Expectations for Tennessee football were always going to be minimal this year, but when the Vols can barely crack the top half in all of FBS play, it shows how far things have fallen. That’s what they’re flirting with in one publisher’s projections, though.
Athlon’s preview for Rocky Top this year listed the Vols at No. 56 nationally. Of course, this is not too much of a surprise given the fact that the magazine picked the Vols to finish fifth in the SEC East this year, only ahead of the Vanderbilt Commodores and South Carolina Gamecocks.
The hire of Josh Heupel to replace Jeremy Pruitt, last year’s poor performance and all of the outgoing talent was enough for Athlon to be low on Tennessee football. Here is what was written about the Vols in the final analysis of them.
"Tennessee lost some of its top talent to transfer, leaving Heupel to rebuild a roster that slumped to 3–7 in what was expected to be a strong 2020. The rebuild at UT won’t be an easy nor a quick one, but Heupel’s offense should score enough that the Vols will be competitive more often than they probably should be, given the roster picture."
In breaking down both sides of the ball, Athlon accurately noted that wide receiver could be a strength for the Vols this year as they try to find some advantage. With options at running back and on the offensive line, the outlook isn’t as bad there if Heupel can develop one of the quarterbacks on the roster.
However, Athlon also accurately pointed out how bad the linebacker transfers were, as the Vols lost Quavaris Crouch, Henry To’o To’o, Deandre Johnson, Kivon Bennett and J.J. Peterson. Martavius French, who could have emerged in the system, also entered the portal.
According to the outlet, the success of the experienced defensive line will determine how reliable the defense as a whole is. With tons of returning talent on that front, it’s fair to make that assessment, although the secondary has its own issues as well.
Simply put, Tennessee football has a ton of questions heading into the year, and everybody already knew that. A favorable schedule, though, makes being a top 60 team potentially bowl eligible this year. That has to count for something, and if Heupel can get there, he’ll be a hot commodity in a year, which will help recruiting in a big way.