Tennessee football is picked to finish sixth in the SEC East for the 2018 season. But somebody picked the Volunteers to win the division.
The SEC Media preseason picks came out Friday morning, and to nobody’s surprise, the Alabama Crimson Tide were the overwhelming favorites to win the conference with the Georgia Bulldogs as favorites in the East. Tennessee football, meanwhile, came in at No. 6 in the East. But again, this is no surprise.
What is a surprise, though, is the little number in parentheses next to the Vols’ name. If you look at that (1), it signals first place finishes. So somebody has the Vols, with a new head coach, new systems on both sides of the ball and lots of new talent coming off a 4-8 season, winning the East.
Talk about ambitious expectations! Tennessee football finishing first in the East? The Missouri Tigers, who were picked ahead two spots of the Vols, didn’t even get a first place vote. Second to Georgia was the South Carolina Gamecocks, who got eight first-place votes. After them was the Florida Gators, who got four first-place votes. Directly ahead of UT was the Kentucky Wildcats, and they got a first-place vote as well.
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Of course, it makes no sense for Florida to be three spots ahead of the Vols. I keep emphasizing that they are in the same state as Rocky Top. Nobody else seems to believe that.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s a bit crazy to name the Vols a potential winner of the SEC East. If that happens, Jeremy Pruitt is either the greatest coach ever, or Butch Jones was horrendously bad beyond even what we thought.
Now, to be fair, Tennessee football is better than people might think. Outside of issues at cornerback and the switch to the 3-4, they have a chance to be very good at every other position. The quarterback battle could produce something good. There are weapons at receiver and in the running game.
Meanwhile, the safeties are very good, and the addition of graduate transfers and junior college guys has beefed up the offensive line and the front seven on defense. So the Vols have more talent than they are getting credit for.
But even taking all of that into account, it’s a bit crazy to suggest they will finish first place in the SEC East. That is taking it to a level that I never would have touched. Finishing in the top half of the division is a reasonably ambitious goal. Going to Atlanta for the first time since 2007 to play for the SEC Championship is out of this world insane.