The 2020 college football season is going to be unlike any season we’ve ever seen before and it’s going to affect how Tennessee Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt is judged.
Pruitt is entering his third year as the Vols’ head coach and the program is expected to take a major leap forward on the field this season.
But due to SEC scheduling changes (in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic), the way Pruitt will be judged has changed a bit.
Tennessee, like every other team in the SEC, will play only 10 games in 2020. Every matchup will be a conference game (UT will play their already eight scheduled SEC opponents plus two yet-to-be-named opponents).
Prior to the scheduling change, we had a good idea of the expectations for Pruitt in 2020. Basically, given the tough schedule the Vols were playing, the expectation was to go at least 8-5 in 2020 (matching last year’s record) with the hope that Tennessee could steal a game against Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida, or Georgia.
Now that Tennessee is playing 10 SEC games, what’s the expectation? What would be considered “success”?
For now, we don’t know who the Vols’ two extra conference games will be against. But it appears that at least one of the games will be against either Auburn, Texas A&M or LSU. In other words, there’s gonna be at least one really tough matchup added to Tennessee’s schedule.
UT already plays Alabama and Arkansas, which means the other game would be against either Mississippi State or Ole Miss. The Vols would be heavy favorites against either of those two opponents.
So here’s what the schedule would look like (with dates still to be determined).
- vs Florida
- vs Missouri
- @ South Carolina
- vs Alabama
- @ Arkansas
- vs Kentucky
- @ Georgia
- @ Vanderbilt
- Texas A&M/Auburn/LSU (location TBD)
- Ole Miss/Mississippi State (location TBD)
At first glance, I see six games I feel comfortable saying Tennessee should win. Missouri, South Carolina, Arkansas, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Ole Miss/Mississippi State should be wins for the Vols.
The other four games I don’t feel so good about.
Tennessee won’t be favored against any of those remaining teams.
But that doesn’t mean those games aren’t winnable. The Vols could certainly steal a game against Florida or Texas A&M/Auburn/LSU.
I think the absolute minimum acceptable record for Pruitt in 2020 is 6-4, with the hope that UT squeaks out an upset win and finishes 7-3. If that happens, and bowl games also happen (which is up in the air), then an 8-3 final record would look pretty nice for the Volunteers in a weird season where no one knows what to expect. 7-4 wouldn’t look too bad either.
It’s going to be an odd season no matter what. And short of a complete disaster (losing multiple games the Vols shouldn’t lose) I don’t think we can judge Pruitt too much on what happens in 2020.
As long as Tennessee doesn’t appear to regress in 2020, then I think the best approach is to just hope the Vols get stronger as a team. Fans should enjoy whatever football they get this fall and gear up for the 2021 season.
Featured image via Randy Sartin/USA Today