Tennessee’s football program has struggled to produce at a high level ever since the end of the 2007 season. But that’s no surprise to Vol fans. What might be surprising, though, is that Tennessee has actually been the one team in the SEC who has failed to meet expectations the most since the conference expanded in 2012.
Barrett Sallee of CBS Sports took a look back at the SEC conference predictions at SEC Media Days since the 2012 offseason and how the division races actually played out to get a feel of which teams have regularly outperformed their expectations and the teams who have routinely underperformed given their expectations.
And according to his data, the Vols have been the “most overhyped” team in the SEC over the last six seasons. Tennessee scored a -6 on Sallee’s chart, coming in just behind Arkansas and LSU at -5.
“The Volunteers rarely lived up to expectations under former coach Butch Jones, which is probably why he’s interning for Alabama coach Nick Saban rather than working for Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer in 2018,” Sallee writes. “The Volunteers have only exceeded their expectation once since expansion — the 2014 season when they finished fourth in the SEC East. Every other year, they have either met the expectation or fallen short — punctuated by 2017, when they were expected to finish third but wound up in the cellar of the SEC East.”
Last year saw the Vols fall the furthest from their expectations heading into the season. Tennessee was picked to win the SEC East in 2016 but placed second instead. They were picked to finish second in 2015 and did, picked to finish fifth in 2014 but finished fourth, picked to finish fifth in 2013 but finished sixth, and picked to finish fifth in 2012 but finished sixth once again.
Tennessee hasn’t had very high expectations for the most part since the SEC expanded to 14 teams in 2012. But they’ve failed to meet even the mid-tier expectations when they were given those. The one time the Vols were picked to win the East saw them jump out to a 5-0 start only to go 4-4 down the stretch.
The most underrated team given the predictions at SEC Media Days over the last six seasons was Mississippi State. They scored a plus-10, easily the highest among the 14 teams. Missouri scored a plus-six, Kentucky a plus-four, and Vanderbilt a plus-three. Florida, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M all scored a plus-one, and Alabama and Auburn both scored a -1. Alabama only ended up on the negative side of things because they’ve been picked almost every year to win the SEC West and have failed to do so on occasion.
Joining the Vols on the negative side of the chart along with Alabama and Auburn are Georgia and South Carolina at -4 and then the aforementioned Arkansas and LSU at -5.
Tennessee will likely be picked near the bottom of the East at SEC Media Days this year. The Vols are coming off a program-worst 4-8 season and have a first-time head coach in Jeremy Pruitt. Expectations aren’t going to be too high from the media gathered in Atlanta this year.
Vol fans are hoping for a reversal of fortune for Tennessee this season. The Vols haven’t overachieved given preseason expectations in a long time, and fans want to see that happen soon.
The good news for Vol fans is that just about everyone involved with the underachievement over the last half decade are now gone at UT. So hopefully for Tennessee that means the page has been turned and clearer waters are now ahead.