In 2016, the Tennessee Vols beat Florida and Georgia in the same season for the first time since 2004.
At the time, it appeared that UT was on the brink of turning the corner and becoming an annual threat to win the SEC East.
But the good times didn’t last long. The 2016 Vols, led by former head coach Butch Jones, imploded down the stretch, unexpectedly losing to South Carolina and Vanderbilt.
Things got worse in 2017 (when the Vols went 4-8) and Jones was eventually fired and replaced by Jeremy Pruitt.
Tennessee has improved under Pruitt, but they’re still 0-6 in their last six games against Florida and Georgia. And the games haven’t been particularly close, aside from the Vols’ heartbreaking loss to the Gators in 2017 (under Jones).
The tides are turning
Things are looking up for the Vols as the program enters the third year of the Pruitt era.
Tennessee finished the 2019 season on a six-game winning streak, including a wild comeback win against Indiana in the Gator Bowl.
But while things are trending the right way for UT, does it mean they’re ready to compete with Florida and Georgia again?
I have my doubts. There’s still a significant talent gap.
However, ESPN analyst Jordan Rodgers, a former Vanderbilt quarterback, believes the Volunteers are capable of pulling an upset (or two) in 2020.
“I think this is the year where they are right there with Georgia and Florida,” said Rodgers during a recent interview with WJOX in Birmingham.
“They are going to have an opportunity, to, call it an upset if you want, win over Florida and Georgia. They are gonna be in those football games,” added the former Commodores quarterback.
Rodgers feels like Tennessee’s success will come down to the play of redshirt senior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, saying “It’s going to come down to the trust that Pruitt has in his quarterback”.
“If he (Guarantano) does kind of play within that blueprint, the talent that Pruitt has added to this roster, and the experience they have, they’re gonna be there. So they could be a team that could get Georgia to slip up, get Florida to slip up.”
Tennessee is scheduled to play Florida in Knoxville on September 26 and Georgia in Athens on November 14.
Featured image via Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports/Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports