Most projections surrounding Josh Heupel’s first year as head coach of the Tennessee football program have been met with cautious optimism. Assuming the NCAA investigation doesn’t bring down a bowl ban, the Vols have a path to six wins and postseason play.
However, there are some experts and analysts who still have no faith in them to do that. In the bowl projections for the 2021 season by Kyle Bonagura and Mark Schlabach of ESPN, Rocky Top was nowhere to be found.
Both of them predicted who will face off in every bowl game, and neither named Tennessee football. What’s more embarrassing for the Vols, though, is that not every SEC team projected at or near the bottom of the conference suffered the same projected fate.
Bonagura had the South Carolina Gamecocks, who most people project behind UT this year, going to the Gasparilla Bowl this year. Both analysts had the Mississippi State Bulldogs going to the Birmingham Bowl, the Arkansas Razorbacks going to the Liberty Bowl and the Kentucky Wildcats going to the Mayo Bowl.
MSU and Arkansas are entering their second season under their head coaches, so that makes some sense, but they do have to play in the brutal SEC West, which makes it likely that one of them will be left out. Meanwhile, how could anybody pick USC over the Vols this year unless they think probation is coming to Rocky Top?
More surprising, though, is that UT isn’t the only team that was left out. Neither had the Missouri Tigers going anywhere either. Now, who would put USC above Mizzou, and given the fact that Mizzou plays in the East, who would put Arkansas and MSU above them? That just makes no sense. UK being a bowl pick over UT and Mizzou is the only understandable one of the four.
More expected bowl projections for SEC teams by both of them included the Auburn Tigers in the Music City Bowl, the Ole Miss Rebels in the Gator Bowl, the LSU Tigers in the Outback Bowl and the Florida Gators in the Citrus Bowl. Both also had the Alabama Crimson Tide playing in the national championship game.
Schlabach, meanwhile, had the Georgia Bulldogs also playing in the title game while Bonagura had them going to the Sugar Bowl, missing out on the College Football Playoff. The Texas A&M Aggies were in the Sugar Bowl in Schlabach’s projections, and they were in Bonagura’s Fiesta Bowl, so both had UGA, A&M and Bama as New Year’s Six bowl teams.
That means that they each had all seven SEC West teams going to a bowl but at least three SEC East teams missing a bowl: Tennessee football, Mizzou and the Vanderbilt Commodores. Schlabach had four missing a bowl while Bonagura inexplicably had South Carolina as a fourth East team in a bowl before Mizzou or the Vols. Talk about disrespect.