Tennessee has a new coach and new hope after last season’s miserable finish at 4-8 overall and 0-8 in SEC play. The coaching search didn’t go as planned, but the Vols still got a guy in Jeremy Pruitt that a lot of people believe in after he led defenses at Alabama, Georgia and Florida State. He was far from pleased with his team and fans after the spring Game, but being a fan-friendly coach is clearly not one of his traits. The Vols are projected to do better than a year ago, but only slightly and have the fifth-best spring odds in the SEC East to win the National Championship (+45000 at 5Dimes Sportsbook).
Either way, the Volunteers have a long way to go on both sides of the ball. In a new pro-style offense (led by new OC Tyson Helton), Pruitt won’t determine his quarterback until just before the first Game. Jarrett Guarantano, who started half of 2017 and threw well in the spring scrimmage, has a small leg up on Stanford transfer Keller Chryst. While Chryst is far from an elite quarterback, he at least knows how to run a pro offense so when he comes over in the summer, that’ll be the talk of the team. The problem is that the Vols don’t have much talent surrounding the quarterback. Following a campaign in which they scored less than 20 points per Game, the Vols have issues along the line with most of the returning starters having dealt with injuries in the spring. Top running back John Kelly is also gone with his replacement a toss up. Ty Chandler and Tim Jordan are the leading returnees on the roster, but Michigan State transfer Madre London could come in and carve out a bigger role. Receiver may be the most experienced position with top guys Brandon Johnson (37 receptions), Marquez Callaway (5 TDs) and Jauan Jennings all back.
But with no guarantee that the offense will immediately improve and a defense that still has plenty of holes, the Vols have a long way to go. Linebacker may be the most complete area with Daniel Bituli and Darrin Kirkland expected to run things in the middle. Of course, the defense is also moving to a 3-4 scheme under Kevin Sherrer, formerly the Georgia outside linebackers coach. The Vols will probably still have issues up front after giving up 250 rushing yards per Game a year ago. That’ll probably be a problem all season, while the secondary lost its top Four options so there are changes on the back end, as well.
In order to make a bowl Game in Pruitt’s first season, the Volunteers may have to win three SEC Games, which is more than possible in the East. Home Games against Florida, Kentucky and Missouri stand out on the Schedule. Unfortunately, that may be all they can get with the opener against West Virginia being extremely difficult (+7 point underdogs in the spring) and then an almost impossible task three weeks later with Georgia, Auburn and Alabama in three-straight Games. For the Vols to reach more than six wins, they’ll need to steal a road Game from the likes of South Carolina or Vanderbilt. Even then, that also means they have to win all of their home Games.
Tennessee is in a bit of a rebuild with new schemes on both sides of the ball and it will take some time before this team plays like Pruitt wants it to. There is hope for the Volunteers, but that may not come to fruition for another year or two.
2018 Tennessee Volunteers Football Schedule
Sept. 1 vs. West Virginia (Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte)
Sept. 8 vs. East Tennessee State
Sept. 15 vs. UTEP
Sept. 22 vs. Florida
Sept. 29 at Georgia
Oct. 13 at Auburn
Oct. 20 vs. Alabama
Oct. 27 at South Carolina
Nov. 3 vs. Charlotte
Nov. 10 vs. Kentucky
Nov. 17 vs. Missouri
Nov. 24 at Vanderbilt