Expectations for the Vols’ football team heading into the 2017 season are much lower than they were prior to the beginning of the 2016 season. This time last year, all the talk around Tennessee was whether or not they would win the SEC East. This year, however, the discussion has become more about if the Vols can even win eight games in the regular season.
Early predictions have seen the Vols consistently picked to finish third in the SEC East behind Georgia and Florida in varying order. But one predictive algorithm has little to no faith in the Vols this year.
John Crist of Saturday Down South has developed a ranking system that, according to Crist, “puts equal weight on 10 separate categories of varying importance.” The 10 categories Crist selected as the most important values for a team were quarterback, rushing offense, passing offense, rushing defense, passing defense, special teams, coaching, schedule, recruiting, and momentum. Crist already used this system to predict the standings of the SEC West, so he decided to do the same for the East.
And according to his rankings, the Vols are in for a long season.
Tennessee didn’t finish in first place in any of the ten categories. The best ranking Crist gave the Vols was the No. 2 spot in special teams, putting them right behind Florida. Crist also placed the Vols at No. 3 in recruiting behind only Georgia and Florida.
But other than those two rankings, Crist consistently had the Vols fourth or worst in the East in every other category. Tennessee even came in dead last in scheduling because Crist believes Tennessee has the toughest schedule of any East team. The Vols were placed sixth in quarterback, passing defense, coaching, and momentum.
When all was said and done, Crist’s algorithm had the Vols finishing fifth in the SEC East. That would be the Vols’ worst finish in the division since they placed sixth in 2013. Only Missouri and Vanderbilt were predicted to finish worse in the division.
According to Crist, the Vols losing many of their starters from last season is the main reason why he foresees struggles for them this year. “With so many name players no longer on the roster,” Crist said, “Tennessee is in danger of taking a major step back toward mediocrity.” The Vols lost Derek Barnett, Alvin Kamara, Cam Sutton, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, and Josh Dobbs to the NFL draft last month. That also doesn’t include the departures of Corey Vereen and other undrafted free agents who were starters or made significant contributions last season.
Preseason predictions are tricky, especially for the SEC East. It’s been five years since the favorite chosen at SEC Media Days has actually won the East (Georgia was picked to win in 2012 and won by a tiebreaker with Florida). So assuming any sort of preseason prediction this year will be correct isn’t a sound bet.
But one thing is for certain: Perception around Tennessee is far lower this year than the last couple seasons. And that’s being reflected in preseason predictions everywhere.