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RTI Staff 2023 Tennessee Football Season Predictions

Tennessee Football
Tennessee Football. Photo By Cayce Smith/Tennessee Athletics.

A long eight months of waiting is almost over. Tennessee football returns to the field Saturday when they take on Virginia at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.

The Vols enter Josh Heupel’s third season with increased expectations after a resurgent 2023 season. Still, there are questions about this team and few outside the Anderson Training Center are expecting them to knock off Georgia for SEC East supremacy.

The Las Vegas sportsbooks set Tennessee’s regular season over/under win total at nine with relatively even odds on both sides of the bet.

But what does the RTI team think? Check it out here in our season record predictions.

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Jack Foster

Lots of eyes are on Tennessee this year after an 11-2 season in which they won the Orange Bowl.

The Vols had the luxury of flying under the radar entering last year. Now, they’re 12th in the AP Preseason Poll and considered the clear-cut second-best team in the SEC East.

With a new quarterback, can they live up to those expectations? That’s the question. Tennessee will go as Joe Milton goes this year. If he reaches his potential, the Vols are in the CFP. If he is the same or only slightly better than 2021 Joe Milton, Tennessee will not win 10 games.

I’m betting on Milton being somewhere in the middle. He won’t win the Heisman, but he’ll be a top five SEC quarterback and lead Tennessee to some very solid wins.

Outside of the big two opponents, Tennessee’s schedule is gettable. I have them losing the two obvious ones to Alabama in Tuscaloosa and Georgia in Neyland. I don’t see how Alabama loses that game at home considering what happened last year, and the gap between Georgia and Tennessee is not going to close enough to where the Vols will win.

But that’s the only two games I have Tennessee losing. I’m worried about the offensive line. I’m worried about the secondary. But I’m not worried enough to pick Kentucky or South Carolina or Missouri or Texas A&M. The Vols have lost to the Cats three times since 1985, Josh Heupel will not allow his team to lose to SC again, Tennessee has hung 60+ on Missouri in back-to-back years, and A&M comes into town after the bye week, and Heupel is 7-1 coming off a bye. Florida and UTSA also don’t scare me.

Tennessee is the SEC’s version of Penn State this year. They’ll win the games they should and lose two games to two eventual CFP teams. And make no mistake, 10-2 is a big win for Tennessee in 2023.

Prediction: 10-2 (6-2 SEC)

Ric Butler

It’s wild to think that Josh Heupel’s third season is already here. But it is, so let’s dive in.

Tennessee obviously had a breakout season last year with wins over Alabama and LSU en route to an Orange Bowl victory over Clemson. The Vols may have been darlings of the college football world at times last year but are squarely in the middle of things this season. From featured spots on ESPN college football hype videos to a Top 15 preseason ranking, expectations are high for Tennessee in the 2023 season. But, where should those expectations be set?

I have Tennessee going 9-3 this season with two losses on the road and one at home. We’ll circle back to that, though.

For Tennessee to reach their goal of winning the SEC East, the Vols need to be a one-loss team by the time Georgia rolls into Neyland Stadium for the penultimate game of the regular season. That gives Tennessee one loss, likely to Alabama on the road, to work with through the first 10 games of the season. That also implies Tennessee taking care of business against the mid-tier teams as they did last year. Hendon Hooker led Tennessee to wins against Pittsburgh, LSU, Florida, and Kentucky, which allowed the Vols to be in a solid position by the end of the season. Chalking up two losses to Alabama and Georgia would be perfectly fine and might even land Tennessee back in a New Year’s Six game. But, again, that relies on wins against the rest of the mid-tier games on the schedule. That includes Texas A&M, Florida, Kentucky, UTSA, and South Carolina.

The key to the season is going to be Joe Milton. I left training camp with more confidence in Milton’s game but admittingly did not see him in full-speed conditions, especially in-game-type scenarios. That’s by far the biggest X-Factor for Tennessee’s season. I picked 9-3 because I see losses to Alabama and Georgia and likely one other team, whether it be Florida or Kentucky on the road. It took Hooker two seasons to lead Tennessee like he did in 2022. Can Milton do it all in just one season? We’ll have to see, but I’m giving room for an extra loss on the way just to be safe.

I see this being another exciting, fast-paced, fired-up Tennessee team that once again overwhelms defenses throughout the year. I see losses to two teams in the playoffs and can see another road loss on the way as well. Overall, another exciting and successful season for Tennessee and helps the Vols establish a position for the future. Tennessee finishes second in the SEC East at 9-3.

Prediction: 9-3 (5-3 SEC)

Ryan Schumpert

The first game week of football season is a fun but also eerie one. After months of talk and speculation all there’s left to do is wait and see what Tennessee looks like when they take the field against Virginia. With almost all of Tennessee’s practices closed to the media and all of its scrimmages closed to the media, it can be difficult to get a real read on a new team. But there’s still been a few things that have at least slightly changed my thoughts on the 2023 Vols entering the season.

We’ll start with the most important man: Joe Milton III. I don’t know that Milton is going to be great but I’ve gained confidence that he won’t be terrible, flaming out and losing his starting job by October. Everything we’ve seen and heard this offseason indicates that Milton has been extremely solid. That doesn’t meant there’s not still questions about him and his ceiling, but it does raise his floor. Than two position groups I was really intrigued by at the offset of the offseason have impressed me. Running back is a real strength and I think Jaylen Wright is going to be the star at running back that Tennessee hasn’t had since John Kelly. I was and continue to be excited by the young talent at linebacker. Sophomore Elijah Herring and freshman Arion Carter are in the two deep and should provide strong depth behind Aaron Beasley and Keenan Pili.

But my two biggest concerns about this team all offseason remain real concerns to me entering the season. The Vols are running back a lot of the same players in the secondary from a season ago. Josh Heupel and his staff have shown confidence in the veterans to improve but I’m going to have to see it to believe it. Then there’s the offensive line which listed nine different starters on its inaugural depth chart. Darnell Wright is gone and Milton’s pocket presence is a weak spot. The offensive tackle spot gives me pause and center Cooper Mays starting the season banged up throws another wrench into that position group.

Those two concerns remaining real makes me unwilling to change my offseason prediction. I think this is a 9-3 football team. The Alabama and Georgia games are winnable but the Vols will be a touchdown underdog in both. I think Tennessee drops those two rivalry games and one more game to a team its more talented than. Florida and Kentucky feel the most likely due to them being on the road. Texas A&M is probably the next most talented opponent behind Alabama and Georgia but it’s in Neyland and at a good spot in the schedule for Tennessee.

Prediction: 9-3 (5-3 SEC)

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