2020 Team Preview: Can Tennessee Finish In The Top Two Of Its Division?
Fans of the Tennessee Volunteers have waited a long time for a winner. The last time Tennessee won the SEC East Division championship was 2007. The last time Tennessee won the SEC championship was 1998. The Vols have not been able to find the right coach since national championship leader Phillip Fulmer stepped down. They have struggled to find a quality quarterback and a smooth passing game. Tennessee’s defenses have been decent, but their offenses have been well below average. Can this program rebound and make the big leap in 2020? It will be a significant challenge with Georgia and Florida expected to be the top two teams in the SEC East once again.
The Volunteers aren’t losing many players, but the few players they will be without in 2020 collected a lot of snaps and playing time in 2019, and were veteran leaders in the locker room. Receivers Marquez Callaway and Jauan Jennings were counted on to make significant plays in the passing game. On defense, linebacker Daniel Bituli and defensive end Darrell Taylor were also high-volume players who lent stability to the Vols’ lineup.
The Volunteers Will Succeed If…
Jarrett Guarantano can put the pieces together. Guarantano hasn’t had an especially good career in Knoxville. He has been very inconsistent. Yet, in his defense, he has had four different offensive coordinators at Tennessee. No quarterback should have to deal with that many coaching changes, but again, the Vols haven’t hired good coaches, and those head coaches have not hired good offensive coordinators. This year, Guarantano is finally working with the same offensive coordinator in consecutive seasons, Jim Chaney. That small measure of continuity might finally enable Guarantano to develop as a quarterback. If he can take that step, Tennessee might take the step with him, and the Vols can fight past Florida for second place in the SEC East.
The Volunteers Will Fail If…
Emmit Gooden can’t bolster the Vols’ defensive line. Gooden was injured for all of 2019 with a torn ACL, so that was a big piece Tennessee’s defensive front was missing. It’s not enough for Gooden to merely return to the lineup; he has to produce at a very high level. If this missing piece turns out to be an extremely valuable one, and he can add himself to the rest of a young and promising defense, the Vols’ might become especially nasty on that side of the ball. Tennessee could then realistically meet and maybe surpass expectations in 2020.
The Vols have a lot of potential, but they face a considerably high burden of proof on the offensive side of the ball. Tennessee’s offenses have been regularly inconsistent and disappointing over the past 12 years, not just two or three seasons. The Vols have not been able to develop a reliable passing game, and they have not been able to recruit elite quarterbacks. Jarrett Guarantano might be able to improve this season, but is that something which should be trusted? It’s hard to have a lot of faith in him. Therefore, Tennessee should still remain behind Georgia and Florida in its division.
Prediction: 3rd in SEC East