Prognosticators apparently don’t know what to think about Tennessee Football this season. Predictions are as wild as Joe Milton III’s arm is strong.
Take Phil Steele for instance. The longtime sportswriter’s strongest claim to fame is his annual college football preview magazine that is jam packed with stats, depth charts and analysis. However, he apparently needs some more information.
Steele was recently interviewed on WNML, the flagship station of the Vol Network, and said Tennessee Football would challenge Georgia for the SEC East this season. Then, he placed the Vols at No. 19 in his preseason poll.
Ummm…Being 19th in the nation would mean a three or four-loss season for the Vols. That would seemingly indicate that Tennessee isn’t on Georgia’s level. The Bulldogs will almost assuredly be No. 1 in the upcoming polls that matter, such as the AP and Coaches Polls.
Maybe Steele was simply playing to the home crowd in Knoxville to sell some more magazines. Or, and this is quite possible, he’s a bit unsure about the Vols after their surprising success in 2022. If so, he wouldn’t be alone.
Then there’s this:
Perhaps an oversight? I find it very difficult to believe that Tennessee Football won’t be a favorite in nine games this season. Alabama and Georgia will likely be favored against the Vols. Other than that, when will Tennessee not be favored? A road trip to Florida could make the Vols an underdog, but that seems very unlikely.
Analysts also seem a bit unsure of Tennessee coach Josh Heupel. Was he just a one-year wonder, or is he the next coming of Steve Spurrier? Well, that depends on who you ask.
On3 left Tennessee off their list of schools that could be first-time College Football Playoff participants while Pro Football Focus ranks Tennessee’s quarterback group as one of the Top 10 in the country. I find it very difficult to believe that the Vols won’t make a push for the College Football Playoff if Milton or Nico Iamaleava plays like a Top 10 quarterback.
Moreover, Tennessee made a strong push for the CFP last season with many more questions than last season. With good quarterback play, the Vols should make another strong push this season or even make the CFP.
Instead of Tennessee, On3 listed Southern California, Texas and Penn State as first-time playoff possibilities. Utah and Kansas State received honorable mention. The Vols received no mention at all.
To be clear, none of this is an indictment of any of the opinions expressed above. They are cited just to show how varied the opinions on the Vols are for the upcoming 2023 season. I could show more examples, but I think you get the point.
There’s a reason that the thoughts on the Vols are so conflicting. Analysts don’t want to be as wrong as they were last year about Tennessee, which received about as much positive preseason prognostications as Austin Peay.
Frankly, the national media doesn’t know what to think about Heupel, Milton or Tennessee in general. That is surprising. Other than the dud the Vols laid at South Carolina, Tennessee and its explosive offense were remarkably consistent. As for the Columbia Collapse, that was more of an off-field issue that led up to the game.
Here are a couple of reasons why think the Vols won’t be as good as I think they’ll be, which is 10-2 and perhaps better:
1. Joe Milton isn’t ready and never will be.
2. Tennessee’s receivers don’t fill the part of their predecessors.
3. The Vols don’t improve defensively.
Let’s take a look at those possibilities with some retorts:
1. There was a time when Hendon Hooker wasn’t ready and Heupel made sure that he was properly prepared for last season.
2. Receivers are always going to be open in Heupel’s system unless they’re just not athletic, which shouldn’t be the case this season. Bru McCoy, Ramel Keyton and Squirrel White return while transfer Don’te Thornton is one of the biggest pick ups in the transfer portal.
3. How can the Vols not improve defensively? Tennessee should be deeper in its front seven and more experience and talented in the defensive backfield.
Some might think I’m being too optimistic about Tennessee’s offseason changes and chances for the fall. Some might think I’m on the other end of the spectrum and Tennessee will be better than 10-2. Some of those are in the media, and about half of those will be absolutely, dead wrong.
Forgive me if I seem too easily sold, but I see no reason why the Vols won’t continue to trend in a positive direction. Certainly, injuries or mishaps could create an 8-4 scenario, but those are unknowns and can’t be part of a season-long prognostication.
As for predictions on the upcoming season, there are some media members who apparently don’t feel like they know enough about Heupel just yet, that there’s just too much hype around the Vols. Take that stance if you wish, but I’d be willing to bet otherwise.
Heupel’s program isn’t perfect. It could be better in high school recruiting, but those problems – if there are any – won’t crop up until 2024, according to this member of the media at least.