Tennessee football: Predictions for rest of the season
College football is the greatest sport in the land. It also has the shortest season. We look forward to it all year round and as soon as it is here, it’s gone.
Two thirds of the Tennessee Volunteers’ regular season is already complete. Only 4 games to go. If they win 2 more, they’ll be bowling this winter, which gives us one more opportunity to see UT before the long lull of the off season.
So let’s go full Carnac the Magnificent (look it up on the interwebs, young people) and make some predictions for the rest of the season.
The Vols will go bowling
Making it to a bowl game will be quite the accomplishment for a team that few expected much of back in August.
I’m not going to go game by game (we will do those in the Fearless Prediction articles the week of each contest), but playing in the postseason could be a big boost in terms of extra practices and as a recruiting tool for Josh Heupel.
Tennessee will play in the Liberty Bowl
Same topic, yet taking it a step further.
Despite limping to the finish with a 3-7 record in 2020, Tennessee was picked to play West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl last season. But after head coach Jeremy Pruitt and multiple players and staff members tested positive for COVID-19, the Vols stayed home.
Tennessee sportsbooks are live in the Volunteer state since November 1, 2020. Tennessee was the first SEC state to legalize sports betting.
In 2011 the Vols were likely going to be selected to play in the Liberty Bowl before a historic 10-7 loss at Kentucky ended their season short of 6 wins.
Tennessee last played in the Liberty Bowl in 1986, when UT beat Minnesota 21-14. Mathematics tells us it has been 35 years since they’ve played in the postseason in Memphis.
That streak ends this year.
It would be a nice reward for this team, and a much easier drive for Vols fans on the western side of the state.
Tennessee’s Class of 2022 in Top 20
Currently, Heupel’s first full recruiting class at Tennessee is ranked 31st in the nation, according to 247 Sports. One spot below Oklahoma State and one spot ahead of Rutgers.
There are 14 commits, with no 5-stars and two 4-stars.
But the Vols have overachieved this year, and recruits will take notice with their commitments in the next few weeks. The program will gain ground and land inside the top 20.
In Heupel’s system, that might be enough to move up a couple of rungs on the SEC ladder.
Hendon Hooker goes for 3,200
Tennessee grad transfer quarterback Hendon Hooker wasn’t the starter at the beginning of the 2021 season, but he quickly became the Vols’ top option at the position.
Hooker enters the final 4 games with 1,578 passing yards and 417 yards rushing. Those numbers are only going to increase. The bye week gave him some extra time to get healthier.
The last 2 games for Tennessee are against South Alabama and Vanderbilt. Hooker should put up huge stats in those contests, and will hold his own against Kentucky. Georgia will be a tougher road.
Still, Hooker will crack 3,200 total yards of offense for the season.
Jeremy Banks named second team all-SEC
The linebacker position is loaded with talent in the Southeastern Conference. Damone Clark from LSU. Bumper Pool, Hayden Henry and Grant Morgan from Arkansas. South Carolina’s Jaylan Foster. Alabama’s Henry To’o To’o and Will Anderson Jr.
But Tennessee’s Jeremy Banks needs to be in the conversation with those guys. The redshirt junior linebacker is having a tremendous season. He leads the Vols with 48 tackles, 9 tackles for loss and 4 1/2 sacks. Those numbers put Banks among the SEC’s elite defensive players.
When the postseason awards are handed out, Banks will hear his name called. Likely not in the top 3, but Banks is one of the top 6 in the league at his position.