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2023 Tennessee Football Record Predictions

Going on the record.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

As we inch closer to kickoff, it’s time for our staff to go on the record. Contributor by contributor, we’ll give you a regular season record and a bowl prediction for the 2023 Tennessee Volunteers.

Let’s not waste anymore time — our predictions are below.

Tennessee 2023 Rocky Top Talk Staff Predictions

Terry: 9-3, Citrus Bowl

No Hendon Hooker, Jalin Hyatt or Cedric Tillman? It doesn’t seem like much of a problem for Tennessee. They’re going to slide in Joe Milton to the lineup and hope to pick up where they left off in 2022 — a year that saw them go 10-2.

But can they take the next step? It’s possible, but it’s going to be tough. Hosting Georgia and at Alabama will obviously determine Tennessee’s potential CFP fate, but you can’t sleep on trips to Kentucky and Florida, along with home games against Texas A&M and South Carolina. Milton has the ability to win every game on the schedule, but can he find the consistency to do that? That’s my main question, along with some concerns on the offensive line.

I think Tennessee has an exciting season with a few bumps along the way.

Nick: 8-4, Reliaquest Bowl

(if things can even work out that way...? It’s SEC vs. Big 10 or ACC if the Big 10 makes the Citrus Bowl. I’m already confused, but I haven’t paid much attention to the playoff expansion, so here we are).

I see I’ve found my pessimistic spirit animal on this site with Christian. Nah — Christian is actually probably really positive, and we just happen to agree on the end-of-the-year record here.

There’s clearly a lot to like about what Josh Heupel has done since he took over for Jeremy Pruitt after that 2020, 3-7 debacle. He’s squeezed all the juice out of oranges that Pruitt cast aside, e.g., Ramel Keyton, Roman Harrison, Cedric Tillman, Jalin Hyatt — who may or may not have been on the verge of transferring — Aaron Beasley, Theo Jackson... t list goes on and on. He’s also assessed the needs of his team and attacked them on the recruiting trail like shark with chum in the water, signing two four-star edge rushers in Joshua Josephs and James Pierce, Jr., in 2022 along with LB Elijah Herring who will likely play some “go get the QB,” this year, too. In the same class, he signed four-star Tyre West and interior DL Jordan Phillips to bolster Rodney Garner’s 12-13 man rotation.

He also added to his skill positions with guys like Dylan Sampson and Squirrel White, possibly the two fastest players on the team. Dee Williams looks like a real weapon in the return game, too. Then, in 2023, still knowing the defense needed to be transformed, he signed 4/5-star interior DL Daevin Hobbs, 4/5-star EDGE Chandavian Bradley and the likely gem of the class, Arion Carter. Since the ‘22 cycle he’s added nine DBs (counting the transfer portal... after watching Purdue put up 48 points and 534 yards through the air in the Music City Bowl loss). That’s how you transform a team in three years.

So while the squad has made tremendous strides in terms of talent on the field and culture off the field, how much is Cooper Mays’ injury going to throw a wrench in the pace of the offense? Does the injury linger, and if so, what happens then?

Quite frankly, we look about one torn ACL on the starting offensive line from being in big trouble. Does Jaylen McCollough still start even if he couldn’t pass elementary-level geometry with the angles he takes? Has Joe Milton really figured things out? He hasn’t thrown an interception in two seasons here, but he’s also not started a game in Gainesville.

So while I think this may be a better overall team than last year’s, one that led the country in numerous offensive categories. And while the defense looks like it might take a step forward in defending the throw, I just have too many questions to say we’re going to beat UK after the trip to Tuscaloosa. There are real concerns on the OL, and will they show up when we face A&M’s defensive line? I don’t see us dropping ‘Bama two years in a row, and I’ll believe that we can beat UGA when I see it. The days of worrying about making a bowl are gone, for now, and I still think it’s gonna be a blast of a year regardless if the team goes 8-4, 9-3, 10-2 or 11-1.

Matt: 9-3, Citrus Bowl

Overall, I feel pretty good about Tennessee this year, but I do find limitations that just weren’t on the offensive side of the ball last year. The Vols scored a school record amount of points, posted school record efficiency numbers, and got one of the best single season QB performances in school history from Hendon Hooker prior to his injury. While I think Joe Milton has made tremendous strides forward as a passer, I struggle to fully buy into him being able to pick up where Hooker left off especially with the losses of Hyatt and Tillman.

That being said, I think the defense makes a leap forward this year, and it would be hard not to against the pass, at least. Though they lost key pass rushers, a guy like Omari Thomas will find himself on an All-SEC team, and the secondary has only gotten a year of experience older. All in all, if there’s a year this team misses out on a New Year’s Six bowl, I believe this would be that season.

Christian: 8-4, Outback Bowl

This is probably one of the more conservative responses you’ll see, but I think losing a legitimate Heisman contender, top-two receiving targets, and stalwart right tackle will hurt the Volunteers offense more than people think. Despite being a first-round-hopeful prospect and Heisman dark horse, until Joe Milton proves he can put together a string of two good games in a row, I have no reason to believe he can consistently show up in big moments like Hendon Hooker did in 2022.

Let’s look at the schedule: it’d be foolish not to think that Tennessee greatly benefited from playing majority of their games against ranked opponents at home last season, especially against Alabama and Florida. This year, they won’t have such a luxury and have some tough home games including Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas A&M. Couple that with the nation’s biggest question mark (Joe Milton) and some defensive inconsistencies, and I struggle to see Tennessee having repeated success in 2023.

Look for Tennessee to have an above average year, but not one that comes without some low points. Who knows though — there’s a chance you all circle back on this prediction 5 months from now and point and laugh at how stupid I am. Those are the breaks sometimes.