The 2017 football season for the Tennessee Volunteers was nothing short of a disaster. The Vols went winless in SEC play, losing most games by decisive margins. They finished the season 4-8, with head coach Butch Jones getting fired before the end of the season.
To make matters worse, the Tennessee administration endured a nightmare of a coaching search. Fans protested the hiring of Greg Schiano, forcing the school to back out and continue their search with most candidates expressing tepid interest in the job. In the end, the Vols ended up with first-time head coach Jeremy Pruitt taking the reigns.
Pruitt has a monumental task in front of him. It could be a while until Tennessee is ready to compete with the big boys of the SEC again. However, there are small signs of optimism for the Vols heading into the 2018 season.
Naturally, outside expectations for Tennessee couldn’t get much lower. The Vols are +200,000 to win a national championship. The team’s projected win total sits at 5.5 games. That means the oddsmakers are at least giving the Volunteers a chance to make it to a bowl game. However, it’s far more likely that this will be a transitional year in Knoxville. That means tangible progress may be tough to find and the Vols will end up a win or two short of bowl eligibility.
One reason to be optimistic is the arrival of quarterback Keller Chryst, a graduate transfer from Stanford. Chryst isn’t guaranteed the starting job, but he does bring some experience to the position. Jarrett Guarantano saw some action as a freshman last year. However, he hasn’t locked down the starting job either, so there’s every reason to expect Chryst to start the season opener.
Whether it’s Chryst, Guarantano, or someone else, the Tennessee quarterback will have plenty of capable receivers to throw the ball to, including Marquez Callaway, Brandon Johnson, and Jauan Jennings. The Vols also have a deep stable of running backs, including Michigan State grad transfer Madre London. However, Tennessee will also have an unproven offensive line, which is a problem that could potentially derail the entire offense.
Meanwhile, the Tennessee defense also has a lot of room for improvement. The Volunteers should have a nice contingent of linebackers, especially if Darrin Kirkland Jr. can come back healthy. The safety position should also be a strength.However, there are major questions about the defensive line being able to hold up in the SEC trenches. The Vols will also be inexperienced at cornerback, which could be a huge problem with Pruitt planning to play an aggressive style of defense that forces corners to play press coverage.
Overall, the Volunteers return a lot of young players who gained valuable experience last year. They also add some grad transfers who should provide an immediate boost. But if they haven’t solidified themselves along the offensive or defensive line, it’ll be difficult for the Vols to make any noise in the SEC this year.
|Sep 1||West Virginia Mountaineers||3:30 PM|
|Sep 8||East Tennessee State Buccaneers||4:00 PM|
|Sep 15||Texas-El Paso Miners||12:00 PM|
|Sep 22||Florida Gators||12:00 PM|
|Sep 29||@ Georgia Bulldogs||12:00 PM|
|Oct 13||@ Auburn Tigers||1:00 PM|
|Oct 20||Alabama Crimson Tide||12:00 PM|
|Oct 27||@ South Carolina Gamecocks||12:00 PM|
|Nov 3||North Carolina-Charlotte 49ers||12:00 PM|
|Nov 10||Kentucky Wildcats||12:00 PM|
|Nov 17||Missouri Tigers||12:00 PM|
|Nov 24||@ Vanderbilt Commodores||1:00 PM|
Last but not least, the Volunteers face a rather daunting schedule in 2018. It starts with a matchup against West Virginia, a team with an explosive passing attack. Tennessee also plays its two crossover games with the SEC West against Auburn and Alabama. There’s also a road game against Georgia at the end of September. Right off the bat, that’s four games the Vols are unlikely to win.
That will leave Tennessee searching for six wins in their remaining eight games. Getting Florida, Kentucky, and Missouri at home could help them snag a win in at least one of those games. The Vols should also feel good about their non-conference games outside of West Virginia. However, winning more than two SEC games after going winless last season is asking a lot. Odds are the Volunteers will win four or five games in 2018 and fall short of a bowl berth in Pruitt’s first season.