Most agree that Tennessee is a program on the rise, but everybody knows that the next step will be the toughest. Beating Missouri, Kentucky, South Carolina and Vanderbilt consistently is one thing, but beating — or at least hanging with — Georgia, Florida and Alabama is another.
Is 2020 the year that Tennessee can make that second step happen? CBS Sports contributor Barrett Sallee thinks that the Volunteers can take another small step forward by beating the Florida Gators and securing a 9-3 record.
Sallee has Tennessee winning every game outside of Oklahoma, Alabama and Georgia during the 2020 season. Here’s his full explanation of Tennessee’s projected successful season.
The Volunteers should be stout along the offensive line, have firepower in the backfield and a defense that has taken on the mentality of coach Jeremy Pruitt. The quarterback position might not be completely set, but Jarrett Guarantano at least provides some experience unless the potential of another contender is enough to unseat him. They draw Arkansas as their rotating cross-division opponent and have a tuneup vs. Furman prior to the home game vs. Florida on Sept. 26. It sets up well for a team that’s clearly on the rise after reeling off six straight wins to end last season.
Tennessee also draws a bye week before hosting Alabama, if you want to dream big. They’ll also get Oklahoma in new quarterback Spencer Rattler’s second career start, while likely without receiver Jadon Haselwood.
The Vols lost receivers Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway, along with tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson. Safety Nigel Warrior, edge rusher Darrell Taylor and linebacker Daniel Bituli are also gone, but the rest of the core remains in tact.
Tennessee got stronger on the offensive line and defensive line and should enjoy a veteran secondary. The question remains the same as it has since 2017 — what will they get out of the quarterback position? Fifth-year senior Jarrett Guarantano returns, and his lead for the job remains as strong as ever with the lack of spring practice. Jim Chaney doesn’t need big numbers out of Guarantano, but he needs quite a bit more consistency.
So nine wins in 2020 — would you take that right now if offered? I believe most Tennessee fans would.