As conference realignment heats up once again, the last thing any sports program wants heading into the 2021-2022 academic school year is instability. However, that appears to be exactly what Tennessee football is dealing with.
In a ranking of all 130 FBS programs based on stability by Bill Connelly of ESPN, the Vols came in at No. 127, last among SEC teams. Connelly’s method is a points system based on coaching stability, roster stability and performance stability. With 50 possible points, UT had 9.4.
Only ahead of the Kansas Jayhawks, who had to replace Les Miles with Lance Leipold in late April, the Buffalo Bulls, who lost Leipold at that time and the Old Dominion Monarchs, who canceled their season last year and have a new head coach in Ricky Rahn, were behind Tennessee football. Here’s a bit of what Connelly wrote about the Vols.
"Only two teams had more than 23 guys lost to the transfer portal: Kansas had 27 … and Tennessee had 37!! Some of those were walk-ons, and not every player was a projected difference-maker by any means, but the Vols are the dictionary definition of “unstable” this season. There’s still enough raw upside that Josh Heupel could create some first-year magic (I wouldn’t predict that, but it’s technically possible), but after constant drama on both the two-deep and coaching staff, it’s probably best to just not make any predictions about the Vols either way."
From an on-field perspective, this certainly seems to be the case. As Connelly points out, the Vols lost more production than anybody. They also have a new head coach, and then there’s the intangible factor of the NCAA investigation still hanging over their heads.
You know the program is in trouble when they are coming off a 3-7 season and three losing seasons in four years but on-field performance is their strongest score. Simply put, there are a lot of things working against Rocky Top right now.
However, a fresh start like this one with Josh Heupel at the helm could rebuild that stability quickly. Also, when you look at stability on a macro scale given conference realignments that are set to happen soon, the Vols being in the SEC is a big deal.
As a result, it’s not all bad for Tennessee football. If you measure things on a tangible basis heading into the season, though, this is the worst it’s been for the Vols in a long time. Maybe Derek Dooley inherited a more unstable program in 2010, but even that’s debatable.