Tennessee football enters 2022 after a 7-6 campaign under Josh Heupel. There is a lot of cautious optimism. It’s the talent front that makes it cautious. UT has to replace some significant production from a barely.500 team, while also returning a lot of elite players.
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The schedule is what has really boosted optimism. This combination has had a positive impact on my outlook. Steve Lassan of Athlon SportsProjections for the Vols to finish second this year in the SEC East, behind only the Georgia Bulldogs who are the current national champions.
Lassan sees the Vols ahead of the Kentucky Wildcats and then he has the South Carolina Gamecocks in fourth. To nobody’s surprise, he has the Alabama Crimson Tide winning the West. Here’s what he wrote about Tennessee football.
Hooker and receiver Cedric Tillman top the list of reasons for optimism in Knoxville, with four starters back along an offensive line hoping to improve after allowing 44 sacks last year. Although scoring points shouldn’t be a problem for Tennessee, the defense has to make major progress to push for nine wins. This unit allowed more rushing yards than 200 and 33.6 points per match in SEC play. Tim Banks’ solid foundation is provided by linemen Tyler Baron and Byron Young, as well as linebacker Jeremy Banks.
Although he’s focusing on the talent perspective of the Vols, this isn’t why he has them so high in the East. It’s somewhat by default, a combination of luck in scheduling and the fact that the division may be a bit down this year.
The East is down when Kentucky is legitimately in contention for second place. If the Vols aren’t projected by an outlet to finish second, Kentucky will be. However, UT is Kentucky’s historical champion. They beat them last year on the road, and they have them here this year.
There is reason to believe the South Carolina Gamecocks will take a step forward in Shane Beamer’s second year, but they lost 45-20 to the Vols last year and have lost three straight to them in general. Even with this year’s game at South Carolina, you have to make UT the favorite.
The Florida Gators are the real star here, which Lassan has chosen fourth. Although they do own Tennessee football, they will have to travel to Rocky Top to meet a new coach in Billy Napier. This comes on the heels a 6-7 season. The Vols have the advantage on every field.
There are no expectations for the Vanderbilt Commodores. And after what they did last year to the Missouri Tigers, nobody would pick Mizzou in Knoxville over Heupel in Missouri. The Vols are now ahead of everyone except Georgia.
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You can also bring up the fact they still draw Alabama from their other side. Their other SEC West draw this season is a trip at the LSU Tigers. This program is likely to be a rising dynasty, but it is his first year. There will be some learning curves.
This means that Tennessee football will have a record of 5-3 and a record of 6-2, assuming Alabama or Georgia loses. Athlon is just ahead in the East.