Before the season, six wins was assumed for Tennessee football. But after an 0-2 start, it’s hard to see if the Volunteers have a path to get there now.
What was supposed to be a 3-0 start has begun with Tennessee football losing to the Georgia State Panthers and the BYU Cougars. All of a sudden, they were 0-2, and expectations for the Vols have gone from potentially eight or nine wins to three or four wins.
Is there any chance, now, that they could get to a bowl game? Well, it’s not likely. But yes, it’s on the table. The worst season in the history of the program is on the table right now, and it’s more likely the Vols go 1-11 than 6-6.
But if Jeremy Pruitt’s team improves as much on a week to week basis as it did from Week One to Week Two, and it did improve, then six wins becomes a real possibility. What has to happen for them to get there?
Well, for starters, they have to beat the Chattanooga Mocs this weekend. Now, yes, Chattanooga is an FCS school. But can Tennessee football take any game for granted at this point? They can’t, so before we talk seriously about any path, we have to make it clear that the Vols need to win this one. What about after that?
Three of their next four games are sure losses. They include road games against the Florida Gators and Alabama Crimson Tide and a home game against the Georgia Bulldogs. Already, that’s five losses for Rocky Top.
In between, they have the Mississippi State Bulldogs. However, Joe Moorhead’s team will be coming off a bye week in that game, and they have also improved dramatically from Week One to Week Two. So right now, any reasonable person would pick the Bulldogs to win that game.
Let’s say, however, that UT does pull it off. At that point, they would still be 2-5. Then, after Alabama, the South Carolina Gamecocks come to town. Yes, S.C. did lose to the North Carolina Tar Heels. But it was closer than the Vols’ loss to Georgia State, and UNC did just beat the Miami Hurricanes. Oh, and UT is 0-7 against Will Muschamp.
Taking all that into account, it’s likely the Vols are 1-7 entering November. But if they are to have any shot at a bowl game, they need to beat South Carolina and Mississippi State. And doing that will get them to 3-5 with an outside chance at postseason play.
Some things they have going for them are both games being at home and both teams struggling early in the season. So while 3-5 is unlikely and the best-case scenario, it’s not off the table if they do begin to improve.
Enter November. Tennessee football’s first game that month is against the UAB Blazers. Given what happened, that game right now looks like a toss-up. UAB won the Conference USA last year, and head coach Bill Clark is elite. He and his staff are also very familiar with Jeremy Pruitt, as all of the have North Alabama high school coaching connections.
Still, the Blazers only beat the Alabama State Hornets 24-19 in the season-opener. So there’s very little reason to believe in them. Following that up, the Vols close out the SEC season with two road games and a home game against the Vanderbilt Commodores.
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That final home game is winnable, as Vandy is also 0-2. Again, at this point, it looks like a likely loss since Derek Mason’s team has won three straight in the series. But you can’t count the Vols out from winning that game.
With that, we’ve got them at five wins. To get a sixth win, they have to steal a road win over the Missouri Tigers or Kentucky Wildcats. Mizzou is 1-1 and did lose to the Wyoming Cowboys, but Barry Odom’s team will almost certainly get better with Kelly Bryant running the offense.
Meanwhile, Mark Stoops’s UK team appears to be reloading and will be much better later this year. But they are still very young and did lose quarterback Terry Wilson for the season, so anything can happen on this front.
As a result, Tennessee football does have a path to six wins. But it goes as follows: Steal both home games against Mississippi State and South Carolina in October, beat UAB and Vanderbilt at home in November, and split their road games against Kentucky and Mizzou.
Of those things, only beating UAB and Vanderbilt seem possible. And the likelihood would be for Tennessee football to split them, which is why we say they’re closer to 1-11 than 6-6. But if they improve, and if they finally reach the potential they have, then yes, six wins is still on the table.