like it's still trying to find itself. Also, quarterback Luke Del Rio was injured and preliminary reports are that he is unlikely to play against Tennessee this week. If you have been a Vols fan for any length of time, you have an unnatural fear and loathing of backup quarterbacks, so this isn't good news for us, either.

I've run the statsy preview calculator early this week, and it doesn't look good at all for the Vols. What the calculator doesn't know, though, is that all three of Florida's opponents are among the absolute worst in college football, and it's not just this year's numbers that have come in part courtesy of Florida that say so. The numbers are actually consistent with what those teams did last year. Tennessee's opponents haven't been world-beaters, either, but they have all been on a higher plain than that of the Gators' opponents.

All in all, I feel about the same about the Gators' offense but am much more concerned about their defense. Add to that my concern about the Vols themselves and I'm moving this game all the way up from 18 to 14. Maybe it's good we don't go into this game feeling confident about someone we haven't beaten in 11 years.

W1 W2 W3 W4
20 20 18 14

10/1/16: Georgia (3-0, 1-0 SEC, #16)

  • W1: Beat North Carolina, 33-24.
  • W2: Barely beat Nicholls, 26-24.
  • W3: Came back late to squeak out a win against Missouri, 28-27.

Expectations for a Vols win (on a scale from 5-30): True freshman quarterback Jacob Eason threw a touchdown pass on fourth down with 1:31 to play to win the game. The kid is racking up experience we'd rather he'd get after playing the Vols, but it is what it is. On the positive side, Missouri did turn the ball over five times, so if you want to draw comparisons to our own win over Virginia Tech, have at it. At this time, I'm thinking they're not as good as they looked in Week One against North Carolina, but they are still dangerous. I'm moving this game down a spot and under Florida. That also changes this preseason post in which I declared the Georgia game the most critical of the season. The Florida and Georgia games appear to be equally as important.

W1 W2 W3 W4
12 10 14 15

10/8/16: Texas A&M (3-0, 1-0 SEC, #17)

  • W1: Beat #16 UCLA in OT, 31-24.
  • W2: Beat Prairie View A&M, 67-0.
  • W3: Beat Auburn, 29-16.

Expectations for a Vols win (on a scale from 5-30): Tennessee's offensive coaching staff better have a good plan for Myles Garrett. Better have a good Plan B, too. The Aggies did have problems in the red zone, settling for field goals rather than touchdowns, but they got it done against Auburn. I'm keeping this game right where it is for now.

W1 W2 W3 W4
15 15 13 13

10/15/16: Alabama (3-0, 1-0 SEC, #1)

  • W1: Clobbered #20 USC, 52-6.
  • W2: Beat Western Kentucky, 38-10.
  • W3: Beat Ole Miss, 48-43.

Expectations for a Vols win (on a scale from 5-30): This game was somehow both closer and not as close as the final score made it look. Alabama was behind by three touchdowns early and then up by 18 points late. They won by five. The Tide is the only team that seems to have a lightswitch they can flip on and off at will and with certainty that it's going to work. No weaknesses again this year.

W1 W2 W3


11 6 6 6

10/29/16: South Carolina (2-1, 1-1 SEC, NR)

  • W1: Beat Vanderbilt, 13-10.
  • W2: Lost to Mississippi State, 27-14.
  • W3: Survived East Carolina, 20-15.

Expectations for a Vols win (on a scale from 5-30): East Carolina gave this one to Muschamp. They had 200 more yards than South Carolina and nearly triple the number of first downs, but kept coughing it up in the red zone. The bottom line is that the Gamecocks won, but easily could have lost to the Pirates. They didn't really look any better than last week, but with Tennessee still struggling to find itself, I'm moving the whole bottom group of SEC teams -- South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky -- up the chart.

W1 W2 W3 W4
23 23 24 21

11/5/16: Tennessee Tech (1-2, 1-0 OVC, NR)

  • W1: Lost to Wofford, 21-7.
  • W2: Beat Austin Peay, 41-7.
  • W3: Lost to Mercer, 34-27.

Expectations for a Vols win (on a scale from 5-30): No change.

W1 W2 W3 W4
29 29 29 29

11/12/16: Kentucky (1-2, 0-1 SEC, NR)

  • W1: Collapsed and lost to Southern Miss, 44-35.
  • W2: Lost to Florida, 45-7.
  • W3: Beat New Mexico State, 62-42.

Expectations for a Vols win (on a scale from 5-30): Kentucky lost their starting quarterback to an injury on the first possession, but backup Stephen Johnson had 310 yards through the air and 51 on the ground. In all, Kentucky had 692 yards of offense. Maybe Johnson will make a difference, but we won't really know until next week when the Wildcats play South Carolina. Leaving them in the last bunch of SEC teams, but as I said earlier, moving the entire group up due to Tennessee's struggles. I'm also swapping Kentucky and Vanderbilt based on both of their performances this week.

W1 W2 W3 W4
24 26 27 23

11/19/16: Missouri (1-2, 0-1 SEC, NR)

  • W1: Lost to West Virginia, 26-11.
  • W2: Beat Eastern Michigan, 61-21.
  • W3: Lost to Georgia, 28-27.

Expectations for a Vols win (on a scale from 5-30): Like Tennessee, turnovers make it a little difficult to get a bead on the Tigers yet. They gave up five to Georgia, and although quarterback Drew Lock looked strong at times on 23 of 38 passing for 376 yards and three touchdowns, he also threw three picks. The jury's still out on these guys, but they get points for having Georgia on the ropes until late despite those five turnovers. Because of all of that, I'm moving this game up to 19 and Missouri out of the pack of the worst SEC teams.

W1 W2 W3 W4
19 25 23 19

11/26/16: Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-1 SEC, NR)

  • W1: Lost to South Carolina, 13-10.
  • W2: Beat MTSU, 47-24.
  • W3: Lost to Georgia Tech, 38-7.

Expectations for a Vols win (on a scale from 5-30): Vandy gets a bit of a benefit from my concern about the Vols, but they have done nothing to look better themselves, and I'm swapping them with Kentucky. 23 this week for Vandy.

W1 W2 W3 W4
26 24 25 23