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Tennessee Slightly Rises in ESPN’s Post-Spring Power Rankings

Tennessee Football
Tennessee EDGE James Pearce Jr. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics.

Can Tennessee enter the playoff hunt in the first year of the expanded college football playoffs?

With a new, young quarterback at the helm and the potential No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick on the Vols’ defensive line, that’s the question many are asking with their sights set on Knoxville this offseason.

Tennessee finished the 2023 season with a Citrus Bowl victory and the No. 17 AP ranking and has been hard at work after some critical offensive and defensive turnover this offseason.

According to ESPN, Tennessee lands as the No. 15 ranked team in Mark Schlabach’s post-spring college football power rankings. Tennessee’s spot at No. 15 is a one-spot rise after Schlabach had the Vols ranked at No. 16 in his pre-spring power rankings in mid-February.

“The Volunteers’ high-flying passing attack slowed down a bit in 2023, going from No. 1 in the FBS in scoring (46.1 points) in 2022 to 35th (31.8) last season,” Schlabach wrote about the Vols’ offense. “With highly regarded passer Nico Iamaleava taking over, things should be headed back in the right direction. Transfer receiver Chris Brazzell (Tulane) and freshman Mike Matthews might take some of the attention off Squirrel White and Bru McCoy, who is coming back from a fractured right ankle that caused him to miss most of 2023. LSU transfer Lance Heard was working as the No. 1 left tackle in the spring and should solidify a unit with three returning starters.”

Tennessee had major turnover in the secondary this year, but Tim Banks’ defense will still be led by James Pearce Jr., one of the top EDGE rushers in the country and a projected No. 1 NFL Draft pick next spring.

“The Vols’ defensive line, led by James Pearce, should be its strength, and it will have to be good with a rebuilt secondary,” Schlabach wrote. “Tennessee plays an early nonconference test against NC State and road games at Oklahoma and Georgia with Alabama at home. If Iamaleava is as good as advertised, the Vols might be back in the playoff hunt.”

More from RTI: Tennessee’s Nico Iamaleava Garnering Hype Before the Summer Kicks Off

Oklahoma, one of Tennessee’s new conference opponents and the first SEC team on the Vols’ schedule, fell back four spots from No. 14 to No. 18 and opened up a spot for Tennessee to slide into. The Vols and the Sooners will clash in a Top 25-ranked matchup in Norman, OK, in Week 4 of the season on September 21.

The Vols also land just one spot behind LSU, who fell from No. 12 to No. 14 between Schlabach’s two early rankings. Schlabach highlighted LSU’s quarterback transition and the less-than-impressive showing by the secondary in the spring game as the reason for the drop.

Tennessee comes in as the seventh team from the SEC behind No. 1 Georgia, No. 3 Texas, No. 6 Ole Miss, No. 7 Alabama, No. 8 Missouri, and No. 14 LSU.

That also means that Tennessee has four teams in Schlabach’s early rankings on their 2024 schedule including No. 13 NC State, No. 18 Oklahoma, No. 7 Alabama, and No. 1 Georgia. Tennessee will not play Missouri this season as a result of the new 16-team conference and division-less schedule readjustment.

A key team from the rankings is No. 13 NC State, who will be Tennessee’s second opponent of the year in a night game from Charlotte, NC, on September 7. Other notable rankings include No. 16 Clemson and No. 23 Iowa.

To see Mark Schlabach’s full post-spring Top 25, click here.

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