After a few months of seemingly non-stop recruiting action this spring, the off-season is starting to slow down a bit. The NCAA dead period began on Monday, which means that the period of time in which coaches may not have in-person contact with a recruit or their families will last until July 24, 2022.
Coaches and athletes may still be in contact through text messages, phone calls, or social media, but communication cannot happen in a face-to-face, in-person environment.
One of the most fascinating parts of the offseason is Athlon Sports’ College Football Preview every summer. Athlon takes a look at all 131 FBS teams, and in the case of the bigger conferences, in-depth previews accompany the predictions as well.
Athlon Sports has gone through the SEC and determined what they believe the final 2022 standings will shake out as. The order for the SEC East is as follows:
- Georgia Bulldogs (12-1, 8-0 SEC)
- Tennessee Volunteers (8-4, 4-4 SEC)
- Kentucky Wildcats (8-4, 4-4 SEC)
- Florida Gators (7-5, 4-4 SEC)
- South Carolina Gamecocks (6-6, 3-5 SEC)
- Missouri Tigers (5-7, 2-6 SEC)
- Vanderbilt Commodores (3-9, 0-8 SEC)
See Also from RTI: Tennessee Football Approaching Massive Recruiting Stretch
As seen in the projections, Athlon is expecting Tennessee to finish second in the SEC East with a record of 8-4 overall and 4-4 in the SEC. Ultimately, with how dominant Georgia is expected to be as the defending National Champions, a second-place finish in the east may very well be the best possible realistic outcome. And there’s no question that would be a success.
Athlon has Tennessee and Kentucky with the same overall and SEC record, but with Tennessee on top, Athlon must have the Vols beating the Wildcats in Neyland this fall.
With all of Tennessee’s projected losses coming to SEC foes, Athlon also looks to be projecting a win for Tennessee over Pittsburgh in week two.
It makes sense that Athlon would be projecting both Alabama and Georgia as losses for Tennessee. But that still leaves two remaining with realistic options of LSU, Florida, and South Carolina considering Tennessee is ahead of Kentucky. Out of those three options, LSU seems more likely to be a loss compared to Florida and South Carolina, and Florida seems more likely to be a loss compared to South Carolina.
All signs point to Athlon Sports believing Tennessee to lose to Alabama, Georgia, LSU, and Florida en route to a second-place SEC East finish. That would also mean victories against Ball State, at Pittsburgh, Akron, Tennessee-Martin, Kentucky, Missouri, at South Carolina, and at Vanderbilt.
In comparison, Tennessee lost to Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss, Florida, and Pittsburgh during the 2021 regular season.
There is a realistic chance that Tennessee could lose two of the games between LSU, Florida, Kentucky, and South Carolina. But, in fairness, the two most likely of those would be Kentucky and LSU. If Tennessee is looking at just LSU, Florida, and South Carolina, though, it seems reasonable that Tennessee can find two wins in that trio.
The Florida game really is such a momentous game for Tennessee. On paper, Tennessee should have the advantage. The Vols are entering the second year of the Heupel Era with no major coaching changes (WR coach Kodi Burns departed for the New Orleans Saints and was replaced internally) and return one of college football’s most electric offenses. On the flip side, Florida will only be playing their fourth game under new head coach Billy Napier. And, not to mention, the game will be played in Neyland Stadium.
Again, on paper, Tennessee should have the advantage.
But there’s no need to remind Tennessee fans of the last 17 years, which have seen 16 Florida victories on the gridiron. Florida is a mental speedbump that Tennessee has to be able to get past this year. That’s the most productive way for Tennessee to start the Napier Era at Florida.
Athlon Sports’ SEC West predictions are as follows:
- Alabama Crimson Tide (13-0, 8-0 SEC)
- Texas A&M Aggies (10-2, 6-2 SEC)
- Arkansas Razorbacks (8-4, 4-4 SEC)
- LSU Tigers (8-4, 4-4 SEC)
- Ole Miss Rebels (8-4, 4-4 SEC)
- Mississippi State (7-5, 3-5 SEC)
- Auburn Tigers (6-6, 2-6 SEC)
The Athlon Sports 2022 College Football Preview can be purchased online or found in local bookstores today.