Tennessee football’s first two months of the 2018 season under Jeremy Pruitt have been rough. But the Volunteers could definitely win out.
After a close loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks, Tennessee football is 3-5 on the year. Everybody expected the Vols to struggle through Jeremy Pruitt’s first eight games on Rocky Top, and that’s exactly what happened.
This is also why a bowl game was going to be considered the big accomplishment on the year. Right now, the ESPN FPI isn’t favoring the Vols in that scenario, as they are projected to lose their final three games. However, their projected win total is somewhere in the range of five to seven wins.
That means that they are likely to win one of their projected losses when you look at it from a cumulative standpoint, and winning all three is an outside chance. They are at a four and a half percent chance of winning out. But they have at least a 32 percent chance of winning each of their final three games, which is not a bad percentage.
So far, Tennessee football has also played a very difficult schedule. It’s in the Top 20 by all metrics. By some metrics, including Bill Connelly’s of SB Nation, the Vols have the No. 2 ranked strength of schedule. Want to know what it is the rest of the way? ESPN’s FPI has it at No. 63.
Now, let’s look at the rest of the schedule anecdotally. Jeremy Pruitt’s team is almost certain to win Saturday to get to 4-5 against the Charlotte 49ers. Such a loss is not completely impossible, but it is highly unlikely.
After that, the Vols have to win two of their final three games against the Kentucky Wildcats, Missouri Tigers and Vanderbilt Commodores. Right now, Pruitt’s team is at a 44 percent chance to beat Vanderbilt on the road, their best chance. However, the win over Charlotte could improve those chances to above 50 percent.
But the game that’s really interesting is Kentucky the week after Charlotte. One thing people aren’t taking into account is how overrated the Wildcats truly are. Mark Stoops is coaching a good team, but they have gotten everybody at the perfect time, and they needed the worst penalty call of the year to beat the Missouri Tigers over the weekend.
Meanwhile, the Vols lost on the road to the South Carolina Gamecocks with help from a horrible missed fumble by the officials. I know, I know. Kentucky controlled the game against South Carolina. But it’s worth noting that the Wildcats didn’t have to face D.J. Wonnum, who was the difference in the game Saturday night. Oh, and they got to face the Gamecocks at home while Will Muschamp wasn’t coming off a bye.
Want to know how overrated Kentucky is? Right now, the Vols have a better chance to beat them at home than beat Missouri at home, according to ESPN’s FPI. That’s insane. But to add to that, they are at a 34.7 percent chance to beat the Wildcats right now.
Assuming Kentucky gets blown out by the Georgia Bulldogs this weekend, and assuming Tennessee football handles things against Charlotte, you have to think that percentage all of a sudden gets above 40 percent, right? And if it does, it’s not crazy to think the Vols can win. In fact, if they continue to get better, they could actually win fairly comfortably.
So I just broke down why the Vols could beat Kentucky at home and Vanderbilt on the road. What about the game in between, the Missouri Tigers? Mizzou is also a game that could become a likely win. They lost a close one to South Carolina just like UT. It’s fair to say these guys appear to be close to an even playing field. Wouldn’t home field advantage for Rocky Top make a difference?
Of course it would. On top of that, though, if the Vols did beat Kentucky, which I’ll say they will have a better than 40 percent chance of doing, they would almost certainly become the favorites over Mizzou. After all, that would mean two straight wins for UT, and Missouri is almost certain to lose this week at the Florida Gators.
Simply put, if Tennessee football wins the next two games, which is extremely possible then winning out goes from a four and a half percent chance to being likely. It’ll all come down to that Kentucky game, but I’m still not seeing why the Vols can’t win that one. I’ll hold off before actually projecting them to win out until then. A win is certainly possible, though.
If they do win out, that’ll be an amazing first year for Pruitt. The win over the Auburn Tigers already put the Vols ahead of schedule, as all metrics had them going into this weekend at 2-6. But that puts them at 3-5, and as a result, we have every reason to believe they can pull off another couple of huge wins down the stretch.