Tennessee Football: Game-by-game predictions for 2014
Will Auburn repeat as SEC champions? What team will emerge as a division darkhorse no one’s talking about? It’s time for Year 2 of our two-week, daily ‘Crystal Ball’ series on how each of the SEC’s 14 teams will finish this fall.
We hit a couple big-time upsets last fall including Tennessee’s win over South Carolina, but didn’t expect 12 wins out of Mizzou, a BCS title-game run from Auburn or Florida’s faceplant in Will Muschamp’s third season.
2014 CRYSTAL BALL SERIES
- MISSISSIPPI ST.
- TEXAS A&M
- OLE MISS
- SOUTH CAROLINA
THE 2014 BATTLEFIELD
Aug. 31 vs. Utah State (W): Quarterback Chuckie Keaton is one of college football’s most dynamic returning playmakers, but the Vols have a couple on offense too. Keaton tossed 18 touchdown passes in basically five games as a junior before an injury sidelined him for the season. Tennessee’s secondary should be on high alert in a not-so-easy opener.
Sept. 6 vs. Arkansas St. (W): This game would be more difficult if Gus Malzahn still directed the offense for the Red Wolves.
Sept. 13 at Oklahoma (L): Last year’s early-season road trip to Oregon was a disaster. The chances of this one turning out much better are slim.
Sept. 27 at Georgia (L): Tennessee could really throw a wrench into the SEC pecking order with an upset win between the hedges, but this is the one division matchup Todd Gurley truly owned the last time he faced the Vols in 2012 with 130 yards and three touchdowns.
Oct. 4 vs. Florida (L): Besides Georgia-South Carolina, this is the biggest game in the Eastern Division during the first half of the season. A win for the Vols acts as a signature win for an inexperienced team and would damage the Gators’ chances at turning things around following last year’s disaster.
Oct. 11 vs. Chattanooga (W): Luckily for Vanderbilt, it’ll have two bye weeks before a division showdown at Mizzou.
Oct. 18 at Ole Miss (L): One of the more underrated cross-division games in the SEC season, the one has the potential to be a high-scoring affair if Tennessee can generate a couple big plays. We expect the Rebels to still be in the thick of the Western Division race too.
Oct. 25 vs. Alabama (L): Radio personality Colin Cowherd’s made this matchup his preseason SEC upset special. We’re not.
Nov. 1 at South Carolina (L): Revenge game for the Gamecocks. Tennessee kept South Carolina out of the SEC Championship Game last season with a field goal as time expired post-Marquez North’s heroics at Neyland. The Gamecocks needed a Jadeveon Clowney strip-and-sack to win by three last time in Columbia but it won’t be as close this time around as the home team extends its Williams-Brice winning streak to 24 games.
Nov. 15 vs. Kentucky (W): The most favorable matchup in a month comes at the Wildcats’ expense. Kentucky solidifies a brutal third consecutive 0-8 SEC season with a loss here.
Nov. 22 vs. Mizzou (L): The Tigers win with spirited quarterback play from Maty Mauk against a worn down Tennessee defense that’s already taken it on the chin six times against ranked teams coming in. Mizzou won its first trip to Knoxville as an SEC member in 2012 by a score of 51-48 in overtime.
Nov. 28 at Vanderbilt (L): Puzzling to say the least, a program with superior talent has struggled the last few years against its Music City neighbor. Vandy will be playing for a bowl berth at 5-6, more than enough incentive to send the Vols to their fifth loss in six games to end a disappointing season.
2014 PROJECTED FINISH: 4-8, 1-7
THE LOWDOWN: Eight losses in a single season would set a dubious program record, but it could happen for Butch Jones and Co. if the offense continues to backtrack. Tennessee’s going to go as far as its quarterback allows and unfortunately, it looks like the Vols could have season-long problems under center without a confident leader. No player has separated himself in a three passer race and once a starter’s named, he’ll have to earn the right to keep his job according to Jones. Tennessee will be explosive at times, but inexperience in crucial moments against quality competition will lead to the Vols’ second-half collapse.