We’re nearly halfway through the college football season, which means we have a good idea of who the Tennessee Vols are this year under new head coach Jeremy Pruitt.
Entering the 2018 season, there was a lot of hope that Tennessee had made huge strides during fall camp. Optimism specifically surrounded the offensive line, a position group that’s been problematic for the Volunteers over the last several years.
Week one’s matchup against West Virginia, however, dealt Tennessee a harsh reality check. Rebuilding the Vols into a national powerhouse wouldn’t be happening overnight.
The loss to the Florida Gators revealed that Tennessee still has many flaws. But it also revealed that UT’s players have no interest in quitting or laying down for anyone.
A week later, the Volunteers played their best game of the year against a potential national title contender in the Georgia Bulldogs.
Moving forward, it’s clear Tennessee is getting better. But it’s also obvious they still have a LOT of work to do.
Not only is Pruitt trying to change the culture on Rocky Top. He’s also trying to figure out the nuances of being a head coach for the first time in his career at any level. So far, I think he’s doing a pretty good job of navigating the pitfalls of being a head coach in an adverse situation.
The Vols are currently 2-3 with seven games left to play this season. Reaching a bowl game is still an important goal for Tennessee. But the landscape of the SEC looks a lot different than it did at the start of the season (Kentucky is actually really, really good).
Will the Vols reach a bowl game?
Here’s how I see the season playing out.
Tennessee @ #8 Auburn — October 13
I feel much differently about this game than I did a week ago. After watching the Vols go on the road and compete against Georgia, and seeing Auburn struggle with Southern Mississippi, I think this is a game that could end up being interesting. At the same time, however, I also recognize that Auburn has the talent to blow out the Vols. I have Tennessee losing, but I think fans will be pleased with the effort from the Volunteers.
Auburn wins (2-4)
#1 Alabama @ Tennessee — October 20
Alabama is operating on a different level than every team in the nation right now. It’s hard to envision them even losing a game this season. They definitely aren’t losing to the Vols this year. I think this series will be competitive again in the near future. But that won’t be happening in 2018. Alabama will win this one easily.
Alabama wins (2-5)
Tennessee @ South Carolina — October 27
If the Vols keep making the kind of progress they made between the Florida and Georgia games, then I think they’ll be a pretty good team by the end of October. And I haven’t been that impressed with South Carolina. The Vols nearly beat the Gamecocks last season after the team started falling apart. I think Pruitt leads Tennessee to their first conference win in nearly two years on October 27.
Tennessee wins (3-5)
Charlotte @ Tennessee — November 3
This is a much needed “easy” game in the middle of the Vols’ SEC schedule. The game against Charlotte will give the Vols an opportunity to take a bit of a breather and get ready for the final three game stretch of the season.
Tennessee wins (4-5)
#13 Kentucky @ Tennessee — November 10
I had the Vols winning this game before the season. As of right now, I think it would be foolish to pick Tennessee against Kentucky. The Wildcats are a really good team and they’ve proved that this year with wins against Florida and Mississippi State. I think the Vols will eventually return to being a team that overpowers Kentucky on a yearly basis. But the Wildcats will make it two straight against the Vols in 2018.
Kentucky wins (4-6)
Missouri @ Tennessee — November 17
This is a game I could see going either way. But I really think the Vols will be clicking pretty well under Pruitt by this point in the season. The offense will have to put some points on the board against the Tigers, but I think Tennessee can get it done.
Tennessee wins (5-6)
Tennessee @ Vanderbilt — November 24
This shouldn’t be a huge rivalry game. But for now, it’s the Vols’ biggest rivalry game. Tennessee needs to win this game to get back on track. Losing to Vanderbilt to finish the 2018 season would be a disastrous ending to the first year of the Pruitt era. I think Pruitt and his staff will have the Vols ready for this one.
Tennessee wins (6-6)
Featured image via Saturday Down South