A reasonable goal for Tennessee football this year has been to finish with a 6-6 record. The easiest path to get there is beat all three Group of Five teams, beat the Vanderbilt Commodores and South Carolina Gamecocks, and then find a win elsewhere.
It’s likely that sixth win is most plausible in their one non-conference Power Five game, against the Pittsburgh Panthers. However, if they fail to win that one, they’ll need to somehow steal a third SEC win. Well, one writer doesn’t think that’s a good bet.
In an article listing the best bets for 2021 by Chris Fallica and Steve Coughlin of ESPN, Tennessee football winning fewer than three league games was one of them. Fallica made that call. Here is the explanation for that bet.
"There aren’t many — if any — teams that were depleted by the transfer portal like the Vols. New coach Josh Heupel has his work cut out for him in year one; the Vols should beat South Carolina and Vanderbilt, but after that, it’s hard to make a strong case for a third SEC win."
To be fair, Fallica has a point. UT will have a hard time finding a third win. The Vols have three sure losses against the Alabama Crimson Tide, Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs. They also play the Missouri Tigers and Kentucky Wildcats on the road. UK beat them 34-7 last year, and although they beat Mizzou, it was early in the season before Eliah Drinkwitz’s program came together.
If Rocky Top were to win a third SEC game, their best chance would be at home against Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss Rebels. However, that’ll be a seventh straight game for the Vols without a bye, and they are already thin. With Ole Miss as a borderline top 25 team, it’s risky to bet on them to win that game.
Still, if you look at Ole Miss and home and then Mizzou and Kentucky on the road, there’s a chance the Vols steal one of those games. As a result, this is probably not a bet you would want to take. Vandy and USC are almost sure wins, and UT finished ahead of and beat both last year on the road, and both teams are going through a coaching change just like them.
The good news for Tennessee football is they don’t need three SEC wins to reach 6-6 if they beat Pitt. However, there’s a best-case scenario for the Vols in which they do win all four non-conference games and steal one of those three SEC games, getting to 7-5. That would be a splash Josh Heupel’s first year on the job.