Tennessee has three games left in their 2018 football season. They have to win two of them in order to get to six wins and earn a bowl berth. Can the Vols pull that off in Jeremy Pruitt’s first year as head coach?
ESPN’s Football Power Index is a tool ESPN uses to quantify talent, experience, and strength of schedule to make predictions for college football. The FPI is “a measure of team strength that is meant to be the best predictor of a team’s performance going forward for the rest of the season” according to ESPN’s website.
And according to the FPI, the Vols will not only fail to reach their postseason goals; they’ll fail to win a single game left on their schedule.
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The FPI gives Tennessee only a 33.6 percent chance of defeating No. 11 Kentucky this Saturday in Neyland Stadium. The Wildcats opened up as a 3.5-point favorite over the Vols, but that line has risen to make Kentucky a six-point favorite just a few days before kick-off. Kentucky hasn’t won in Knoxville since 1984, and they haven’t defeated Tennessee in back-to-back years since they beat them in both 1976 and 1977. But the Wildcats are easily the favorites when the two teams face-off this weekend.
But this Saturday’s contest isn’t the only game the FPI gives the Vols little to no chance of winning.
Tennessee’s next game against Missouri is also a home game, and the FPI gives the Vols an even smaller chance of defeating the Tigers even though they aren’t a ranked team like Kentucky. According to the FPI, the Vols have just a 25.1 percent shot at taking down Missouri. The Tigers rolled all over Tennessee last season, defeating the Vols 50-17. Tennessee would announce the firing of head coach Butch Jones the day after that loss.
The FPI doesn’t even like the Vols’ chances of beating in-state rival Vanderbilt. According to those metrics, Tennessee has a 42.6 percent shot at beating the Commodores in their regular season finale. Vanderbilt owns a two-game winning streak over the Vols and have won four of the last six meetings between the two teams. The Commodores haven’t beaten Tennessee three years in a row since they owned a a nine-game streak over UT that included seven wins and two ties from 1918 to 1927.
According to the FPI, the Vols have just a 3.8 percent chance of winning out this season. Tennessee is ranked No. 58 in the FPI, and that places them 12th in the SEC. Only Vanderbilt (60th) and Arkansas (80th) are ranked lower in the FPI out of the 14 SEC teams.
Tennessee’s 2018 schedule is one of the tougher schedules in college football, and the FPI backs that up. The Vols have played five teams ranked inside the top 20 of the FPI and will play a sixth when they take on Missouri next week. The only teams on UT’s schedule that aren’t ranked inside the top 35 of the FPI rankings are Vanderbilt (60th), Charlotte (115th), UTEP (129th), and ETSU (N/A because they’re an FCS school).
The Vols haven’t missed out on a bowl game in back-to-back seasons since they had a three-year bowl drought from 2011 through 2013. But if the FPI projections come true, this year will see Tennessee staying home in December just like last year.