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Tennessee Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2022

Hendon Hooker, Tennessee Volunteers Football

Hendon Hooker and the Volunteers look to improve upon last season's 7-6 showing in Josh Heupel's first year at the helm.

The future of Tennessee football appeared dire heading into the 2021 campaign as first-year head coach Josh Heupel inherited a program steeped in turmoil. But it didn’t take long for Heupel to get things heading in the right direction, ultimately leading the Volunteers to a better-than-expected 7-6 record. Heupel not only managed to shift the culture on Rocky Top for the better, but he also helped transform one of the worst offenses in the country into a high-octane juggernaut in short order. Unfortunately, Tennessee’s defense wasn’t able to keep up, as talent and depth were in short supply for a unit that struggled mightily to get stops on third down and in the red zone.

Tennessee now enters Year 2 of the Heupel era with loftier expectations, fueled in large part by the return of eight starters from last season’s record-setting offense — headlined by star quarterback Hendon Hooker and standout wide receiver Cedric Tillman. The Vols still have some significant hurdles to overcome defensively, particularly in the secondary. However, there is reason to believe that we will see improvement on that side of the ball as well.

Related: Tennessee Football 2022 Season Preview and Prediction

The big question is how will Tennessee navigate its way through a fairly difficult slate of games? The Vols will have to hit the road for tough matchups against Pitt, LSU, Georgia, and South Carolina. Difficult matchups also lie in wait against Florida, Alabama, and Kentucky in Knoxville. The remainder of the 2022 schedule is fairly forgiving with very winnable games against Missouri, Vanderbilt, Ball State, Akron, and UT Martin.

Will Tennessee be able to build off of last season’s success and continue to make positive strides in year two of the Heupel era or will the Vols take a step back in 2022?

Tennessee Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2022

Steven LassanMark RossRob McVey

Ball State

Tennessee

Tennessee

Tennessee

at Pitt

Tennessee

Tennessee

Tennessee

Akron

Tennessee

Tennessee

Tennessee

Florida

Tennessee

Tennessee

Florida

at LSU

LSU

LSU

LSU

Alabama

Alabama

Alabama

Alabama

UT Martin

Tennessee

Tennessee

Tennessee

Kentucky

Tennessee

Tennessee

Tennessee

at Georgia

Georgia

Georgia

Georgia

Missouri

Tennessee

Tennessee

Tennessee

at South Carolina

South Carolina

South Carolina

Tennessee

at Vanderbilt

Tennessee

Tennessee

Tennessee

Final Record

8-4

8-4

8-4

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Tennessee showed marked improvement in coach Josh Heupel’s first season in 2021, and I expect that trend to continue this fall. A high-powered offense was arguably the biggest reason for the turnaround last year. The combination of Heupel, receivers Cedric Tillman and Velus Jones Jr. (now in the NFL), and quarterback Hendon Hooker helped the Volunteers increase their scoring average from 21.5 to 39.3 points a game in ’21. With eight starters back, the bulk of Tennessee’s offense is set to return this fall. However, can the ’22 group reach another level? Or will this unit simply replicate last year’s production?

Few question marks remain on offense, but the outlook is different on defense. Tennessee gave up 29.1 points a game last season and struggled versus the run (more than 200 yards per contest in SEC play). Heupel needs to recruit more difference makers on this side of the ball, but six returning starters provide a good foundation for improvement.

Swing games at Pitt, LSU and South Carolina are tricky, but Tennessee gets Florida and Kentucky at home. I think the Volunteers stumble versus Georgia and Alabama and drop two of the swing matchups to finish 8-4.

Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
The Josh Heupel era got off to a good start for Tennessee, but does that mean the Volunteers are ready to take a big step forward? The offense appears to be in great shape with so many pieces, headlined by quarterback Hendon Hooker, returning, although the offensive line remains a concern. There are even more question marks on defense, and that's a big deal, especially in the SEC. Bowl eligibility won't be an issue, especially if Tennessee beats Pitt on the road, but getting Florida, LSU, and Alabama in a row (with a bye week between the first two games) will be tough — even though two of those matchups are in Knoxville. The Vols are headed in the right direction, but that doesn't mean they'll look that much different when it comes to wins and losses in 2022 compared to '21.

Rob McVey (@Rob_UTVOLS)
There's little doubt that Tennessee's high-powered offense will continue to put up big numbers in 2022. Quarterback Hendon Hooker is tailor-made for Josh Heupel's quick-strike offense, and he should take another step forward in Year 2. Standout wide receiver Cedric Tillman should continue to build off of his breakout 2021 season as well. The only concern on that side of the football is an offensive line that allowed an SEC-high 44 sacks last season, but with four starters back to go along with improved depth, that group should be much improved.

The biggest question mark lies on defense. Tennessee's defense spent far too much time on the field last season, often overtaxed at the expense of the Vols' fast-paced offense. That will most likely be the case once again in 2022. However, improved depth should help in that regard. So, it really comes down to how much Tennessee's defense can improve its play on the field overall, particularly on third down. Even slight improvement should help the Vols better last season's 7-6 record. It wouldn't be completely shocking to see Tennessee win as many as 10 games this season with significant improvement defensively. But that's being extremely optimistic. With several toss-up games on the schedule, my expectations are somewhere between 7-9 wins for the Volunteers in 2022.

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