The good news is that a fifth place finish in the SEC East could be enough to get Tennessee football to a bowl game this year. However, the bad news is that fifth is the best case scenario for the Vols based on what one group of experts thinks.
In a preview of the 2021 SEC season by the seven college football analysts of CBS Sports, Rocky Top was picked no higher than fifth in the East. There were some instances in which they were picked as low as sixth.
Tom Fornelli, Chip Patterson, Barrett Sallee, David Cobb and Jerry Palm all had Tennessee football at No. 5 in the division. The two to have them down at No. 6 were Dennis Dodd and Ben Kercheval. At least nobody had them in last place.
Every expert had the Georgia Bulldogs winning the East and the Florida Gators finishing second. They all also had the Kentucky Wildcats and Missouri Tigers at No. 3 or No. 4, with four having UK at No. 3 and Mizzou at No. 4 and three having Mizzou at No. 3 and UK at No. 4.
Dodd and Kercheval had the South Carolina Gamecocks ahead of the Vols, which is why they had UT at No. 6. However, they both had the Vanderbilt Commodores behind UT. Everybody but Patterson had Vandy in last place, as he had USC there and Vandy in sixth place.
Simply put, there’s a narrow window of expectations for Josh Heupel’s first team on Rocky Top. However, the Vols do get USC and Vandy at home this year, they beat both on the road last year and had better records than them and all three are undergoing coaching changes.
That makes it easy to predict UT ahead of both, and it also spells two likely wins for the Vols. This is where the good news comes in. If they can win both and their three non-conference games against Group of Five schools, they have a path to six wins. However, if Tennessee football finishes sixth in the league, lots of trouble is on the horizon.