We’ve made it. Week 1 is here.
After a long, boring summer, it’s time to get back to work. This is the week where season predictions and all sorts of other fun topics for discussion permeate the college football landscape.
Just like last year, Rocky Top Talk is going to give some stats predictions for the season. Let us know how you view these numbers in the comments below!
1. Jarrett Guarantano total passing yards - 2,100
Austin: Over. Tennessee will be better up front this year. There really is no where to go but up. If Guarantano has survived all of the hits he’s taken to this point, then I’m not too concerned about his ability to manage behind a better line and weaker schedule. Coach Chaney will bring a feel as a play-caller that hasn’t been seen at Tennessee for quite a while. This one is a slam dunk.
Clint: Over. Consider that Guarantano threw for over 1,900 yards in 2018 with an atrocious offensive line and inconsistent offensive coordinator. Now the offensive line should be improved and Jim Chaney brings experience that was sorely needed. He also has a group of talented receivers to help him out with this endeavor. Barring injury, I think he surpasses 2,100 yards by a few hundred.
If Guarantano failed to do so, he would be the first Jim Chaney quarterback since 2013 to not reach the mark.
Evan: Under. For his career, Guarantano averages just 138 yards per game through the air. If you extrapolate that over a 12-game season, it comes out to about 1,660 yards.
He did show an uptick in production over the last six games of 2018, averaging 184 yards per game, but that average does not include the Missouri game, where he left early after an 0-for-2 start.
The 184 yards/game would be enough to eclipse this number, but just barely. Guarantano would finish with 2,208 yards on the year, but I don’t see that happening with a questionable offensive line and the same cast of characters set to return in 2019.
Noah: Over. If you look at the statistics, Guaran-TAN-O was one of the better performers at his position in the SEC last season.
He also has one of the league’s more talented wide receiving corps to work with in 2019 and a proven offensive coordinator. The biggest issue will be the offensive line, in fact, Guarantano’s whole junior season is going to depend on the guys upfront.
If there has been improvement there, I think he eclipses this mark.
Terry: Over. When you think about it, this isn’t that big of a hurdle to clear in today’s game. However, nothing has gone right for Guarantano during his time here. That should change this season with the addition of Jim Chaney and a veteran receiver room.
The x-factor here will be the offensive line, which will be young, but talented. Can it really be worse than what he’s had over the last two years? I think not, which is why I think Jarrett clears this number with ease.
2. Ty Chandler total receiving/rushing yards - 1,000
Austin: Under. Chandler is a special back, there is no question about it. I think he’s easily capable of eclipsing the 1,000 yard mark. However, I think the running back room is just a little too crowded. Tim Jordan is a very strong back-up, and his vision looked much improved in the spring. Rumors are swirling that Eric Gray might be the next Alvin Kamara. Okay, maybe that’s strong, but he has been very impressive in fall camp. I expect Coach Chaney to split carries between these three players, much like he did at Georgia in 2017 with Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and D’Andre Swift. Our line this year doesn’t look quite as good as that Georgia line. I think Chandler gets plenty of touches by being used as a receiver in the slot, but I don’t see him getting enough carries to reach the 1,000 yard mark.
Clint: Over by a mile. Chandler is the clear No. 1 running back on offense and has the tools to be an All-SEC caliber player. He might not reach 1,000 yards solely on the ground, but his usage as a receiver will help him eclipse the 1,000 yard mark by a good bit. If Chaney’s past offenses are any indication, Chandler won’t be the only back in this offense putting up solid numbers.
Evan: Over. Chandler is the best player on this offense and he will be utilized as such in 2019.
He’s also a perfect fit for this offense. The Vols will likely look to get the ball out quickly in this offense and that suits Chandler perfectly. He’s not as effective as a runner, but he possesses all of the explosive abilities needed to make an opposing defense’s life hell.
And he now has a coordinator in Jim Chaney who will look to get him the ball as often as possible.
This kid is a playmaker and will eat up yards in 2019.
Noah: Over. The Vols will return a staple of talented running backs in 2019, but Chandler is their No. 1 guy and will get the bulk of the carries.
Chandler is one of Tennessee’s most proven playmakers, as well and expect Chaney to draw up a lot of designs that benefit him. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield will bode well, especially if they are looking for quick pass plays. I think a lot of his yards will be ate up on receiving plays.
Terry: Over. I think Chandler is poised to see an uptick in work outside of the tackles, perhaps adding something out of the slot. We saw a little of that with Tyson Helton calling the plays last year, but not near enough. Honestly, the only thing holding Chandler back from hitting this number might be injuries — and freshman running back Eric Gray. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Gray eat into Chandler and Tim Jordan’s touches quite a bit.
3. Jauan Jennings/Marquez Callaway combined receptions - 65.5
Austin: Over. If we learned anything from our offense last year it’s that our receivers are elite in jump ball situations. Put it up high, and these guys will go get it. One of the knocks heard about our receivers has been that they don’t have break-away speed. But, I think they’ll benefit from an improved running game setting up the play action pass. I think this one goes over, and by a sizable margin.
Clint: Over. The way I see it, the production on offense will increase across the board. Last year, Jennings and Callaway combined for 67 receptions, and that was with the aforementioned quarterback protection troubles. They are also the two most proven receivers when it comes to talent and experience.
The only counter to that is how more options are available this year. While I do think guys like Chandler, Wood-Anderson, Palmer, and Murphy will have their roles in this offense, I don’t think they’ll be taking a lion’s share of the receptions. That duty belongs to Jennings and Callaway.
Evan: Under. This one is tough because these are easily Tennessee’s top two receivers, but will Guarantano be able to get the ball to them enough? Neither player has topped more than 40 catches in a season and Jennings is coming off of offseason knee surgery.
Plus, you’ll have Chandler catching more passes and you have an ever-improving Josh Palmer and hopefully a newly-featured Jordan Murphy to throw to. Don’t forget about Dominick Wood-Anderson, either.
It’s also hard to nail down this offense’s identity right now, but something tells me it’s going to be run-heavy. That will also affect Jennings’ and Callaway’s numbers.
Noah: Over. Chaney will take advantage of using his best tools on offense, which have to be this wide receiving tandem. I fully expect Guarantano to throw to them a lot, given he has time behind a young and questionable front.
Terry: Over. I think we see a clear increase in production with Tennessee’s most talented players. There’s no reason to only get the ball to Marquez and Jauan 30 times each in a season, barring injuries. With a reinforced offensive line that should grow as the season goes, Guarantano should have added time to find each guy, along with Josh Palmer.
Sidenote — these top three receivers are pretty dang good. Jim Chaney would be crazy not to properly utilize them.
4. Henry To’oto’o total tackles - 65.5
Austin: Under. Last season 65 tackles would have been good enough for second on the entire time. I think Tennessee has too many strong pieces coming back. Daniel Bituli and Nigel warrior, the top two tacklers from a season ago. Although new, Tennessee’s defensive line is much larger this year, particularly at defensive end. Ideally these players are able to make the play before the ball carrier gets to the second level. I anticipate Henry To’oto’o living up to his hype, but I think this number may be a little steep.
Clint: Under. To’oto’o will play early and he’ll play often, but the amount of really talented players in the linebacking corps means that the staff will shift them around a ton. He will certainly come close to this number regardless.
Evan: Over. I think To’oto’o will be a candidate for the Freshman All-American team and other multiple awards by season’s end. This kid is that good.
Daniel Bituli finished with 79 total tackles last year, so there’s little reason to doubt To’oto’o will reach this mark.
Noah: Over. I expect To’oto’o to see the field a lot, especially early on with Daniel Bituli sitting out. I think he tallies a bunch of tackles before SEC play starts, but even by then, he could be playing one of the bigger roles on the defensive side of the ball. I absolutely believe the hype concerning the freshman that came out all of fall camp.
Terry: Over. Maybe I’m being bold here, but To’oto’o already seems like one of the most important defenders on this team. With Daniel Bituli’s injury, To’oto’o will have even more opportunities to show what he’s got early on. Even when Bituli returns, expect To’oto’o to remain in the starting lineup — maybe even in sub-sets as Ansley and Pruitt utilize his speed.
5. Darrell Taylor total sacks - 7.5
Austin: Over. Last season Taylor accumulated eight sacks. So to me this question is essentially asking: will Darrell Taylor be as good of a pass rusher as he was last season? I think the answer here is an obvious yes. Of Taylor’s eight sacks, seven came between just two games. He didn’t get his first sack until the fifth game of the year against Georgia. Taylor came on very strong at the end of the year, and even caught the eye of some NFL scouts in the process. He’ll be more comfortable after a year in Coach Pruitt’s system, and he has had an extra year of development as a player under Coach Rumph on the field and Coach Fitzgerald in the weight room. I think Taylor goes well over this number.
Clint: Over. Taylor is the one proven pass rusher on the team. It figures that the staff will enlist him to lead the charge when it comes to getting after the quarterback. Tennessee will still be on the lookout for someone else to step up and provide help opposite Taylor.
Evan: Under. This isn’t an indictment against Taylor, I just believe the Vols will be better as a whole when it comes to getting to the quarterback.
There is a lot more talent on the defense this year. Henry To’o To’o, J.J. Peterson, and Quavaris Crouch are a few players that should find themselves in opposing offenses’ backfields quite often.
More players with more sacks will ultimately take away from Taylor’s final numbers, but that type of improvement will still be good to see.
Noah: Over. Given his success last season with 36 total tackles and eight sacks, I agree with Clint that Ansley and Pruitt will have Taylor going in to make stops, which will increase his total from last season.
That being said, I could also see him being targeted by opposing teams and them working to specifically stop him, which could also limit his sacks this season.
Terry: Under. Taylor got to eight last season, thanks to two games of production. I think he’s going to demand the most attention on the team this season, meaning he’s going to see a ton of double team situation. Ansley and Pruitt know that they don’t have much established on the edge behind them, which is why I think we see an increase in blitzes. Taylor needs to show some consistency to solidify himself as an NFL prospect.
6. Team interceptions - 10.5
Austin: Over. Coach Pruitt is a defensive genius. With another year in the system we should see the defense add layers of complexity. Tennessee added huge talent in the defensive backfield through recruiting by bringing in Warren Burrell and Jaylen McCollough, among others. We should be able to pressure the quarterback a little bit more this year and force errant throws.
Clint: Over. Jeremy Pruitt’s defenses have a knack for forcing turnovers, in a way that defies a lot of what we know about the stat. Bryce Thompson’s suspension certainly throws a wrench into this prediction, but I still think having a group of healthy safeties and proven cornerback Alontae Taylor will reach the mark.
Evan: Under. Bryce Thompson led the team with three interceptions last year and the team finished tied for 80th in the country with nine picks. There is a chance that he won’t be on this team in 2019 and just based off what we know, I don’t think he will be.
It will be tough replacing Thompson’s production and despite the encouraging reports about the secondary, I need to see everything play out on the field before I’m ready to say this team will be better at forcing turnovers.
It would be great to see this young secondary step up and make plays without its best player.
Here’s to hoping I’m dead wrong on this one.
Noah: Over. Even without Bryce Thompson, who remains indefinitely suspended, I think this secondary should be one of the strongest units on the team with a mixture of returning experience and some young talent. Also, defensive back is Pruitt and Ansley’s forte.
Terry: Over. A more established secondary should give the Tennessee defense more opportunities to make an impact. As I’ve mentioned above, I think the blitz rate goes up this season, despite the uncertainty around Bryce Thompson. Furthermore, we all expect Tennessee to play in more competitive games this year, right? That fact alone will give the Volunteers more opportunities to snag some picks.
7. Points per game (offense) - 25
Austin: Over. I don’t have a lot of analysis to provide here. We have too much talent coming back on the offensive side of the ball with a proven offensive coordinator. That should be enough to hit this number.
Clint: Over. For perspective, 25.0 points per game ranked 87th nationally in 2018. The SEC certainly has its fair share of stingy defenses, but Tennessee is also expected to make a decent step forward under their new coordinator. I think the cupcake games against Georgia State and Chattanooga will be just enough to make the numbers work.
Evan: Under. Tennessee averaged just 22.8 points per game on offense in 2018. That included a 59-3 win and a 24-0 win over ETSU and UTEP.
Obviously, that’s not good.
If you take away the cupcake games (ETSU, UTEP, and Charlotte), then the Vols averaged around 19.5 points per game.
It feels like this offense will need drastic improvement to reach 25 points per game and I just don’t see that happening this year.
Noah: Over. Tennessee is going to have to hope it over as well because I don’t think there is lot of games they can win with that number. Maybe they can.
I think this offense takes a huge step in 2019 under Chaney. Again, if the offensive line doesn’t grow, then it will strongly effect how the offense performs, but I don’t think that happens. The Vols will average more points a game this season.
Terry: Over. If Tennessee is under this number this year, something has gone terribly wrong. Honestly, Tennessee’s goal should be much higher than this. Even if the Volunteer offensive line is painfully average, that would be a massive improvement from 2018. I think you’ll see that improvement on the scoreboard this year as Jarrett Guarantano leads the Vols to at least pedestrian numbers in 2019.
8. Wins - 6.5
Austin: Under. I predicted 6-6 and I can’t go back on that now. I think this really all hinges on the BYU game, which I had down as a loss. Now, to my credit I wasn’t aware at the time of the prediction that the Vols would have both Trey Smith and Aubrey Solomon this season. I think those two are good enough to add at least one win to the schedule. I’ll keep my prediction, but I’m certainly optimistic that I will be wrong at the end of the year.
Clint: Over. I predicted 7-5 and I am sticking to it.
Evan: Under. There are just too many questions when it comes to the offensive and defensive fronts for this team to win more than six games. But a bowl game and a victory over Vandy would be a big step in the right direction.
Noah: Over. I think 7-5, 8-4 is a strong possibility. I said 8-wins because I believe Tennessee will beat the teams they are supposed to beat (UAB, BYU, Chattanooga, Georgia State, Vanderbilt) and get at least two of the toss ups (Missouri, Kentucky, Carolina) plus a big one (Mississippi State). There’s confidence within the program and I’m buying into it.
Terry: Over. Tennessee takes a step forward this year, but isn’t quite ready to hang with Georgia or Alabama. They’ll probably win one they aren’t supposed to — and probably lose one they aren’t supposed to. I think that comes out to about 7-5 and a decent bowl bid.