It is installment number four of wild blind dart-throwing predictions. Today, we move to the land of pumpkin orange. Not that orange you can sit with.
WEEK 7, OCT 15: TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS
Coach: Josh Heupel (7-6 after one season at UT; 28–8 in three seasons at Center Florida)
2021 record: 7-6 (4-4 in SEC, 3rd in the East Division, (Music City Bowl Loss)
CB969 2021 Prediction: 6-6; “UT lost a lot of players to the transfer portal but also picked up a good deal. Can they find a way to gel enough to get six wins?...”
Looking back: Several observers went nuts over Heupel’s maiden voyage in Knoxville but let’s take a look at who those seven wins came against: Bowling Green, Tennessee Tech, at Missouri, South Carolina, at Kentucky, South Alabama, and Vanderbilt. Impressed? Maybe one halfway decent win in the UK game. How about the losses? Pitt, Florida, Ole Miss, at Alabama, Georgia, vs. Purdue (Bowl). Yeah. Let’s pump the brakes while we take a deeper dive into the Vols.
Returning starters: 7 on offense, 6 on defense, kicker, punter.
Key losses: CB Alontae Taylor (Round 2, Saints), WR Velus Jones (Round 3, Bears), DT Matthew Butler (Round 5, Raiders), G Cade Mays (Round 6, Panthers), CB Theo Jackson (Round 6, Titans), RB Tiyon Evans (transfer to Louisville).
Top returnees: QB Hendon Hooker, WR Cedric Tillman, DL Byron Young, C Cooper Mays, OL Darnell Wright, LB Jeremy Banks, S Trevon Flowers, RB Jabari Small, LB Aaron Beasley, S Jaylen McCollough, P Paxton Brooks, PK Chase McGrath.
Top newcomers: RB Lyn-J Dixon (Clemson), DB Andre Turrentine (Ohio State), DB Wesley Walker (Georgia Tech), WR Bru McCoy (Southern Cal-to-Texas-to-Southern Cal transfer). [No freshmen are expected to start, and few will be major contributors..]
Name you need to know: WR Cedric Tillman tallied 1,081 receiving yards on 64 catches and scored a dozen touchdown in a breakout 2021 season. At 6’3″ and 215 pounds, he is a physical mismatch against most defenders.
Strengths: Hooker has potential for a big year... Tillman has first round potential... Solid OL returning four starters... Experienced inside linebackers... Veteran kicker and punter... All but one assistant returning... Soft schedule in September and post UGA Nov 5...
Weaknesses: Despite three returning starters, the secondary is highly suspect; the 2021 defense gave up 251.4 passing ypg (only Vandy was worse in the SEC)... 12th in the SEC in points allowed (27.5 ppg) last season... Running back depth (Hooker was second leading rusher in 2021)... Interior defensive line has question marks... Depth behind WR after Tillman... Need to find a kick/punt returner to replace Velus Jones... Rat poison...
Outlook: The Vols have a good deal of hype behind them as the breakout SEC team for 2022. All 22 expected starters plus the kicker and punter are juniors, seniors, or super-seniors (What does that say about Heupel’s recruiting?). UT has some very winnable games at the beginning and end of their schedule. Back-to-back Saturdays of LSU and Alabama followed by Kentucky and Georgia will define their season.
Win Total Odds
Over 7.5 -170
Under 7.5 +145
Sept 1 Ball State - W
Sept 10 at Pitt - W - Kenny Pickett is gone but So Cal’s Kedon Slovis has transferred in. However, there is no Jordan Addison to throw to nor OC Mark Whipple to guide him.
Sept 17 Akron - W
Sept 24 Florida - W - The Gators are in rebuild mode.
Oct 8 at LSU - L - Not sure if they can win in Death Valley quite yet.
Oct 15 Alabama - L - 16essee
Oct 22 UT Martin - W
Oct 29 Kentucky - L - This is a toss-up but feels like a trap game.
Nov 5 at Georgia - L - The Vols will hang for a little while.
Nov 12 Missouri - W - It must be nice to end the season this way.
Nov 19 at South Carolina - W - SC could pull off the upset, but I’m not buying the Beamer hype.
Nov 26 at Vanderbilt - W
Regular season wins for Tennessee in 2022:
This poll is closed
10 or more - they’re back!
5 or less and more couch burning.
ALABAMA SCHEDULE PREVIEWS:
Sept 3 vs Utah State 6:30pm SECN
Sept 10 at Texas 11:00am FOX
Sept 17 vs Louisiana–Monroe 3:00pm SECN
Sept 24 vs Vanderbilt
Oct 1 at Arkansas
Oct 8 vs Texas A&M
Oct 15 at Tennessee
Oct 22 vs Mississippi State
Oct 29 bye
Nov 5 at LSU
Nov 12 at Ole Miss
Nov 19 vs Austin Peay 11:00am SECN+
Nov 26 vs Auburn