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Phil Steele Predicts Vols’ Finish in SEC East

Photo credit: Anne Newman/RTI

Noted statistician and college football expert Phil Steele puts out an annual college football preview magazine every summer. His 2018 SEC preview has now hit shelves, and included in that preview are his predictions for the SEC East, West, and his All-SEC teams.

Steele’s previews are touted as some of the most accurate predictions among college football preseason predictors. According to data compiled by software engineer Chris Strassen, Steele’s prediction magazine was the most accurate in predicting the order of finish for every conference in the FBS from 2006-15.

He accurately predicted the Vols would fail to meet expectations in 2005 and predicted they would bounce back in 2006 as well. He’s been on the money for Tennessee before (though he’s misjudged the Vols the last two seasons), and his preseason prediction for the Vols this year isn’t very flashy.

According to 247Spots, Steele predicts the Vols will finish sixth in the SEC East, finishing ahead of only Vanderbilt in the division. Steele believes Georgia will win the division for a second straight year and will be followed by Florida and South Carolina fighting for the No. 2 spot. He has Missouri placing fourth and Kentucky fifth.

Last week, the SEC sports information directors picked the Vols to finish last in the SEC East for the second straight year. Steele doesn’t feel quite that pessimistic about Tennessee’s chances in 2018, but he doesn’t expect great things from the Vols either.

Since the SEC split into divisions in 1992, the Vols have finished in fourth place or worse in the East nine times. Seven of those instances have happened over the last 10 seasons, including two last-place finishes in the division.

The Vols will be led by first-time head coach Jeremy Pruitt this season, and Vol fans are hoping he can bring Tennessee out of the doldrums of the SEC and back to prominence like they were in the 1990s and early 2000s.

None of Tennessee’s players were selected to Steele’s All-SEC teams. He only does the first team for each unit, however, so there wasn’t a chance for a Vol to be selected to a second or third team. The Vols were the only SEC team not to have a single player on his All-SEC teams.

Steele has been wrong about the Vols the last two seasons, but he’s generally fairly accurate with his predictions. He’s usually in the ballpark with his estimations, and if he’s right this year, Tennessee will be fighting tooth and nail to make it to a bowl game in Pruitt’s first season at the helm.

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