Right now, most national college football analysts aren’t overly optimistic about the Vols this early in the 2019 offseason. Most analysts aren’t predicting a repeat of the 2017 or 2018 seasons, but the vast majority of early predictions for this upcoming season have Tennessee scrapping and clawing their way to a bowl game.
One national analyst is much higher on the Vols than others, though.
Brad Crawford, a college football analyst for 247Sports, released his record predictions for all 14 SEC teams for the upcoming 2019 football season. When it comes to Tennessee, Crawford sees the Vols outperforming expectations and surprising people.
Crawford’s prediction has Tennessee going 8-4 this season, winning most of their toss-up games and only losing to Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and Missouri. He lists the Vols’ home contest against Mississippi State as UT’s “most dangerous game” and, unsurprisingly, has the Alabama game in Tuscaloosa as the Vols’ toughest game on the schedule.
“Eight wins for the Vols? I’m high on Tennessee’s turnaround this season and am picking the over on the preseason win total (7),” Crawford writes. “I like what Jeremy Pruitt’s team returns at the skill positions and line play should be much-improved on both sides. The toss-up games that will sway Tennessee’s season on average to better-than-expected come against Mississippi State and South Carolina at home. Win both of those and the Vols will be sitting pretty with a Florida bowl game bid.”
Tennessee’s 2019 schedule will be difficult, but it doesn’t look quite as tough on paper this year as previous seasons have been.
The Vols open the season with three-straight home games against Georgia State, BYU, and UTC. Tennessee then goes on the road to take on Florida, and they get a bye week after that. The Vols will then host Georgia and Mississippi State in back-to-back weeks before going on the road to face Alabama. Tennessee comes back home to host South Carolina after that, and they get a breather from SEC play when they face UAB at home.
Tennessee closes out the season by playing Kentucky on the road, getting a bye week, then facing Missouri in Columbia and Vanderbilt at home.
In Crawford’s predictions, the Vols would go 4-0 in non-conference play and earn SEC victories against Mississippi State, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt.
The Vols haven’t gone 8-4 in the regular season since 2016, and Tennessee hasn’t earned four conference wins in a season since then, either. Former head coach Butch Jones’ best regular season record at Tennessee was 8-4, and he did so in his third and fourth seasons as UT. If Pruitt achieves that record in just his second year at the helm, it would mark the best second-year record by a coach at Tennessee since Phillip Fulmer also went 8-4 in his second full season as head coach in 1994.
If Pruitt and his staff can guide Tennessee to an 8-4 mark in 2019 coming off a 4-8 record in 2017 and a 5-7 season in 2018, it should give Tennessee a gigantic boost in recruiting and vault the Vols back into relevancy. It wouldn’t get Tennessee to Atlanta to play for a conference title, but it would put the Vols in a prominent bowl game and show significant progress in Year 2 under Pruitt.
Crawford predicts Alabama and Georgia to again play for the SEC title at the conclusion of the regular season, projecting the Tide to go 12-0 and the Bulldogs to go 11-1. He has Florida going 10-2 and Missouri finishing 9-3, meaning the Vols would be fourth in the SEC East.
Overall, Crawford predicts that 11 of the 14 SEC teams will have bowl eligible records at the end of the regular season, and that includes Missouri — though the Tigers are currently facing a postseason ban due to sanctions handed down by the NCAA. Only Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Vanderbilt are projected to finish with losing records at the end of the 2019 regular season by Crawford.