Each SDS roundtable discussion involves the SDS staff providing individual answers and comments to questions covering a wide range of sports and non-sports topics. In this discussion, we ask the question: Can Tennessee win 8 or more regular-season games for the first time under Jeremy Pruitt?

A bit of background …

Tennessee went 8-5 last season — its best since 2016. The year concluded with a dramatic bowl victory over Indiana. Over/under win projections are based on the regular season, however. The Vols return a lot of key pieces, with the obvious exception being at wide receiver, where holes/opportunities abound. The offensive line and running game are expected to be strengths. Will the overall returning talent be enough to push the Vols to 8 or more regular-season wins in 2020? That’s something we’ve been discussing for a while.

Jon Cooper, SDS co-founder

With Tennessee’s over/under set at 7.5 wins, I would take the over. The Vols are a couple of years from really being able to compete for an SEC East crown. The 2020 schedule is favorable for winning 8 games. They face Charlotte, Oklahoma, Furman and Troy in nonconference, with the only loss coming to OU. Right now, I would favor Tennessee to beat Missouri, South Carolina, Arkansas, Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Losses might come against Florida, Alabama and Georgia.

Connor O’Gara, Senior national columnist

I’ll take the under. Reluctantly.

I actually think Tennessee will be a better team overall in 2020. We’ll be reminded of why the Jeremy Pruitt era is working. But I can’t sit here today and predict the Vols to beat Oklahoma in Norman or Georgia in Athens, nor am I calling for an upset of Alabama or Florida at home. Not with how lopsided those rivalries have been the past 2 years. The Vols could certainly improve against their rivals, and that defense could present a lot of challenges for new Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler.

But with that in mind, that essentially means the Vols can’t get tripped up in any other game. That trip to South Carolina will be tricky, and even though Tennessee played well against Kentucky the past 2 years, that’s by no means an automatic win. This would be different if we knew what the passing game was going to look like. That’s still a bit of a mystery thanks to spring limitations. Will that hurt the Vols establish an offensive identity in 2020? It certainly could.

For now, I’ll bet on a 7-win repeat of last year’s regular season.

Michael Bratton, News editor

This is another stay away for me until we know which quarterback is starting. Jarrett Guarantano seems like a great person, but his play is going to put Jeremy Pruitt on the hot seat heading into 2021 if he’s the starting quarterback all year.

The Vols annually have one of the toughest schedules in the nation and this year is no different with games at Oklahoma, vs. Florida, vs. Alabama and at Georgia. If Tennessee can’t win any of those (the Vols are underdogs in each), the team would need to sweep the rest of the schedule just to hit the over.

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I’m not betting on Tennessee to go over until we know more about how far along Harrison Bailey is or how much development Brian Maurer got during the offseason. If either starts the majority of the season, I would lean toward taking the over.

Neil Blackmon, Florida columnist

The recruiting tear is nice, but can the team that’s already on campus improve on the field?

I like their chances — and the over — if they beat Florida. It’s the under if they don’t.

A 15th loss to the Gators in 16 seasons would mean a 2-2 start, with an October slate of Missouri, at South Carolina, Alabama, at Arkanas. That’s generously a 2-2 month, which means they’d have to go 4-0 in November, including a win over Georgia, to beat the number.

With questions about perimeter playmakers and some holes to plug on defense, that might be too big an ask.

Adam Spencer, Newsletter editor

I’ll take the slight over. I have the Vols going 8-4 in the regular season, with losses at Oklahoma in Week 2, vs. Florida in Week 4, vs. Alabama in Week 8 and at Georgia in Week 11.

I do think, based on how they look in the first 3 games, an upset of Florida is possible. But this team will have to avoid a Georgia State-like loss this year to reach 8 wins. It can’t slip up against teams like Troy, Mizzou, South Carolina or Kentucky.

Chris Wright, Executive editor

Can somebody please explain why Tennessee is playing Oklahoma this year? Or any year?

The Vols already play Alabama every year. Only 6 other teams in the country can say the same. Because of that, I’ll always give the Vols a pass if they schedule a bit friendlier Power 5 conference opponent, say, a neighboring team like, UNC, Duke, NC State, Virginia, Wake Forest or Georgia Tech. Virginia Tech obviously makes sense, too, but the Hokies typically are a bit better than those other ACC options.

Point being, there’s absolutely zero need to enhance the schedule’s degree of difficulty.

(Look at Georgia, for instance. Knowing it would get Alabama this year, the Dawgs scheduled … Virginia in addition to the annual date with Georgia Tech. There was no need to pursue Notre Dame, Clemson or Oregon, opponents on past and future schedules.)

Even crazier, the Vols agreed to play Oklahoma a couple of months after the 2016 season. So for those who insist that all things are cyclical, there were zero signs in April of 2017 that this Alabama juggernaut was slowing down, and there were very positive signs that Oklahoma wasn’t going anywhere. The Sooners had just ripped Auburn in the Sugar Bowl and promoted the bright offensive coordinator who made it happen. Lincoln Riley’s rise hasn’t been a revelation to anybody who has been paying attention.

Having said all of that, at least the Vols catch the Sooners in a year in which they are starting over at QB. That’ll certainly help, especially in Week 2 without spring reps. And if the Vols can run the ball as effectively as I think they will, perhaps Eric Gray rips off 250 yards and they grind out a season-altering upset. None of that changes the fact they still have 3 more games against teams with Playoff hopes — Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

The schedule screams 8-4 as the penthouse suite. An injury here or there or flukey bounce, and suddenly it’s 7-5 or 6-6. Swap Oklahoma with a mid-level ACC opponent, and you’re looking at a 9-3 campaign with the possibility of going 10-2.

The SEC is so much more fun when Tennessee is in the thick of the division race, pushing for 10 wins.

That sounds hopelessly unrealistic in 2020.

This will be a classic case of the team being better than its record, which sure looks like 7-5 right now. I hope I’m wrong.

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