It’s become commonplace for Tennessee football to finish behind the Georgia Bulldogs and the Florida Gators in the SEC East standings. However, early predictions from outlets suggest a much bleaker outlook in 2021 and a much lower finish.
The Vols are projected to finish fifth in the East in Athlon Sports’ preseason SEC predictions. Georgia came in at No. 1, and Florida came in at No. 2. At No. 3 were the Missouri Tigers, and the Kentucky Wildcats were No. 4. Just behind UT were the South Carolina Gamecocks at No. 6 and the Vanderbilt Commodores at No. 7.
Athlon projected the Alabama Crimson Tide to win the SEC West and beat the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Championship game. Here was the outlet wrote about Tennessee football after picking the program to finish near the bottom of its own division.
New coach Josh Heupel hopes 2021 is the first step to getting Tennessee back on track. The Volunteers have depth concerns at a few positions but also enough talent to get to a bowl.
Of course, last year, at 3-7, the Vols did finish fifth in the East. They also lost to Kentucky at home in a blowout along with losing to Florida and Georgia, although they did beat Mizzou. However, Eli Drinkwitz’s team got significantly better over time and probably would’ve beaten Rocky Top if the two faced off later in the year.
This year, the Vols have to face Mizzou on the road as well. To be fair, they do have Vandy and South Carolina at home along with four easy non-conference games, as the Pittsburgh Panthers are their only non-conference Power Five opponent.
That all is truly enough for Josh Heupel to reach bowl eligibility on the field. Also, even with last year’s blowout loss to Kentucky and having to face them on the road this year, it’s hard to ever envision Kentucky beating UT two years in a row. Oh, and they also have the Ole Miss Rebels at home, who Athlon picked to finish fourth in the West.
Taking this into account, the range for Tennessee football is anywhere from five to nine wins, although six or seven seems most likely. Finishing above fifth in the East would be somewhat overachieving, though, and it would also be an improvement over last year, so beating these expectations can be considered a solid goal.