Heading into last season, the Vols had to replace a ton of offensive talent and production. And this offseason isn’t much different.
According to data compiled by noted college football statistician and analyst Phil Steele, the Vols will be one of the teams returning the smallest percentage of offensive production from one season to the next for the second straight year. Per Steele’s numbers, the Vols return only 53.2 percent of their offensive production from last season, ranking them 91st out of 130 FBS teams and 12th in the SEC. Only Kentucky (42.8 percent) and LSU (17.1 percent) return less production on offense in the conference.
Heading into last season, the Vols ranked 124th overall and last in the SEC in returning offensive experience. They returned only 25.7 percent of their production from the 2016 season and ended up going 4-8 last year.
Does that mean Vol fans shouldn’t expect much better results in 2018 than last season? Not necessarily, no.
Clemson returned just 22.4 percent of their offensive production from 2016 to 2017, and they still managed to make it back to the College Football Playoff and finish inside the top 40 in the country in total offense per game.
Tennessee won’t have that type of success in 2018, but with a totally new coaching staff and a host of new players joining the roster in the fall, expectations are up the air right now for what the Vols’ offense can actually do this upcoming year.
The Vols lost their leading rusher and third-best receiver in John Kelly off last year’s roster, and quarterback Quinten Dormady — who started off the season as the Vols’ starter — transferred off the roster after the season. Tennessee also lost Ethan Wolf, Josh Smith, and Jeff George to graduation in the receiving corps.
Overall, Tennessee returns 55.1 percent of their passing yards, 43.9 percent of their rushing yards, and 62.5 percent of their receiving yards off last season’s team. The Vols return their leading passer in Jarrett Guarantano, their two leading receivers in Brandon Johnson and Marquez Callaway, and their second-leading rusher in Ty Chandler.
Tennessee’s offense won’t be the most experienced unit in the SEC this season, and they don’t return a ton of production from last year. But there’s still talent there, and a lot of it is still fairly young. The Vols will be transitioning to a new scheme this season as well. This offense could see some big improvements, or they could experience growing pains and chemistry issues after introducing several new faces into the mix.
Time will be the deciding factor in how the Vols’ 2018 offense is judged, but there’s clear work to be done regardless.