It’s been a rough decade for Tennessee’s football program.
The Vols have had 7 losing seasons since 2007 and have fallen into relative obscurity. However, I won’t pain you with the gory details. Instead, I’ll offer some hope. Tennessee will get better and it should happen soon.
It’s entirely possible that the Vols could win 8 games in 2019, which would match their top regular season win total since 2008. Seven wins should be an absolute minimum for five significant reasons.
Here is why the Vols could show significant improvement from their 5-7 campaign in 2018:
1. The schedule
The 2018 schedule would have been daunting for most any team in the nation. The Vols faced West Virginia, Alabama, Auburn and Georgia. All had realistic Playoff aspirations. UT also had to face South Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, which have all improved drastically over recent years. The 2019 schedule is still challenging but nothing like last year.
The Vols will trade Auburn for Mississippi State as their annual SEC West foe. Even though UT beat Auburn, they’d gladly trade the Bulldogs for the Tigers. The Vols’ most challenging early nonconference opponent will be BYU, which was 7-6 last season. They also face Georgia State and Chattanooga to start the season. Those should be surefire wins. UT hosts UAB on Nov. 2. The Vols had better not overlook that game. UAB is a program on the rise after going 11-3 and winning Conference USA.
2. Stability at quarterback
Most, including head coach Jeremy Pruitt, weren’t even sure who UT’s starting quarterback would be last season. That’s why Pruitt took graduate transfer Keller Chryst. However, Jarrett Guarantano won the job and kept it last season as long as he was healthy. He’ll enter the season as the starter in 2019. Pruitt now knows what Guarantano can and can’t do. That should help UT’s offensive consistency.
3. Stability on the coaching staff
Give Pruitt credit for getting Georgia OC Jim Chaney to return to UT, where he was the OC from 2009-2012. Pruitt obviously will be comfortable turning the offense over to Chaney without feeling the need to micromanage. That wasn’t the case with Tyson Helton, who left UT to become Western Kentucky’s head coach.
4. Pruitt won’t be a first-year head coach anymore
There was just no getting around the fact that Pruitt was going to make mistakes since he had never been a head coach before. There’s surely a long list of things he could have handled differently. Experience can only make him better.
5. UT’s roster will be better suited to Pruitt’s style
Certainly, the entire talent level of the roster should be improved as Pruitt brings in more talent. The 2019 recruiting class isn’t done, but it already ranks No. 16 in the country and includes 1 5-star and 8 4-stars. His first class ranked No. 21 but didn’t include a 5-star.
However, just having the kind of players that Pruitt wants should help him. UT roster was made up of far too many passive players. Pruitt wants to be more physical. That should be the case in 2019.