As the saying goes, football is a way of life. In the South, that’s especially true and Tennessee works the same. Naturally, the Volunteers soak up much of the attention as the headliner but the Memphis Tigers and Vanderbilt Commodores look to make noise on a smaller scale. This is your Tennessee College Football Preview.
After a brutal 3-7 season under ex-head coach Jeremy Pruitt, the Vols try to rebuild under former UCF head coach Josh Heupel. After a wildly successful 28-8 record over three years at Central Florida, Heupel will try his hand in the most competitive conference in the country. The former Oklahoma Quarterback inherits a difficult situation with impending NCAA violations and a mass exodus of players via the transfer portal.
New Look Vols
“The transfer waiver is a double-edged sword, right?” said Heupel. “When I got here in late January, with all the turmoil and uncertainty that existed around this program, I wanted to give our players inside the program an opportunity to see what Tennessee football was going to be moving forward.”
Offensively, Volunteer fans can look forward to an up-tempo spread attack that’s become pervasive throughout college football. Defensively, under new coordinator Tim Banks, the Vols will transition from a 3-4 to a “multiple look” 4-3. Under center will likely be second-year QB Harrison Bailey. However, if the former five-star continues to struggle with downfield accuracy and quick decision-making, dual-threat Texas Tech transfer Hendon Hooker could be called upon.
Ultimately, with question marks along the offensive lines, skill positions, and defense, it’s hard to imagine UT taking too many scalps during Heupel’s maiden season. According to ESPN’s college football power index, Tennessee has a 79.6% chance to win six games. The index also gives them a 2.3% to win the SEC East and a .2% to win the SEC championship. Currently, they are +1400 to take the SEC East at Tennessee sports betting apps. So you’re saying there’s a chance…
The Heupel era opens with winnable games against Bowling Green, Pittsburgh, and Tennessee Tech. Lane Kiffin’s highly awaited return to Knoxville comes on October 16th when Ole Miss visits Neyland Stadium. Big-ticket games against Florida, Alabama, and Georgia headline an otherwise encouraging schedule for the Vols. Nevertheless, expecting more than a bowl game might be unrealistic.
After a disastrous 0-9 season in 2020, things can only go up for the Commodores. Starting from scratch, new head coach and former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea has his work cut out for him. At least the Vanderbilt alma mater starts the season with a promising quarterback and wide receiver combination.
The first-year coach will look to improve one of the worst-ranked pass defenses in all of college football. Prized defensive tackle Marcus Bradley, the only four-star in Lea’s first recruiting class, will undoubtedly help. Ultimately, much of Vanderbilt’s success will come down to how much last year’s true freshman quarterback, Ken Seals, improves in a new system.
Commodores Odds & Schedule
The Commodores remain the longest of longshots to win the SEC East at +15000 at BetMGM Tennessee. Starting over in the toughest conference in football requires a lot of work. According to ESPN’s index, Vanderbilt ranks 93rd, with a 4.2 to 7.8 games projected win total. They only have a 15% chance of winning 6 games and naturally no expectation of making the playoffs. Still, the university has committed $300 million to upgrade its facilities so perhaps, this is the start of something big in Nashville. As they say, nothing easy was ever worth building.
After a successful 8-3 season in the AAC, the Memphis Tigers look to continue to build under second-year head coach, Ryan Silverfield. Winning the Montgomery Bowl over Florida Atlantic built momentum but UCF and Cincinnati remain the toast of the AAC. However, Central Florida’s hire of former Auburn National Champion coach Gus Malzahn shakes up perhaps the best non-power five conference. The Tigers’ biggest game of the season comes against Mississippi State at Memorial Stadium on September 18th.
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