SEC Team Preview Series: Tennessee
Welcome to WNSP’s preview series to get you ready for SEC and Sunbelt Media Days. Each day, we will preview a new team in each conference and get you ready for football season. We’ll take a look at what Vegas has their win total set at, make a prediction, and talk about their season outlook. Today’s team: The Tennessee Volunteers
Players to watch:
Offense: QB Hendon Hooker, WR Cedric Tillman, RB Jabari Small
Defense: LB Jeremy Banks, S Trevon Flowers, EDGE Byron Young
O/U Win Line: 7.5
Dave Schultz’s Pick: Over
Mark Heim’s Pick: Over
Lee Shirvanian’s Pick: Over
Nick Wiggins’ Pick: Under
Michael Brauner’s Pick: Over
Josh Heupel’s first go around in Knoxville last season went much better than really anyone expected. Taking over a program that for lack of a better term was in shambles after a 3-7 2020 season and subsequent findings of the Jeremy Pruitt scandal, expectations were not high at all for the former UCF coach. With a 7-5 regular season and a close loss in the Music City Bowl to Purdue, Heupel definitely did better than most thought he would in year one.
Now entering year two with emerging stars at quarterback and wide receiver as well as a somewhat manageable schedule, the bar has been raised, and 7-5 would be considered a disappointment. Tennessee’s offense in 2021 set program records in points, total yards, and touchdowns and returns much of that record setting offense, namely quarterback Hendon Hooker and 1000-yard receiver Cedric Tillman.
While they do lose Velus Jones Jr., they do have a lot of talent in the receiver room that has not quite lived up to their potential so far, namely Jalin Hyatt. They also have some exciting freshman to go along with once one of the most exciting recruits in the nation, USC transfer Bru McCoy whose college career has not gone as planned so far.
Jabari Small returns after a very solid 2021 rushing the ball, and Tennessee returns four starters on the offensive line. The line will have to be better in 2022 than last year, however, as their 44 sacks allowed were the most in the conference and solid offensive line play could take this offense into the stratosphere.
Defensively, last year’s leading tackler Jeremy Banks returns at linebacker along with Byron Young and Tyler Baron setting the edges and getting into the backfield. In the secondary, Trevon Flowers, although undersized, is a legitimate NFL prospect at safety and will be huge considering the Vols lack of legitimate depth at corner, which could be their Achilles heel.
Schedule wise, the Vols should start 3-1 at the very worst if not 4-0, with Ball State, a road matchup at Pitt, Akron at home, then a very winnable rivalry game against Florida at home. After this, they have to go to LSU and host Alabama, but they also get to take on UT Martin, Missouri, and Vanderbilt later in the season mixed in with matchups against Kentucky, at Georgia, and at South Carolina.
This team has the makings of a program ready to take the next step, and I have to put my hand up as one of the biggest naysayers the Josh Heupel hiring at the time. He’s made me and many others a believer, and I like the Vols at 8-4 or maybe even 9-3.