The 2018 S&P+ rankings weren’t kind to the Tennessee Volunteers, understandably so. The Vols finished the season 48th overall with a 5-7 record.
The first look at 2019 paints a much more optimistic picture. In fact, Tennessee cracked the top 25, checking in at 21st overall. Tennessee’s recruiting impact of 17th helps, but the Vols’ returning production helps even more. The Vols only really lost contributors on the defensive line, along with a couple of replaceable pieces on the offensive line.
For reference, last year’s version of these projections had the Vols at 79th — which turned out to be pretty accurate.
Two five star additions on the offensive line should help in the trenches. A few blue-chippers defensively will finally add some competitive depth at both linebacker and safety.
Whether or not Tennessee does take this step forward will be determined by quarterback Jarrett Guarantano and the help he gets from his offensive line. How quickly these freshmen can adapt to SEC play will be a big time determining factor in the 2019 season. Tennessee has experienced playmakers at both receiver and running back, but the quarterback and the offensive line have to cooperate for offensive coordinator Jim Chaney to take advantage.
Jeremy Pruitt’s young secondary should be able to take a step forward with a year of experience under their belts. A lot of talent is coming into the linebacker room this year and it’ll be interesting to see where all the pieces fit. The number one question defensively is where the pressure is going to come from. Darrell Taylor returning was huge, but more outside threats need to emerge quickly.
There may still be questions about this roster, but the talent level is starting to rise again in Knoxville. With plenty of experience returning, a small step forward seems realistic. A top 25 projections seems optimistic, but these same numbers nailed Tennessee’s 2018 season.