Ever since the Phillip Fulmer Era ended at Tennessee, the Volunteers have struggled to become relevant in the SEC, let alone the national championship picture. But with the change in leadership, this year comes a renewed sense of hope.
Enough to consider Tennessee a team to bet on in 2021? Well…
If new head coach Josh Heupel can get the Volunteers offense to click as well as the UCF offense did under him, Tennessee will at least be fun to watch. But Heupel took over a team at UCF that had gone undefeated the year before.
Was he the reason for the UCF’s success, or did he just inherit a good team and not mess things up? The team did go from an undefeated season the year before Heupel got there to 6-4 in just three years.
However, to be fair, UCF’s offense was still ranked among the best in the country.
The competition level is going to be a bit different in the SEC, too. Then there is the matter of the roster. There is only so much Heupel can do with it if the talent is not there. Tennessee’s offense ranked 108th in scoring last season (21.5 points/game), and the defense ranked 69th (30.1 points/game allowed).
So, Heupel will have his work cut out for him to turn the Volunteers into a competitive team. Is there any chance he can do it this season and make Tennessee a team worth betting on to win the East Division or the SEC?
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Tennessee had appeared to be headed in the right direction under Jeremy Pruitt after finishing with an 8-5 record in his second season. But things went south in 2020. The Vols finished with a dismal 3-7 record, and Pruitt ultimately ended up losing his job—which provided an opening for Heupel.
But Heupel is going to have his work cut out for him in 2021. Not only is he tasked with turning around one of the worst offenses in the SEC, but he has to do so while finding several new starters. Tennessee only has two starters returning on offense and five on defense.
While that could be troubling, for the Vols, it may be a blessing. Neither unit was great in 2020. Starting fresh could be a good way to get the Heupel Era rolling faster– if he has the right people on the roster. However, how successful the fresh start will be depends on a much-needed infusion of talent—which they will get from their top-20 ranked recruiting class.
But since Heupel did not arrive on campus until shortly before National Signing Day, did the Vols bring in the right kind of talent for his system?
Heupel was likely brought in because of how successful he has been building high-powered offenses wherever he goes. If he can get the Vols offense on track, there is a good chance Tennessee will be much more competitive this season.
But competitive enough to win their division or the conference?
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The hard part for the Volunteers is not necessarily getting better. Heupel will make them a better team, but can they improve enough to compete with the likes of Georgia or Florida in their division?
They will also have to face off against Alabama during the regular season and an up-and-coming Ole Miss team in Lane Kiffin’s second year.
If the Vols were to win the East and make the conference title game, they would likely face Alabama, LSU, or Texas A&M. Alabama is, well—Alabama. They have key players to replace this season, but they also have a stacked roster that should make doing so easy.
LSU appeared to get its act together late in the season and could be tough to beat in 2021. As for the Aggies, while they will have a new quarterback and a rebuilt offensive line this season, expectations are sky-high.
So—should you bet on them to win their division or the SEC?
No, of course not. There is a reason to have optimism for Tennessee this season, but not nearly enough reason to think they can hang with Alabama, Georgia, Florida, or Texas A&M. Is there value, though? Eh—not really.
There is hope for the Vols, but hope is not enough to warrant betting on a team.
Now, if you are a diehard fan or an extremely optimistic person, putting $10 at +4000 to win the SEC or +1400 to win the East is not a terrible idea. But it is not exactly a good idea, either.