The OWR Staff Predicts Tennessee’s 2018 Season

Photo Credit: Brad Matthews / Orange & White Report

The 2018 football season is finally here and the rubber is about to meet the road for the Vols. Everything gets underway in Charlotte, NC on Saturday and our staff took to predicting Tennessee’s entire season.

Check it out…

Celina Summers (@CelinaSummers): 7–5

Yeah, I know. 6–6 is what everyone in sports is calling the upper limit of what the Vols can do this year. Problem is, I rarely agree with anyone. When you look at the schedule, there are too many variables at play…questions we don’t yet have answers to, players who we don’t know about, schemes we’re not familiar with. But here’s what I do know. I know UT has a heap of talent. I know UT has an outstanding coaching staff. I know UT is entering the season without having lost a single player to catastrophic injury during fall camp. Not. One.

Looking at the schedule, I think there are a few games that are expected wins (ETSU, UTEP, Charlotte) and a couple of games that are likely wins (Vanderbilt, UK). What I’m most interested in are the games that could go either way — West Virginia, Florida, and Mizzou. I think the boys go 2–1 of those three games, giving them that 7–5 record and I don’t think 8–4 is out of the question. Somebody out of those four likely losses (Alabama, Georgia, Auburn, and South Carolina) is going to be dumb enough to overlook this angry, hungry team, and that’s when we’ll learn what kind of head coach Jeremy Pruitt really is. After years of coulda/shoulda/woulda, I’ve got a can/will feeling UT will surprise a few folks this year. Hopefully, it’s not just me. My 7–5 prediction feels pretty comfortable. Let’s roll.

John Monroe (@MinisterofD): 7-5

As the summer starts to wind down and we begin to usher in the fall weather, all eyes in East Tennessee turn towards Knoxville and the Volunteers. Under first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt, the Vols come into the 2018 season with quite a few unanswered questions. Coming off of the worst season in school history, and one of the most eventful offseasons ever as well, the Big Orange look to replace several key players on both sides of the ball. Tennessee seems to have several young players ready to step into those roles, along with a very solid 2019 recruiting class waiting to sign, however a fast start could be the key to their success this season and going forward.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Vols have moved several guys around in their transition to a 3-4 defense. Jonathon Kongbo looks to hopefully meet or exceed the lofty expectations he had when he got to Knoxville by switching to outside linebacker. Young Vol cornerback Alontae Taylor has been one of the more pleasant surprises in fall camp, and is in position for an almost immediate starting job, or at the very least significant playing time. Maybe it’s the hype he’s received, but Taylor is the defensive player I’m most personally excited to see.

On the offensive side of the ball, the big question since the spring has been, “Who will be the Vols’ starting quarterback in the season opener?”. By many insider accounts, Jarrett Guarantano will most likely be given the reins of the offense, however, Coach Jeremy Pruitt hasn’t ruled out that Stanford transfer Keller Chryst could also see some playing time.

Perhaps the biggest question of all is Jeremy Pruitt, himself. Pruitt has been one of the hottest coordinators in the country for the past several years, and now he’s finally gotten his break as a head coach. Everyone knows Pruitt is an incredible defensive mind, but how will he fair at the helm of a program?

This weekend the Vols will have several questions answered, but it’s going to take the whole season to really get the bigger picture. The talent is there for Tennessee. Recruiting services can miss occasionally on players, but the Vols have had some very solid recruiting classes in the past several years. It’s hard to imagine the services missing on a team’s 25 recruited players for 3-4 years in a row. Also, if you’ve been paying attention to the NFL the past couple years, and this preseason, you’ll see that many of the analysts have been surprised by former Tennessee players that they either hadn’t known about or previously overlooked. This proves that many players have been under-coached and underutilized the past few years, and I look for that to change.

With lower national expectations coming into the season, I expect Tennessee to sneak up on quite a few teams, and it may start on opening weekend against West Virginia. A hot start would greatly benefit the Vols, especially as they face a brutal October stretch yet again. If Tennessee can make it through October with minimal injuries and maybe even an upset win, look for them to be flying high into a much lighter November schedule. I’m expecting these Vols to exceed some of those lower expectations that much of the country has placed on them. They may not win a national title, but I believe that with the improvement in coaching, conditioning, and overall atmosphere of the locker room, Tennessee will do just fine in Jeremy Pruitt’s first season. My prediction is 7-5 with a decent bowl game, maybe Belk, and some much-needed momentum heading into the offseason that the Vols can build on for next season.

Jordan Burns (@VolSportsTalkJB): 7-5

Gone are the days of cliches and excuses. Gone are the days of finesse and purposeless flash. Gone are the days of shying away from high standards. A new era has begun in Knoxville, and it’s safe to say that it finally feels like Tennessee football again.

Jeremy Pruitt, who has more than proven himself as a defensive mastermind at Georgia, Florida State and Alabama, has taken over as the new head coach at Tennessee. And Pruitt has brought an attitude and standard that the Vols will need in order to reach the level of success that UT is perennially known for. He has come in, completely cleaned house and made it very clear that things are going to be different on Rocky Top under his direction.

Obviously, that change will take time to fully be installed, but the direction will be very visible this season. Many of the national media don’t expect Tennessee to be very successful in 2018, largely due to the train wreck that was 2017. However, it seems that a lot of the media needs to do a little more homework.

Tennessee, while unproven, brings back lots of talent. Butch Jones and his staff failed miserably at developing talent while on Rocky Top, thus the reason for back-to-back Top 10 recruiting classes, but no championships to show for them. But with a proven coaching staff in place, I would be shocked if these 4 & 5 stars didn’t show immediate improvement from the previous regime.

I fully expect Tennessee to see the post-season in 2018. No, I don’t see a 9–3 or 10–2 record in year one of this new era, but a 7–5 record seems very doable. The Vols start off with a battle with West Virginia, and while a I do think Tennessee has a great chance to win that game, I think the Vols will drop that one.

However, assuming a loss to West Virginia and wins over ETSU and UTEP, a win over Florida is crucial if Tennessee is to see the post-season. The gauntlet in October almost definitely spells a 0–4 stretch. That means that the Vols, if they don’t find a way to win one of their first two major challenges, they will walk into November with a lovely 2–6 record, having to win out to make a bowl game. And that Missouri game doesn’t look too appealing.

 I believe Tennessee does find a way to drain the Gators in Neyland and take a 3–1 record into October. They take the 0–4 beating in October, and sweep November, finishing up with a 7–5 record.

Matthew Dossett (@MatthewD9999): 7-5

Football has finally arrived and there are looming questions surrounding the Tennessee Volunteers going into the season. Will they get productive play from the quarterback spot? Will the defense improve and benefit from the switch to a 3-4 scheme? Will the former four and five-star athletes play up to their former billing?

I think ultimately the Vols will have some ups and some downs, some highs and some lows. I think at some point (most likely week one) Jarrett Guarantano will seize the quarterback job. The Vols’ offensive line should be shored up with more bodies, including Bama transfer Brandon Kennedy. Guarantano will improve and play smart, effective football. Defensive players like Kyle Phillips and Shy Tuttle will finally thrive and break through in the trenches. Vol fans need to be crossing their fingers that the injury bug does not bite, especially on the defensive line. If that can be avoided, a pretty decent season could be on the horizon.

The Vols go 7-5.

Charlie Burris (@Charlie_Burris): 6-6

Despite the fact that at different times during the last couple of weeks I’ve felt like Tennessee could maybe win nine games this season, I have to be realistic here. The Vols will be fighting a true uphill battle in 2018. And it’s not that the roster isn’t talented or that the coaches don’t know what they’re doing, quite to the contrary.

I think Jeremy Pruitt’s squad has what it takes to compete with the best teams in the SEC. My trepidation comes from the fact that Tennessee’s schedule is murderous. And that’s really kind of an understatement. I mean, Florida, at Georgia, at Auburn, Alabama, and at South Carolina all in a row with only a bye week in between Georgia and Auburn to provide rest. That’s just cruel and unusual punishment.

But such is the life of a Tennessee football team.

It’s a tired trope to say at this point but I really do think UT will surprise some teams this year. Does that mean that they’ll beat those teams that they surprise? Maybe not, but perhaps they could do things like being within seven points of Alabama in the 4th quarter, or having a halftime lead on Auburn. Like I said, they have the talent to hang with the big boys. I’m just not sure they have the talent to beat the big boys.

Now, I do believe this team has the talent to beat the likes of Florida, South Carolina, and West Virginia. It won’t be easy but when I analyze those games, I see very close matchups (despite what some people might tell you about WVU, their defense is abysmal). And if Tennessee could grab a win in one of those three games, then beat all of the lower-tier squads in the East (Kentucky, Vandy, and I’m not totally sure but I think Mizzou), then this could be a program headed for a bowl game and with a bright future ahead.

I envision a 6-6 season for Tennessee that consists of a win over one of West Virginia or Florida, wins over Kentucky and Vandy, victories in the three snoozers ETSU, UTEP, and Charlotte, and you have yourself a bowl bid. I believe it’s very possible that UT could beat South Carolina or Missouri but for the purposes of this prediction, I’ll say they drop those two games.

And even though a 6-6 year is not great by Tennessee standards, for a program that is coming off of arguably the most tumultuous offseason in its history, 6-6 would be a more than passable result.