I don’t foresee the Tennessee Vols reaching the College Football Playoff next season.
But they’re actually on a similar trajectory as a team who reached the playoff last year.
The 2018 Vols are reminding me a lot of of the 2016 Georgia Bulldogs (Kirby Smart’s first season as UGA’s head coach).
In 2016, the year before Georgia reached the College Football Playoff, the Bulldogs finished the season with an 8-5 record (7-5 during regular season).
Georgia beat one ranked team (Auburn in Athens) and beat South Carolina and Kentucky on the road. They also barely beat Nicholls State (26-24 in the second game of the season), were blown out by Ole Miss and lost at home to Vanderbilt and a Butch Jones led Tennessee team.
The Bulldogs, who won ten games in 2015 in Mark Richt’s final season, actually appeared to take a step back in 2016 in Smart’s first season.
Of course, we now know Smart was feeling his way through the nuances of being a head coach for the first time. Georgia took a huge step forward in 2017 and was a couple of plays away from winning the national championship.
Think about that for a moment. UGA went from losing to Vanderbilt and barely beating Nicholls State to competing for the national championship.
It’s impossible to know what will happen in the future. But Tennessee is in a very similar position. They’ve had some tough moments in Jeremy Pruitt’s first season at the helm. Blowout losses to West Virginia, Florida, Georgia and Alabama were tough pills to swallow for Vol fans. A gut wrenching loss to South Carolina and an UGLY 14-3 win against Charlotte didn’t make things much better.
But the Vols have displayed moments of brilliance under Pruitt. A road win against a ranked Auburn team (Tennessee hadn’t beat a SEC West team since 2010) and a dominating 24-7 win against a ranked Kentucky team have been impressive accomplishments by Pruitt and his staff.
It’s very possible that Tennessee could win out this season and go into a bowl game with a 7-5 record. The Vols’ remaining games are against Missouri and Vanderbilt. Those are winnable games for Tennessee.
If Pruitt manages to finish with a 8-5 record (after a possible bowl win) it would one of the more impressive feats I’ve seen in college football in recent years.
An 8-5 record would be the Vols’ second best record in the last ten years.
That means a year after taking over at Tennessee when the program was in its worst shape ever, Pruitt could possibly lead them to their second best record in the last ten years.
There aren’t enough words to explain how impressive that would be. Obviously the Vols still have a lot of work to do to get that point, and just reaching a bowl game would be impressive for Tennessee, but the fact that UT is even in a position to finish with eight wins is something I didn’t think would be possible.
There have been some rocky moments for the Vols this season, but the future is clearly bright.
UT fans should get ready for a fun run in the next few years.
And maybe it’ll include a playoff appearance or two.
After all, they’re on the right path to make it happen.
Featured image via Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports