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2019 SEC Football Preview: Tennessee Volunteers

2019 SEC Football Preview: Tennessee Volunteers

2018 Recap

2019 SEC Football Preview: Tennessee Volunteers
2018 Schedule

2018 Record: 5-7 (2-6)

7th in the East

Depending on who is asked, Jeremy Pruitt’s first season at Tennessee may have been viewed as a success, or it may have been viewed as a failure. If asking a Tennessee fan it would seem as if they didn’t win a game last year.

2019 SEC Football Preview: Tennessee Volunteers
Jeremy Pruitt enters his second season as a head coach. (Photo courtesy of 247sports).

The combined job of mid-season fired Butch Jones and interim Brady Hoke delivered Pruitt a team coming off a 4-8 season. A following season of 5-7 would arguably be little to no success any other year. However, Tennessee played in a division that was arguably the best in college football last year.

In a year that boasted three double-digit win teams for the East, as well as a competitive young South Carolina team and an eight-win Missouri team, Tennessee just barely missed out on the postseason last year.

The highlight of the season is split between a road win against then No.21 Auburn and a home win against then No.11 Kentucky. The most frustrating part of the season, besides missing the postseason, would likely be centered around a third straight loss to in-state rival Vanderbilt.

Pruitt’s first recruiting class came in at No.21 nationally according to 247sports. In one of the toughest seasons to be in the SEC East, the Vols fell just a field goal against South Carolina short of breaking through to the postseason. All told, 2018 can definitely not be viewed as a failure.

2019 Schedule Breakdown

2019 SEC Football Preview: Tennessee Volunteers
2019 Schedule

Ceiling: 8-4 (4-4)

Floor: 4-8 (1-7)

2019 Projected Record: 6-6 (2-6)

Conference Standings: 6th in the SEC East

  • Week 1 Georgia State: W
  • Week 2 BYU: W
  • Week 3 Chattanooga: W
  • Week 4 @ Florida: L
  • BYE
  • Week 6 Geogria: L
  • Week 7 Mississippi State: W
  • Week 8 @ Alabama: L
  • Week 9 South Carolina: L
  • Week 10 UAB: W
  • Week 11 @ Kentucky: L
  • BYE
  • Week 13 @ Missouri: L
  • Week 14 Vanderbilt: W

Last year’s season was ultimately a success, as would a 6-6 2019 season. Yeah, we’d all like to jump straight to 9+ wins a season, none more than the Volunteer faithful. But it’s a process.

Pruitt should sweep a relatively easy out of conference schedule. BYU poses the toughest test, however, they are coming off an unimpressive 6-6 season in 2018. Neyland at night should give the Vols an edge needed to make sure they go 3-0 heading into the first SEC weekend.

2019 SEC Football Preview: Tennessee Volunteers
Tennessee knocked off the No.11 Kentucky Wildcats at Neyland Stadium last year. (Photo courtesy of tenntuth.com).

Florida, Georgia and Alabama are sure losses. Barring a miracle, the Vols won’t be making headlines for an upset in any of these games this year.

The swing games come with South Carolina and Kentucky, possibly Missouri. South Carolina will be a young but rising SEC East team the Vols will get at home. It wouldn’t be shocking for them to pull one out.

Kentucky will be on the downfall but Mark Stoops should still be a tough matchup this year and be itching for revenge. A rising South Caroline team could also go either way at home. South Carolina has won the last three games, all decided by less than a touchdown. Missouri might be the hardest game to flip to a win, the Tigers have high hopes for this season with transfer Kelly Bryant taking over the snaps. They have also won the last two meetings, 50-17 in each game.

2019 Position Outlook

The Volunteers finished at the bottom of the barrel last year for offensive yards in the SEC. They averaged just 326/game and were last in passing efficiency as well as rushing. Although the numbers are not very reassuring they will have nearly the entire offense back.

Offense Can Only Improve

The offensive struggles should be less of an issue this season. According to well-known sportswriter and analyst Phil Steele, he has the Volunteers with 10 returning starters on offense. The next closest in the SEC is LSU at eight.

Most importantly the Vols return starting quarterback  Jarret Guarantano. The junior threw for 1,907 last year, 11th best in the conference. His 12 touchdowns are very low but the three interceptions were best in the SEC. While this is encouraging, it’s worth noting that he attempted the least amount of passes as well.

2019 SEC Football Preview: Tennessee Volunteers
Callaway led the Volunteers in receiving yards from last year with 592 yards and two TD’s. (Photo courtesy of 247sports.com).

The offensive line was amongst the worst in the country. They allowed the second-highest rate of sacks in the SEC. They’ll be getting some much-needed help from four incoming freshman, including their top-rated OL, four-star Jerome Carvin. They return four of five starters from last season after losing former five-star Drew Richmond to graduate transfer.

Tennessee also returns their starting trio at wide receiver of Marquez Callaway, Jujuan Jennings and Josh Palmer. Between the three they caught 64% of the receiving yards from last year. Jennings suffered a summer knee injury that required surgery, however, he is expected to be back by the opening game.

Ty Chandler will lead the way in the backfield. He’s coming off 630 yards and four touchdowns last year. A concern for fans is nearly 50% of his yards last season came on eight carries, which left him averaging just 3.2 yards per carry on the rest of his carries.

Defense, Also, Can Only Improve

Not including Arkansas and Ole Miss – who’s defensive numbers lie far beyond the rest of the conference – the Tennessee defense gave up the most points in the conference. They’ll be returning six of 2018’s defense which gave up 27.9 points per game.

Tennessee lost all three starters from last year’s defensive line. New faces will be abundant early on. Emmit Gooden will be a name called a lot this season. The JUCO transfer enters his final season coming off a season with 33 tackles and 7 TFL’s.

2019 SEC Football Preview: Tennessee Volunteers
Aubrey Solomon was ranked the 23rd overall recruit in 2017. (Photo courtesy of rockytopinsider.com).

Former 5-star Michigan transfer Aubrey Solomon still awaits the NCAA’s decision concerning his eligibility this season. He’s had limited playing time his first two seasons due to youth as well as an early injury last year.

Tennessee returns a lot of experience from a linebacker core that really began to mesh the second half of 2018. They’ll technically be returning two of four starters from last year, however, one starter missed the second half of the season due to injury.

Finally, the secondary could be the strongest unit of the three. They’ll be returning 4 of 5 starters, not to mention Pruitt has a knack for developing a strong secondary. The freshmen duo of Bryce Thompson and Alontae Taylor should be fun to watch again this year as their talent develops. Thompson led the team in interceptions while Taylor was second in forced fumbles.

Recap

While the Volunteers return a lot of starters, the team still has a young feel to it. There is a lot of talent here. Kentucky and Vanderbilt should regress this season which provides an opportunity for the Vols to reach for that ceiling.

It’s unfortunate to have three assumed losses on the schedule. Flipping just one of these games to a huge upset would change the outlook of the 2019 season.

 

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