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Tennessee Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2018

Tennessee Volunteers Jeremy Pruitt

Tennessee Volunteers Jeremy Pruitt

Disastrous is probably the best word to describe the Tennessee Volunteers’ 4-8 campaign in 2017. A historically bad season in which Tennessee would go winless in the SEC for the first time ever. The Volunteers now look erase that memory and reverse their fortunes with a fresh start under first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt.

Jarrett Guarantano

By default, the bar shouldn’t be set extremely high for Pruitt in year one. However, simply improving on the worst season in school history isn’t going to be enough to satisfy a demanding Tennessee fan base. Nor will that be good enough for a man that has five national championship rings to his credit as an assistant coach. That said, the challenge that lies ahead for Pruitt as a first-time head coach is nothing short of daunting.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle facing the 2018 Vols is one that Jeremy Pruitt has no control over — the schedule. A difficult slate of games kicks off in Charlotte against offensive juggernaut West Virginia. The Vols will then get a slight reprieve with games against East Tennessee State and UTEP before entering a brutal five-game stretch to kick off SEC play. A murderers’ row of sorts that features matchups vs. Florida, at Georgia, at Auburn, vs. Alabama and at South Carolina in consecutive fashion.

There are still plenty of question marks for Pruitt and his staff to address as well. The Vols remain largely unsettled at several positions heading into the season. Most notably the quarterback position, where an ongoing battle between incumbent Jarrett Guarantano (above, right) and graduate transfer Keller Chryst could linger well into the season.

The good news is that the Pruitt’s Vols are on track to enter the 2018 season without the laundry list of injuries that plagued them in each of the last two seasons under Butch Jones. The healthy return of several key players such as All-SEC offensive lineman Trey Smith, fellow blocker Chance Hall, wide receiver Jauan Jennings, and linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. should go a long way in bolstering Tennessee’s chances for success in 2018. An influx of graduate transfers and several highly regarded JUCO prospects should help that cause as well.

Improvement seems inevitable for a team that went without a single SEC win last season. At the same time, no one is expecting the Vols to compete for championships in Pruitt’s first year on Rocky Top. So, what exactly are the expectations for a Tennessee team with so many unknowns heading into the season? Athlon asked a few editors and college football contributors to share their realistic win/loss projection for Tennessee in 2018.

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Tennessee Football Game-by-Game Predictions 2018

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Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Tennessee certainly has higher expectations than 6-6, but a six-win season would be a good first step for new coach Jeremy Pruitt. However, Pruitt doesn’t have much in the way of margin of error. The Volunteers are underdogs in the opener against West Virginia and catch Auburn and Alabama in SEC crossover play. Additionally, road trips to South Carolina and Vanderbilt are also on tap. As if the schedule wasn’t enough, Pruitt has to find answers for an offense that averaged only 19.8 points a game last fall, and improve a defense that allowed more than 400 yards a game and ranked last in the SEC versus the run. Tennessee still has some good players in the program, and I’m banking on a fresh start being enough to push this team to six wins and a bowl.

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)

Jeremy Pruitt's first season could be a challenge, due in part to a roster that isn't up to par in certain areas and in part to a very difficult schedule. Consider the following: Vanderbilt's two SEC West opponents are Ole Miss and Arkansas, the two teams picked by almost every outlet to finish at the bottom of the division. Tennessee, on the other hand, plays Auburn and Alabama, the two teams picked at the top of the West. That's a tough draw. The Vols also have a very difficult opener against West Virginia in Charlotte. The best guess here is that UT wins two late-season home games, against Kentucky and Missouri, and finishes Year 1 of the Pruitt era 2-6 in the SEC and 5-7 overall.

Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)

The biggest thing that Jeremy Pruitt will help with in Knoxville is the one thing they've lacked quite a bit of: consistency. The Vols no longer seem like a team that you can peg as a roller coaster thanks to their new head coach and the level of discipline he's installed will pay off by overachieving a bit to reach a bowl game in Year 1. There's nowhere to go but up on both sides of the ball but the offense might be the unit that sees the most progress. The middle of the schedule is as brutal as it gets in college football (perhaps five top 25 teams and three in the top 10, two on the road) but Tennessee will find a way to somehow get by and rally for six wins.

Rob McVey (@Rob_UTVOLS)

I’ll preface this by saying that I think Jeremy Pruitt is the right man for this job. I also believe that the 2018 Volunteers have more talent in place than people think. That said, it will be a tall order to quickly reverse the fortunes of a team coming off a historically bad season. That challenge becomes even more difficult by introducing that team to a brand-new playbook and new schemes on both sides of the football. Then there is the matter of trying to navigate a schedule that features maybe the toughest five-game stretch in all of college football. If Tennessee can get to six wins, become bowl eligible, and prove to be relatively competitive in the tougher matchups, it will be considered a successful first season for Pruitt and the Vols. That is my expectation.