Tennessee football cracks ESPN analyst’s way-too-early top 25; Why they should be higher

With spring practice in the books for most teams, Tennessee football appears to be one of the programs to have gotten a boost. This has a lot to do with the Vols not suffering any big hit in the transfer portal while also having lots of players coming back.

In the updated way-too-early top 25 by Mark Schlabach of ESPN, the Vols came in at No. 24. They weren’t in his initial rankings for 2022, so this is a positive trend for the program entering Josh Heupel’s second year on the job.

While they made it into the top 25 along with the Pittsburgh Panthers, who came in at No. 15, the Wisconsin Badgers and South Carolina Gamecocks fell out. Here’s what Schlabach said about Tennessee football and why he has them where they are.

Although it’s a positive trend for Schlabach to now have the Vols in his rankings, they should be higher. For starters, part of the positive trend is them jumping South Carolina, and that’s a team they always should have been ahead of to begin with.

Also, Rocky Top is two spots behind the Kentucky Wildcats. Yes, Kentucky had a better record by three games last year, but UT beat them on the road and has three more starters returning. In terms of the record, the Vols played a much tougher schedule in the regular season.

The only game outside of their head to head matchup where you could say Kentucky looked better was against the Florida Gators, who beat the Vols but lost to UK. You could also mention the bowl game, as UK beat the Iowa Hawkeyes while UT lost to the Purdue Boilermakers, but bowls are always a bit tricky.

Speaking of Florida, though, one of the crazy parts about this ranking is that neither the Gators nor LSU is in the top 25. Pitt wasn’t in the top 25 until these rankings, although Schlabach admits they should have been in his January rankings.

Anyway, those are the first three Power Five teams Tennessee football plays and are part of the first five games on their schedule. If they can beat a Pitt team on the road that just lost its best player in quarterback Kenny Pickett, then 5-0 is definitely on the table.

Of course, the Alabama Crimson Tide and Georgia Bulldogs are sure losses, but should they find a way to get to 5-0, then 10-2 is a strong possibility. Kentucky is at home, they have another Group of Five foe after that, and they still play South Carolina, the Vanderbilt Commodores and Missouri Tigers. All could be wins.

Excitement continues to brew surrounding Tennessee football’s second season under Heupel, and the situation of many of the elite teams early on their schedule is a big reason for that. They should be higher in Schlabach’s rankings because of Kentucky, but in general, the rankings do provide even more encouragement.