ESPN’s Bill Connelly released his annual SP+ college football rankings on Thursday.
The SP+ are based on recent production, recent recruiting and recent history.
There are plenty of “way too early” top 25 rankings out there, but Connelly’s rankings are in depth and typically the most accurate ranking system we have this time of year.
It’s obviously still a bit early to be ranking teams for 2020 (spring practice hasn’t even started yet for programs), but this at least gives us a good idea of what to expect this upcoming season.
Connelly has the Vols at No. 19 in his rankings, which is certainly encouraging.
Tennessee has plenty of returning pieces in 2020, including their entire offensive line, their top running backs, and key players in the secondary, as well as freshman sensation Henry To’o To’o, who is on track to become an elite SEC linebacker.
The Vols have also recruited extremely well in recent years, finishing with a top 10 class during the 2020 recruiting cycle.
And of course there’s the strong finish to last season. Tennessee has the nation’s second longest active winning streak at six games (behind LSU, who hasn’t lost since the 2018 season).
Connelly also predicts that Tennessee will have a top 10 defense in 2020.
Top 10 projected defenses in 2020, per SP+:
1 UGA (6.4)
2 Oregon (11.8)
3 Auburn (14.2)
4 Wisc (14.3)
5 Ohio St (14.5)
6 Fla (14.5)
7 Tenn (14.8)
8 Bama (15.2)
9 Miami (15.2)
10 Wash (15.2)
Dawgs are gonna be TERRIFYING on D this year. Full-on, ’11 Bama-style boa constrictor.
— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) February 13, 2020
So that’s the good news.
The bad news, though, is that while Tennessee is expected to be pretty good next season, they have several teams on their schedule expected to be just as good or better.
Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma are all in the top 10 of Connelly’s rankings.
Kentucky and South Carolina aren’t far behind the Vols in the rankings, at No. 28 and No. 35, respectively.
There’s no doubt Tennessee is going to be a lot better in 2020. Returning talent, a second year in Jim Chaney’s offense, and a more experienced head coach will all help UT become a better team this upcoming season.
But the schedule isn’t easy. It’s possible the Volunteers could be a much better team next season, but not see a significant uptick in wins. That’s just how it goes in the SEC.
Tennessee isn’t elite yet. And that means that knocking off Alabama, Florida and Georgia, and possibly Oklahoma, might not happen. That doesn’t mean progress isn’t being made, it just means the Vols aren’t there yet.
Featured image via Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports