Tennessee football’s path to postseason play could include averaging over 30 points a game. Do the Volunteers need that for six wins and a bowl?
Just last week, Tennessee football was in Phil Steele’s top 10 for projected most improved offenses in 2019. Steele’s model had them averaging 30.6 points a game. Now, the first round of betting odds have the over/under for Vols wins in 2019 set at 6.5 wins.
Obviously, after a 5-7 season, Jeremy Pruitt’s second year figures to see dramatic improvement. However, the first goal is six wins to reach bowl eligibility. And in light of these two data points, it begs the next question: do the Vols need to average over 30 points a game to reach the postseason?
Last year, they only averaged 22.8 points per game as they transitioned to the pro style under Tyson Helton and had to deal with a ton of turnover on the offensive line. There’s more turnover this year up front, and Jim Chaney has replaced Helton, but the line is healthier, and at least the schemes are still a pro-style.
Meanwhile, the Vols lost six of their seven games by 25 points or more and allowed 38 points or more in those six losses. However, if they did hit 30 every game last year, they would have finished right at 6-6, as one of their losses was 27-24 to the South Carolina Gamecocks.
In the past, 30 points hasn’t always been the barometer to reach a bowl. Remember, in 2014, the Vols averaged 28.9 points a game and finished 7-6. Meanwhile, in 2012, they averaged 36.2 points per game but finished 5-7. That year, like this year, they ran a 3-4 defense with a head coach and first-year defensive coordinator who had both worked under Nick Saban.
This year, however, they are entering their second year in a 3-4. So that is an advantage. Still, you come back to the question: Is 30 points the benchmark?
During the Phillip Fulmer years, there were plenty of years that wasn’t the case. The Vols didn’t average 30 in 2006 but still went 9-4. They went 10-3 in 2003 and 2004 without averaging 30, and they even went 8-5 in 2002 with an average identical to this past year.
But times have obviously changed. Offenses are much more potent in the SEC nowadays than they were back then, and even the best defensive teams still need to be able score points at a high level to stay competitive.
Speaking of opponents, though, that’s another factor in UT’s favor this year. Not only are the prospects better for the offense with so many starters back, but the schedule gets easier. Tennessee football plays all four non-conference games at home, and its one major opponent, the BYU Cougars, is not a program expected to be in the top 25.
Given that BYU replaces the West Virginia Mountaineers, the data points of allowing 38 or more points in six losses last year changes slightly. You can also point out the fact that the Vanderbilt Commodores, another team who blew them out, head to Knoxville this year and don’t have Kyle Shurmur.
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There is a question with the Mississippi State Bulldogs replacing the Auburn Tigers on UT’s schedule. MSU loses a ton of talent and heads to Knoxville, making that as likely of a win. But Joe Moorhead in his second year could work some magic. As a result, there’s no telling how that offense will work out.
So just what does 30 points get this team in 2019? Well, taking the easier schedule into account, matching Phil Steele’s projected average should get Tennessee football to seven wins. It should include victories in all their non-conference games and over the South Carolina Gamecocks and Kentucky Wildcats along with Vanderbilt.
That would then make the Mississippi State game a defining game to see if they reach eight wins. As a result, a projection to average 30 points a game should set the Vegas odds for the Vols at 7.5 wins per game, meaning Vegas may not have as much faith in the offense.
Averaging over 30 points certainly puts Pruitt’s team in position to make a huge leap. As a result, it should be a major goal for the offense. If they can reach that number, then a bowl is all but guaranteed, and a top 25 finish could be in the works.