After ripping off six wins straight to close the 2019 season, the next logical step for Jeremy Pruitt’s Tennessee program is to begin competing regularly for the SEC East. In order to do that, two divisional foes stand in his way.
Georgia has been the class of the East in recent seasons, while the Florida Gators saw an instant revival after hiring Dan Mullen. The talent gap between the two programs and Tennessee has been obvious over the last two seasons, but after bringing in a top ten class and returning a ton of production from last year’s team, Tennessee might just be ready to hang with the upper tier teams in the division.
SEC Network analyst and former Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers agrees.
“I think this is the year where they (Tennessee) are right there with Georgia and Florida,” Rodgers said during an interview with WJOX in Birmingham. “They are going to have an opportunity to — call it an upset if you want — win over Florida and Georgia. They are gonna be in those football games.”
Tennessee faced both teams last season before their second-half turnaround, getting blown out in each matchup. Florida capitalized on several mistakes early on from the Vols, while Georgia withstood an early offensive burst from Tennessee to take control and dominate the second half.
Both games took place while Jeremy Pruitt was searching for answers at the quarterback spot, juggling between Brian Maurer and Jarrett Guarantano. While Maurer offered a spark, Guarantano provided more stability down the stretch. Without a true spring period, Guarantano is expected to hold on to the job for his final season.
As Rodgers puts it, the fifth-year senior just needs to play within himself.
“If Guarantano does kind of play within that blueprint, the talent that Pruitt has added to this roster, and the experience they have, they’re gonna be there. So they could be a team that could get Georgia to slip up, get Florida to slip up,” Rodgers added.
Tennessee is expected to lean heavily on its offensive line, which returns all five starters and adds former five-star prospect Cade Mays. All the makings are their for the run game to be the catalyst of the offense, which is something that Guarantano has yet to experience in his time in Knoxville. Perhaps that will make a difference in his final season.
However — will simply playing within the blueprint of Jim Chaney’s offense be enough to take down a Georgia or Florida? It certainly feels like the Volunteers will need a little more than that in those games.
We do know that the talent gap appears to be shrinking in the SEC East. It’s going to be interesting to see just how much it shrunk this fall.