Tennessee was just picked to finish sixth in the SEC East by the media gathered at SEC Media Days this summer. That’s the lowest the Vols have ever been picked to finish in the division, and it’s a reflection of just how low expectations are for Tennessee and first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt in 2018.
But one national analyst might not be buying what the SEC media is selling.
Brad Crawford of 247Sports recently posted an article looking at 10 potential upsets in the first month of the 2018 college football season, and the very first game on his list is Tennessee’s season opener against West Virginia.
Right now, Tennessee is a 9.5-point underdog against the Mountaineers. West Virginia is expected to be ranked inside the top-20 and maybe the top-15 of the AP Poll at the start of the season, and the Mountaineers’ social media team is already hard at work building up quarterback Will Grier’s preseason Heisman campaign. West Virginia returns a bevy of talented offensive play-makers to go along with Grier this season.
So what makes Crawford think the Vols could hand West Virginia a surprising loss to start the year?
“Most of us have pointed to Tennessee’s brutal schedule and lack of depth as primary reasons for failure during Jeremy Pruitt’s first season while West Virginia’s elite arsenal of playmakers on offense led by Heisman candidate Will Grier has the Mountaineers believing they’ll have a shot to win the Big 12 down the stretch,” Craword writes. “But could this showdown in Charlotte be closer than the experts think? The Vols are a 9.5-point underdog at last glance, and if you believe in Pruitt’s pedigree as a defensive mastermind, perhaps he can devise a plan to frustrate Grier and the favorites throughout.”
The Vols haven’t lost a season-opening game since they were handed a 27-24 overtime defeat at the hands of UCLA in 2008. This year presents a much more difficult match-up to start the season for Tennessee, however. UCLA may be a bigger name in college football than West Virginia, but the Bruins would only go 4-8 that season. Tennessee finished that year 5-7.
West Virginia won’t be a pushover like so many of Tennessee’s season-opening opponents have been in recent memory, but opening on a neutral field in Charlotte rather than on the road might help the Vols some. Not only that, but Pruitt and his roster have plenty of motivation from the SEC media and oddsmakers in Las Vegas.
Tennessee will face West Virginia in Charlotte on September 1st at 3:30 Eastern. The game will be televised on CBS.