Tennessee football: 10 bold predictions for the 2020 season
Greetings and salutations … hoping you are all staying safe and healthy. I’m hoping for the same for college football teams, because man … we could really use some college football.
After memorizing the schedule and shaking my head at the NCAA’s ruling on Cade Mays waiver request, I was thinking about the season ahead (and keeping good thoughts that there will be a season), and trying to do my best Carnac the Magnificent imitation (look it up, kids).
The following are 10 bold predictions for the Tennessee Volunteers in 2020.
1. Tennessee wins at least 1 of its big 3 SEC games
The Vols always have Alabama, Florida and Georgia on the schedule, which hasn’t been a good thing lately. Since 2008, the Vols are a combined 4-32 against those opponents. But nothing lasts forever. Tennessee continues to improve.
Ideally, you’d have more time between the games as opposed to playing both in a 3-week span, but the timing is interesting. Georgia and Alabama play each other in Week 4. The Vols play the Dawgs in Week 3. Will Georgia be looking ahead? Tennessee faces Alabama in Week 5. Will the Tide still be recovering from the Georgia game?
Alabama and Georgia also will be breaking in new-ish QBs.
The Vols face Florida in the regular-season finale. Florida’s rushing game is iffy and we all remember what happened the last time these two met in the final game. Hey, stranger things have happened.
2. Jarrett Guarantano starts every regular-season game
Tennessee’s quarterback situation has been unstable in recent years, to say the least. In 2017 and 2019, they started 3 quarterbacks. But I’m predicting that Jarrett Guarantano starts every game in the regular season. He has proven his toughness many times — and that certainly will be tested early this season when he faces Georgia and Alabama in the span of 3 weeks. (Kentucky, the middle opponent, is no joke, either.) Most important though, the offensive line is experienced and will be able to keep him upright.
3. Henry To’o To’o is named SEC Defensive Player of the Year
In 2019, To’o To’o was a Freshman All-America and named to the SEC’s all-freshman team. He started 12 games and finished 2nd on the Vols with 72 tackles. He’s only getting better and taking on even more of a leadership role.
This will lead to a monster 2020 season for To’o To’o, and a major honor in the SEC.
4. Eric Gray tops 1,000 rushing yards
At the end of the 2019 season, it was another freshman who gave Tennessee fans a glimpse of what’s to come. Gray gained a combined 366 rushing yards in wins over Vanderbilt and Indiana in the Gator Bowl. With the experienced offensive line paving holes for him, Gray should greatly improve on his 539 rushing yards from a year ago.
Let’s say he’ll average 100 yards a game and give the Vols their 1st 1,000-yard rusher since Jalen Hurd in 2015.
5. Brian Maurer and J.T. Shrout transfer
Jarrett Guarantano will play his final season. Harrison Bailey is already projected as Tennessee’s quarterback of the future. Jimmy Holiday, another true freshman, is going to get some looks as well. Kaidon Salter, a 4-star recruit, is committed for the Class of 2021. There aren’t going to be enough snaps to go around, and with limited playing time in 2020, Maurer and Shrout will both choose to finish their college careers away from Rocky Top.
6. 1 of the Whitehaven trio starts at linebacker
The Vols’ 2020 class got a big boost when 3 linebackers from Whitehaven committed. Bryson Eason, Martavius French and Tamarion McDonald each have the potential to make an impact at UT. I’m saying 1 will start at some point this season. Who will it be? That’s tougher to figure out …
7. Cade Mays starts in the season-opener against South Carolina!
I’m not giving up. Neither is Tennessee.
Tennessee’s offensive line will be one the best in the SEC this season. That’s partly due to the addition of Georgia transfer Cade Mays. The East Tennessee native was a long time commit for the Class of 2018 but signed with Georgia. A few months ago, he transferred to Tennessee. The NCAA denied his first request, but UT is appealing. High-profile lawyer Thomas Mars has weighed in on how ridiculous the decision was.
Tom Mars, former attorney for Cade Mays:
“I’m sadly disappointed to say the least. But at this point, I don’t think there’s anything the NCAA could do about a waiver request that would shock me. I’m starting to think they must use a dartboard to make these decisions.”
— Trey Wallace (@TreyWallace_) August 18, 2020
This is a PR problem for the NCAA and they rarely explain their rationale for denials. But look for Mays to be up front for the first snap of the season.
8. Bryce Thompson goes pro — after the season
Thompson was one of Tennessee’s best defensive players in his first 2 seasons, starting 22 games, making 66 tackles and picking off 6 passes. This year he will make a big jump and NFL scouts will take notice. Thompson will give up his senior season and make himself eligible for the 2021 NFL Draft.
9. Neyland Stadium will see fans this year
Maybe this is wishful thinking. Perhaps the numbers won’t work out. There are all sorts of reasons to think that 2020 will be a season played without fans in the stands. But sports fandom isn’t always logical. I say that a small percentage of Tennessee fans will be allowed to file into Neyland Stadium for games this season. They are planning for 25,000. Like Michael Strahan told the Giants offensive line right before the David Tyree helmet catch in Super Bowl XLII … “If you believe it, it will happen.”
10. Tennessee holds on to a top 5 class of 2021
Let’s talk crootin’. Tennessee has made some noise during COVID-19 when it comes to the Class of 2021. The Vols have bounced around but are ranked 6th by 247sports. Over the next few months, opposing coaching staffs will try to poach this class, but I’m predicting that Jeremy Pruitt and Co. are able to keep it together and finish with a top 5 class nationally.