The Tennessee hype train hasn’t exactly left the station this offseason. Coming off of a 5-7 season and playing in a once again loaded SEC, expectations aren’t too far above simply making a bowl game.
However, more than one analytics system believes in the Volunteers in 2019. ESPN’s FPI has Tennessee as a top 15 team. S&P+ placed Tennessee as the 21st ranked team entering the season.
Now Phil Steele, perhaps the most respected college football analyst out there, says Tennessee could win eight — maybe even nine games in 2019.
“I think Jeremy Pruitt is doing a great job,” Steele said on Wednesday. “I think the talent may have been a little overrated when he stepped into it, but the guys that he’s bringing in are his guys that he wants — legitimate, SEC caliber players. I think there’s going to be a big change for Tennessee in the future.”
How does Steele feel about Tennessee this year? He’s a big fan of the returning receivers and Dominick Wood-Anderson, and he likes that the Vols have an established, veteran quarterback in Jarrett Guarantano. He also points to added competition up front on the offensive line as a positive.
“The offensive line — you’ve got a bunch of guys back, but a bunch of guys might lose their jobs,” Steele said. “That’s not a bad thing. You’ve got Darnell Wright and Wanya Morris coming in at tackle. We’ve seen true freshman be able to make that impact. I think Tennessee is going to be a lot more potent offensively.”
The other side of the ball will have to replace three starters up front, but overall, the defense could be set to take a step forward.
“The biggest question defensively is probably the defensive front, but they’ve got some players there,” Steele said. “I like the linebacking core with Darrell Taylor and Daniel Bituli and the secondary is solid across the board. This is overall a good team.”
So how many games can Tennessee win? According to Steele, he thinks Tennessee fans should aim higher than just a bowl and six wins.
“When you look at the schedule this year, Tennessee probably figures to be favored in as many as eight games. So I’m not just calling for six wins and a bowl. They were my seventh most improved team in the country. I think they have the potential to get to eight, potentially to nine wins this year.”