Tennessee Football Excluded From ESPN’s Preseason Top 25

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    ESPN released their football power index preseason Top 25 rankings on Monday and the list certainly has some surprises.

    The biggest surprise on the list, arguably, is the fact that Josh Heupel and the Tennessee Volunteers are not ranked. There are nine SEC teams listed in the Top 25:

    ESPN FPI Preseason Top 25

    1. Alabama

    3. Georgia

    10. Auburn

    11. LSU

    14. Texas A&M

    17. Ole Miss

    20. Kentucky

    24. Mississippi State

    25. Florida Gators

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    The list, overall, is a head-scratcher. Let’s start by looking at Tennessee, though. Tennessee finished the season third in the SEC East with a 7-6 overall record and a 4-4 record in conference play. The Vols built solid momentum throughout the season by taking care of business against South Carolina and Missouri, competing with Ole Miss to the wire, and finding a win against ranked Kentucky under the lights in Lexington.

    While Tennessee won’t return the majority of the offensive production from last season, the Vols will bring back the biggest piece to their puzzle – quarterback Hendon Hooker. In just one year together, Heupel helped turn Hooker into the SEC’s most efficient quarterback.

    In fact, Heupel flipped Tennessee’s overall offense from 102nd in the country to ninth in the country in just one season.

    From a coaching perspective, the Vols are in as good of shape as any program in the SEC. The Vols retained their entire staff this offseason minus wide receivers coach Kodi Burns. Tennessee, however, was able to replace Burns internally with Kelsey Pope, showing the stability that is present on Rocky Top.

    With all of the success that Heupel and Tennessee had in their inaugural season together, it’s hard to believe the Vols won’t be fighting for Top 25 relevancy throughout the 2022 season.

    Looking at the rest of the SEC and who is higher than Tennessee, both LSU and Florida are bringing in totally new coaching staffs. Clearly, a coaching staff doesn’t need more than one year to learn how to hit the .500 mark, but putting LSU as high as No. 11 and Florida as high as No. 25 seems like a stretch.

    In addition, Arkansas is another team that is surprisingly not on the list. Out of the four SEC West teams that went 4-4 in conference play last year (Arkansas, Texas A&M, and Mississippi State), the Razorbacks had the best overall record at 9-4. While the Aggies have been loading up with a considerable amount of talent, it’s actually Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks that have built more consistent momentum on the field over the last two seasons.

    In a recent set of tweets from Matrix Analytical, cofounder Adam McClintock posted his own college football analytical power rankings heading out of spring ball. In that list, the Vols checked at the No. 15 spot, which was good for seventh among SEC teams.

    ESPN’s full preseason Top 25 is as follows:

    1. Alabama Crimson Tide
    2. Ohio State Buckeyes
    3. Georgia Bulldogs
    4. Clemson Tigers
    5. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
    6. Texas Longhorns
    7. Michigan Wolverines
    8. Oklahoma Sooners
    9. Pittsburgh Panthers
    10. Auburn Tigers
    11. LSU Tigers
    12. Penn State Nittany Lions
    13. Oklahoma State Cowboys
    14. Texas A&M Aggies
    15. Utah Utes
    16. Michigan State Spartans
    17. Ole Miss Rebels
    18. Miami Hurricanes
    19. Baylor Bears
    20. Kentucky Wildcats
    21. Wisconsin Badgers
    22. North Carolina Tar Heels
    23. Oregon Ducks
    24. Mississippi State Bulldogs
    25. Florida Gators

    Tennessee will face six teams in the ESPN FPI preseason Top 25 next season. The Vols will take on No. 9 Pittsburgh, No. 25 Florida, No. 11 LSU, No. 1 Alabama, No. 20 Kentucky, and No. 3 Georgia.

    Ric Butler is a Knoxville based sports media personality who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since 2017. Most recently, he served as the lead writer for the website of a local radio station. Ric also helped create and host a daily radio show called “The Blitz." Ric’s passion for sports, smooth vocal, and infectious personality have made him popular with both his peers and Vol Nation. Originally from Dallas, Ric didn’t grow up riding horses to school. But he did dream of the big city lights. When not chasing down the latest Tennessee story, Ric can be found watching the WWE, often attempting their moves in an embarrassing fashion.