The two big questions surrounding what will become of Tennessee football this season are whether or not they will avoid probation by the NCAA and whether or not they will reach bowl eligibility on the field with six wins. However, new data suggests they could shoot higher.
In the SP+ win total predictions set by Bill Connelly of ESPN, Rocky Top is actually set at 6.9 wins, which is much closer to seven wins than six wins. They were set right at three and a half SEC wins, and picking them over six wins was the strongest best of all SEC teams.
Connelly himself seemed a bit shocked by his own method when writing about the expectations for Tennessee football. Them at six wins and the LSU Tigers under eight and a half were listed as his two projections bucking conventional wisdom. Here’s how he explained them.
"To be honest, it gives me the willies even thinking of putting money on either of those picks. But at the very least, let this serve as a reminder of two things: (1) Josh Heupel’s first Tennessee team has a pretty sturdy foundation of talent despite all the turnover (especially if he actually homes in on a starting quarterback at some point), and (2) LSU still has a lot of questions to answer before a rebound can occur."
What’s crazy is that to reach their goal of six wins, UT only needs to win two SEC games. With their SEC win total set between three and four games, hitting the over on that could put them in line for eight wins, not just seven.
After all, the Vols’ path includes beating all three non-Power Five teams in non-conference play and then beating the Vanderbilt Commodores and South Carolina Gamecocks at home. They’ll likely be favored in all five games.
Then they have to steal a game. The Pittsburgh Panthers, their one Power Five non-conference foe, are their best bet for that, as most analysts list the game as a tossup since UT is hosting. However, if Pitt isn’t a win, Rocky Top has a chance to steal another game in either the Ole Miss Rebels, at the Kentucky Wildcats or at the Missouri Tigers.
Best-case scenario among reasonable SP+ predictions, though, has the Vols running the table in their five wins, beating Pitt and then stealing two of three against Ole Miss, UK and Mizzou. Nobody has that happening.
If Tennessee football is able to finish the season with seven wins, Josh Heupel will have a lot of momentum going into his second year. These projections give them a shot at eight wins, though, and should that happen, watch out for the Vols on the recruiting trail next year.