Considering the finish to the 2019 season, this news should surprise no one. But it’s still a little strange to see after the last few years. Tennessee debuted at No. 19 overall in the first release of the 2020 S&P+ College Football Rankings.
Bill Connelly of ESPN uses a number of factors to rank college football’s best teams, including returning production, recent recruiting and recent history. Following a six game win streak to close the year at 8-5, Tennessee is poised to take another step forward in 2020.
The Volunteers rank inside of the top ten of his defensive rankings, checking in at 7th overall. That number may seem high to Tennessee fans, considering Daniel Bituli, Darrell Taylor and Nigel Warrior will have to be replaced. But then again, Pruitt has recruited really well defensively to this point and is set to hand the keys to Henry To’o To’o, Jaylen McCollough and Quavaris Crouch.
Top 10 projected defenses in 2020, per SP+:— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) February 13, 2020
1 UGA (6.4)
2 Oregon (11.8)
3 Auburn (14.2)
4 Wisc (14.3)
5 Ohio St (14.5)
6 Fla (14.5)
7 Tenn (14.8)
8 Bama (15.2)
9 Miami (15.2)
10 Wash (15.2)
Dawgs are gonna be TERRIFYING on D this year. Full-on, '11 Bama-style boa constrictor.
Bryce Thompson, Alontae Taylor and potentially Baylen Buchanan will all return to the Tennessee secondary, making that group one of the strongest in the nation. The key for this defense will be finding some pass rush, which will rely on some younger, unproven players.
Tennessee’s clear weakness is on the other side of the ball, where they rank just 56th in offense. Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway are now gone, creating a lot of production to replace on the outside. Star offensive lineman Trey Smith will return for his senior season, however, keeping the entire starting five up front together for another season. Former five-star prospect Cade Mays could also join that group, pending a waiver from the NCAA after his transfer from Georgia.
What’s holding Tennessee’s offensive ranking down? I don’t have to tell you, but I will anyways. It’s the quarterback position.
Jarrett Guarantano returns for his fifth year in the program with one final chance to take a step forward. Guarantano’s 2019 was up and down — including being benched, and also coming off the bench to secure multiple wins. Jarrett finding some sort of consistency would go a long way towards Tennessee competing for the SEC East.
Will he have some competition in camp? Absolutely. The most intriguing is five-star passer Harrison Bailey, who has already enrolled and will get to go through spring practice. Brian Maurer will also have something to say, looking to build on those flashes he delivered last season before concussions forced him back to the sidelines.
Overall, 19th seems about right for this team. 7th seems a little high for the defense and 56th seems a little low for the offense, considering what the offensive line could look like this fall. But then again, you’re only as good as your quarterback.
Where should Tennessee be ranked to start the year? Let us know below.