The 2018 season ended in a disappointing manner for the Tennessee Volunteers with a 38-13 blowout loss to in-state rival, Vanderbilt. Tennessee fans witnessed a second straight sub-.500 season and were forced to watch a bowl season without their beloved Volunteers. Despite an underwhelming year, the Vols saw rays of hope and promise throughout the schedule. First year head coach, Jeremy Pruitt, led Tennessee to a 30-24 nail biting victory against #21 Auburn, their first win over an SEC West opponent since 2010. The Vols also won bragging rights against long-time rival, #11 Kentucky, a team in the midst of the greatest season in program history. Following a 2019 recruiting class that ranked 12th nationally, fans will be expecting better results from a seasoned group of players.
Prediction: 2019 Tennessee Volunteers
Tennessee will return many of their offensive starters from last year’s team. Lineman Drew Richmond, who announced his transfer to USC in April, will be the only starter not returning in 2019. Following an off-season at various QB camps, Jarrett Guarantano will lead the Volunteer offense and expects to see an increase in production. Guarantano struggled during conference games last year due to a less than stellar offensive line. Trey Smith missed all but seven games with recurring health concerns along with numerous starters missing games due to injuries. If the offensive line can stay healthy and the coaching staff can develop five-star recruits, Darnell Wright and Wanya Morris, fans should expect drastic improvement.
The little offensive success in 2018 came from the dynamic backfield trio of Ty Chandler, Tim Jordan and Jeremy Banks. Chandler averaged 6.1 yards per play and accounted for a total of 7 touchdowns behind a battered offensive line. Barring any major setbacks from their five-star wall of linemen, the Tennessee backfield should produce another statistically impressive season. Fan favorites Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway announced they were returning for their senior seasons. The one-two punch accompanied by rising stars Josh Palmer and tight-end Dominick Wood-Anderson should make for mismatches for opposing defenses. Jennings and Callaway combined for over 1,000 receiving yards despite their inconsistent offense. Expect the duo to produce as they look to increase their draft stock heading into the 2020 NFL Draft.
Tennessee’s defense lost starters Kyle Phillips, Shy Tuttle, Alexis Johnson and Micah Abernathy to the NFL. The front three on the defensive line will be starters with limited experience, creating their most questioned position group. Michigan transfer, Aubrey Solomon, and Emmitt Gooden should play an integral role up front. The linebacker group is one of the most highly touted in recent memory. Freshmen Quavaris Crouch and Henry To’oto’o have only fueled the fire being two top-50 nationally ranked linebackers. The tandem, along with JJ Peterson, expect to gain valuable experience behind a potentially elite group of starting linebackers. Starters Darrell Taylor, Daniel Bituli and Will Ignont, should continue to put up phenomenal numbers following impressive seasons. In April, Taylor announced he would return to Tennessee for his senior year despite receiving looks from NFL scouts. Taylor heads into the season as the fifth ranked OLB in the 2020 draft class.
Vols fans throughout the country will be excited to see how sophomores Alontae Taylor and Bryce Thompson have developed. They both had stellar freshmen campaigns. Taylor and Thompson look to lock down offenses along with senior Baylen Buchanan, who hopes to catch the eye of scouts after struggling at times throughout his junior year. Safety Nigel Warrior also enters a senior season looking to develop into the star that everyone has expected since his freshman season. Warrior had numerous missed tackles and defensive misreads that highly overshadowed his great performances.
After an impressive recruiting class and numerous returning starters, Tennessee fans should see improvement from last year’s 5-7 team. The Vols will still face the same difficult SEC schedule as in previous years; however, Neyland will be exploding with the blares of Rocky Top as Tennessee will play in Neyland Stadium eight times in 2019. Realistically, Big Orange fans expect to see a team that definitely receives a bowl invitation and more than likely a 7-5 or 8-4 campaign.