Last Updated: 2018-07-18
It was a long offseason for the Tennessee Volunteers. After an absolute disaster of a 2017 campaign that ended with the Volunteers posting their first-ever winless record in SEC play, things didn’t seem like they could get worse. However, Athletic Director John Currie horribly botched the coaching search after Butch Jones was fired, putting more one egg on the faces of Vols fans.
Currie may have offered the job to more than a half-dozen coaches, and the program was continually embarrassed as all the potential replacements turned him down. After more than three weeks of this, enough was enough, and Currie himself was replaced by former Vols coach Philip Fulmer. Fulmer quickly decided on Jeremy Pruitt as the team’s new head coach and that was that.
The Volunteers were a dumpster fire in the offseason, and that has led to relatively low expectations heading into 2018. Tennessee’s win total is just 5.5 over at 5Dimes, and the Volunteers are an incredible 92-1 to win the SEC Championship at the same sportsbook. Keep in mind that these win total odds do not include conference championship games or bowl games.
||VS WEST VIRGINIA
||EAST TENNESSEE STATE
||@ SOUTH CAROLINA
Once again, there are questions about who will be Tennessee’s quarterback heading into the season. Last year, Quinten Dormady and Jarrett Guarantano split time in the role. Guarantano ended up with better numbers and was the starter for the last half of the year, leading to Dormady transferring at the end of the season. That doesn’t mean the job is definitely his though.
Graduate transfer Keller Chryst came to Knoxville from Stanford in the offseason, and that’s the type of quarterback that Pruitt seems to want. Chryst is your prototypical pro-style quarterback that works best off of play-action and doesn’t make mistakes.
This offense is going to need a lot of work though. After four straight seasons of continued success under Jones, the bottom fell out from under the offense last year. Tennessee finished outside of the top 100 in every major offensive category in 2017 and there isn’t hope of a quick fix.
The offensive line is going to need the most work. The interior of the line needs to be replaced in its entirety, and right now there are two freshmen that are projected to start up front. There is good news though. Star left tackle Trey Smith is healthy again after sitting out in the spring due to a medical condition, and Pruitt has indicated he will be back with the team for fall camp.
Neither quarterback was particularly impressive throwing the ball last season, but Tennessee does return its top two wide receivers from 2017. Marquez Callaway and Brandon Johnson showed flashes, and they will get some help with the return of Jauan Jennings after he missed almost all of last season. Additionally, JUCO tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson is an enticing prospect, and he will look to form a connection with Chryst rather quickly.
A lot is going to be asked of Tennessee’s defense in 2018. The Volunteers are likely to struggle again on offense and might end up with the worst numbers in the SEC East for a second straight season. There is reason for optimism on this side of the ball at least.
Pruitt is switching the defense from a base 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme, and that should free up a talented set of linebackers. Darrell Taylor will be making the move from defensive end to outside linebacker, and his production could flourish in the new system. The inside linebackers should be even better though, as both Quart’e Sapp and Daniel Bituli have the skills to succeed here.
The defensive line has the size needed to hold their own too. Every player in the two-deep is at least 260 pounds, and there is experience at the all-important nose guard position. Shy Tuttle could be a standout here, while Jonathan Kongbo and Kyle Phillips should fare well too.
The secondary is the big worry for Tennessee. There isn’t a lot of experience at the cornerback position, and Pruitt will be relying on a lot of freshmen and sophomores. The safeties are the saving grace of the unit though. Nigel Warrior and Micah Abernathy had good 2017 campaigns, and Todd Kelly is back in the mix as well after suffering a season-ending injury in the second game of the year.
If Paxton Brooks lives up to his billing, Tennessee’s punter might be its secret weapon. Brooks was an Under Armour All-American in high school, and he was one of the highest rated punters in the class. At 6’5, he has the potential to boom balls, and that will be important if the offense struggles to move the chains.
Pick: Over 5.5 (-110, 5Dimes)
I know I just gave a bunch of reasons not to like the Volunteers, but the defense should be much better than last year and the schedule is workable too. Although Tennessee has an absolutely dreadful slate in the middle of the season, they will likely start off 3-0 if they can knock off West Virginia. Their last four games are all winnable too, and the Vols could be favored in all four. A 6-6 record feels right for Tennessee.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
There were two really hot Power Five conference teams coming into last season. One of them, Washington, completely lived up to the hype and made it all the way to the College Football Playoff. The other did not. That was the Tennessee Volunteers. That’s not to say that Tennessee put forth a bad season, but the Volunteers didn’t even make it out of the SEC East for a crack at Alabama and wound up in the Music City Bowl against Nebraska. It was another 9-4 season for Butch Jones’s ballclub, but it wasn’t what most people were hoping for.
As a result, Tennessee is still in search of its first double-digit winning season since 2007, which was the tail end of the Phillip Fulmer era. With the bottom of the division improving and the top of the division widening the gap, what will happen to the Volunteers this season? Joshua Dobbs is gone, but 14 starters still remain from last year’s team. More often than not, when big hype turns into big disappointment, it means that team flies under the radar the next season.
If the season win total odds at 5Dimes Sportsbook are any indication, there is not a lot of hype or expectations for the Volunteers this season. The line is 7.5, with -110 on both sides of the bet. Keep in mind that the number does not include conference championships or bowl games. It only applies to the regular season.
||Georgia Tech (N – Atlanta)
Total Expected Wins: 6.77
Last year’s Tennessee hype included a lot of analysis that featured “Joshua Dobbs” and “Heisman” in the same breath. Dobbs turned in a strong season with nearly 3,800 yards of total offense and 39 total touchdowns. The Volunteers racked up 36.4 points and 444 yards of offense. A big season from Dobbs was a necessity because Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd took turns being hurt and Hurd even left the program. The running game was in fine hands with Dobbs and sophomore running back John Kelly, as Tennessee still rushed for 5.2 yards per pop. Four of last year’s starting five on the offensive line are back, so the Volunteers should still have a quality running game.
But, it’s hard to replace a guy like Dobbs. The man filling Dobbs’s cleats is likely to be Quinten Dormady, who had all of 17 pass attempts last season. He had a handful of attempts in 2015 as well. It may very well be redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano that takes the reins of this Larry Scott offense. Scott takes over as the offensive coordinator for Mike DeBord, who took the OC job at Indiana under first full-year head coach Tom Allen. How much will things change offensively? How long will take to gel? These are all realistic concerns.
What held Tennessee back last season was the defense. After allowing just 20 points and 362 yards per game in 2015, the defense allowed 28.8 points and 449 yards per game last season. The Volunteers allowed five yards per carry. It wound up being more of a transitional year than people had hoped, as first-year defensive coordinator Bob Shoop had a tough time replicating the great performance of 2015. Shoop’s defense is in its second year now and he’ll get some assistance from former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke, who is looking to rebuild his career a little bit.
Tennessee has talent. The Volunteers return seven defensive starters, including their top five tacklers. Unfortunately Derek Barnett is a huge loss, in more ways than one. Barnett was a primary run stopper, had 13 sacks, 16 quarterback hits, and even had five pass breakups. He went in the first round to Philadelphia. Cam Sutton was out most of the year, but his talent will be missed in the secondary. Corey Vereen had seven sacks with Barnett’s influence and a lot of talent of his own. Those are some serious impact players gone from a defense that struggled mightily last season.
The schedule isn’t great for Tennessee. A road trip to Gainesville means that the Volunteers get the SEC East favorite on the road. Two of the big three from the SEC West are on the schedule, with Alabama and LSU taking up residence on the calendar. Georgia Tech is not a gimme in Week 1, though the Volunteers will have a while to prepare for the triple-option.
Win Total Pick: Under 7.5
As you can see, my numbers and my opinion of Tennessee seem to be down from the rest of the market. One of the biggest reasons is that I don’t think much of Butch Jones as a coach. The Volunteers have been involved in a lot of close games in recent years and have been on the wrong side of a lot of them. He strikes me as a guy that has gotten by with good recruiting and then doesn’t know how to fully maximize that talent. With a quarterback change and an offensive coordinator change, a defense that cracked under the pressure last season will take an enormous role and that seriously worries me.
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