Hopes aren’t especially high for the Vols heading into Jeremy Pruitt’s first season as head coach. Vol fans are hoping Pruitt and his staff can take a roster that went 4-8 overall and 0-8 in SEC play last season and inject some more talent into it, develop it, and take the team to a bowl game in 2018. But the sports information directors across the conference don’t think that’s going to happen.
The seven sports information directors in the SEC East voted on the predicted order of finish for the entire SEC East for AL.com this week, and they came to the conclusion that the Vols would finish last in the East for the second straight season. Schools could not vote for themselves in the polling.
Georgia was, of course, picked to win the East for the second consecutive season. Behind them came South Carolina at No. 2 followed by Kentucky and Missouri tied for third. Florida came in fifth and Vanderbilt was just ahead of Tennessee in sixth place.
Why are the SIDs and AL.com so low on the Vols? Because they believe this team isn’t much better than last year, and a brutal schedule will keep the Vols from overachieving.
“This should be a rebuilding year for Tennessee under first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt, who joined the Vols this offseason after spending the last two years as Alabama’s defensive coordinator,” Tom Green of AL.com writes. “While the addition of Pruitt, who replaced Butch Jones in Knoxville, should help rejuvenate the program, the Vols are still coming off the worst season in program history and have a long way to go before contending in the SEC East.”
Trey Smith, Nigel Warrior, and Marquez Callaway are listed as key returners for the Vols. With the predicted last place finish, it’s apparent that AL.com and the SIDs don’t believe Tennessee will make it to a bowl game for the second straight year.
The Vols have never finished in last place in the East in consecutive seasons since the SEC split into divisions in 1992. In fact, last year marked only the second time ever that Tennessee had finished last in the division. The Vols also finished in last place in 2011 after losing to Kentucky in the final game of the season in Derek Dooley’s second year.
Georgia, the favorites to win the East, have won the division in back-to-back years twice previously. They won it in 2002 and 2003 and then repeated again in 2011 and 2012.
On the West side of things, Alabama was voted as the favorite to win that division. Auburn came in second place, followed by Texas A&M, Mississippi State, LSU, Ole Miss, and Arkansas.