The Tennessee Volunteers finished the 2019 season in much better form than they started. They head into the 2020 season on a 6-game winning streak, the 2nd longest in the nation.

They will bring back up to 8 starters on both offense and defense, pretty good numbers for what is still a young team. They will sorely miss wide receivers Marquez Callaway and Jauan Jennings on offense. They will also need to replace linebacker Daniel Bituli and outside linebacker/defensive end Darrell Taylor, who each took a ton of snaps for the Vols the past couple of years.

If the Vols are to make some noise this fall there are a few guys that will be big reasons why. Let’s take a look at Tennessee’s 5 most important returning players in 2020.

QB Jarrett Guarantano

It feels like he’s been on the UT campus for a decade, doesn’t it?

Guarantano has been through 2 head coaches and 4 offensive coordinators in his first 4 seasons. That’s a lot of turnover for a quarterback that has been shaky. But in 2020 he will have the same head coach and same offensive coordinator in back-to-back seasons for the first time, which should be a boost for his last run in Knoxville.

It felt like Guarantano took a step forward in the final half of the 2020 season (Alabama game “freelancing” not withstanding). Can OC Jim Chaney get even more out of him? The rest of the quarterbacks on the Tennessee roster are unproven.  Guarantano must play better in 2020 for the Vols to get to another level in the SEC.

K Brent Cimaglia

The Vols placekicker has been very reliable the past 2.5 seasons, converting on 77.4 percent of his kicks. Cimaglia has made 3 field goals over 50 yards.  He’s made all 69 extra points as well. Cimaglia will enter his senior season with 192 points; so, baring injury, he should easily crack the top-10 all-time at Tennessee.

The Vols offense has sputtered a lot, and Cimaglia has been there to bail them out time and time again. The “college kickers” joke that fills social media after a big miss rarely applied for the Vols. They are lucky to have Cimaglia and need him to continue kicking at this high level.

LB Henry To’o To’o

What do you do to cement yourself as a leader on a football team? Play the way Henry To’o To’o did in 2019.

As a true freshman he collected 72 tackles, 2nd best on the team, while starting 12 of 13 Vols games. He earned multiple freshman All-American team honors, and he lived up to his billing coming out of high school as one of the best linebackers in the nation for the Class of 2019. To’o To’o proved his toughness in the win over Kentucky, when a dislocated kneecap only kept him off the field for a few plays.

To’o To’o will now be asked to fill the huge cleats of linebacker Daniel Bituli, who led the Vols in tackles the past 3 seasons.

WR Ramel Keyton

Tennessee’s wide receiving corps needs a boost with the Callaway, Jennings departures. Throw in Tyler Byrd and tight end Dominic Wood-Anderson and that’s 115 catches leaving the Vols from the 2019 team.

Sophomore to be Ramel Keyton grabbed only 4 passes in 2019, but with those limited opportunities, he showed that he has big play ability, averaging 26 yards a catch. Someone is going to have to step up in that receiving unit, which will be filled with talent, but short on experience. Keyton saw the field in 12-of-13 games last year, which gives him a leg up on most of his competition for playing time.

DL Emmit Gooden

You’ve got to be good up front to win in the SEC, and the Vols lost a big part of their defensive line when Emmit Gooden tore an ACL last August. He missed the entire 2019 season due to that injury.

Gooden, a former JUCO standout, played in all 12 games for the Vols at a junior in 2018, making 33 tackles. He was also 3rd on the Vols in the all-important tackles for loss category with 7. The potential was there for a big senior season, but that knee injury kept us from seeing what he could do in 2019.

The good news is that we should get another chance in what will be his redshirt senior season. We don’t know how he has recovered, and they’ll be very careful with him during the Spring. The Vols desperately need him to be healthy in 2020.