Vol fans and both national and local media all expect Tennessee to show improvement in head coach Jeremy Pruitt’s second year at the helm when compared to his first year. But one analytical model predicts that the Vols will make a massive leap forward this upcoming season.
Brad Powers is the lead college football analyst for Pregrame.com and used to write with renowned statistician Phil Steele. He recently released his early set of power rankings for all 130 FBS teams for the upcoming 2019 season. Powers’ early rankings not only has Tennessee just outside the top 25, but it has them making a significant leap from where they were last season.
In Powers’ early preseason rankings, the Vols come in at No. 26 with a rating of 79.62. According to Powers, he determines his ratings using factors such as “returning production, the number of returning starters and other key factors (turnovers, close wins/losses, recruiting, etc).”
After all the calculations were finished, Tennessee came in at No. 26, just behind Miami and just ahead of Washington State.
But when you compare the Vols’ score in Powers’ system last year, there’s a major difference.
Tennessee finished last season with a score of 70.55 in Powers’ ratings. Their 79.62 rating in June of this year is an increase of 9.07. That’s the biggest positive difference in Powers’ projections for the upcoming 2019 season. In fact, only two other teams (Louisville and Virginia Tech) even have a positive improvement of over 7.00 based off last season’s ratings. The Vols’ projected improvement is by far the greatest among all 130 FBS schools.
Even with that dramatic expected improvement, Tennessee is still not even in the top half of the SEC, though.
The Vols rank 26th in Powers’ ratings, but that’s only good enough for 10th in the SEC. The conference teams ranked ahead of Tennessee in Powers’ rating system are Alabama (1st), Georgia (3rd), LSU (4th), Florida (8th), Auburn (9th), Texas A&M (11th), Mississippi State (15th), Missouri (20th), and South Carolina (22nd).
The only SEC teams behind Tennessee in these projections are Kentucky (45th), Ole Miss (56th), Vanderbilt (59th), and Arkansas (67th).
On Tennessee’s schedule, the Vols will face four teams in the top 15 of Powers’ ratings, and half of UT’s 12 regular season opponents are currently ranked inside the top 25. The Vols’ FBS non-conference opponents are all outside the top 45, with BYU (48th) coming in just inside the top 50. UAB (95th) and Georgia State (117th) are the other two.
Based on those projections, the Vols are likely to go 6-6 unless they can defeat one of the six teams ranked higher than them. The most likely candidates would be Missouri and South Carolina, with Tennessee’s home match-up with Mississippi State being the third-most likely.
According to Powers, to come up with a point spread using his rating system involves subtracting two team’s power ratings. For example, if the Vols were to play Alabama on a neutral field, the Tide (rating of 99.78) would be favored by 20 points over UT. Powers adds that he usually awards three points for home field advantage.
Using that system, the Vols would be favored in seven of their 12 games this season, with UT being just slight favorites over South Carolina when the two face-off in Neyland Stadium.
Tennessee should be able to show definite improvement in 2019, but how much will go a long way in determining what type of success the Vols can have on the recruiting trail and build for even more success down the line. If Powers’ projections are true, then UT should enjoy a solid bounce back year from 2018.