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2021 Tennessee Volunteers: Is There Anyone Left From Last Year?
The Knoxville News-Sentinel

2021 Tennessee Volunteers: Is There Anyone Left From Last Year?

Twenty five years ago I doubt if you could have found 25 Tennessee fans who would ever have thought they would endure their worst season in 97 years followed by an offseason that was an even bigger nightmare. Allegations of NCAA violations surfaced and the university fired Coach Jeremy Pruitt and his entire staff and parted ways with longtime Volunteers icon Phillip Fulmer as the athletic director. Then a quarter of the team left the program and scattered throughout the country. So who gets to inherit this mess and try to fix the problems? Former UCF coach Josh Heupel has the unenviable task of building a wounded program in SEC country where most fans have the patience of a two-year old brat. Being an avid Oklahoma fan, I am very familiar with Heupel as he was the QB of the 2000 national champion Sooners and he is as tough as they come. He has a great offensive mind and his teams can score points. But, will the fan base give him time and what is left to work with?

Offense: The first thing Tennessee has to do is settle on a quarterback. There are several candidates and Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker has the most experience and might get the first chance. He haa thrown for 2,894 yards and rushed for 1,033 more so he has some stats. There are two running backs who show promise in Jabari Small and Dee Beckwith and they will be expected to step up. The receivers are talented but lack experience with senior Velus Jones the most accomplished with 22 catches for 280 yards. The offensive line was a sore spot last year and was hard hit by transfers. The players that are there and have been added have got to play better.

Defense: Upfront there are 5 returning players back but newcomers, junior college transfer Byron Young and run-stopper Elijah Simmons outdid all of them.The linebacker situation is very thin and is unproven. Someone is going to have to take a giant leap to shore up the holes. The secondary has talent and his led by cornerbacks Alontae Taylor and Warren Burrell plus safeties Trevon Flowers and Jaylen McCullough.

Non-Conference Schedule:

9/4 Bowling Green

9/11 Pittsburgh

9/18 Tennessee Tech

11/20 South Alabama

The schedule is relatively weak but the Vols can’t overlook anybody. They need to win all four of these games to have any chance of a winning season. Pittsburgh appears to be the toughest opponent of the four but they have to be ready for Bowling Green in the opener.

Non-Conference Schedule:

9/25 at Florida

10/2 at Missouri

10/9 South Carolina

10/16 Ole Miss

10/23 at Alabama

11/6 at Kentucky

11/13 Georgia

11/27 Vanderbilt

It is hard to find very many wins with that schedule. There are three games at home against South Carolina, Ole Miss, and Vanderbilt that seem to be Tennessee’s best shot. They aren’t beating Georgia. The road games against Missouri and Kentucky would be upsets if they won but it isn’t impossible. The other two against Florida and Alabama are losses.

Summary: Heupel has a mess on his hands and his goal has to be to just get through this year with a few wins and build a foundation for the future. Tennessee has a long history of being a Top-20 program and there is no reason they can’t get back to where they used to be. But, it is going to take time and two or three good recruiting classes to get it done. Anything over 4 wins this year has got to be considered good.

Predicted Finish: 5th Place in the SEC East

Overall Record: 4-8

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