Tennessee projected as five-win team by Eagle

Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 7/28/19

Four staff members of the Daily Mountain Eagle continue to deliver their own SEC football rankings this week.

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Tennessee projected as five-win team by Eagle

Posted

Four staff members of the Daily Mountain Eagle continue to deliver their own SEC football rankings this week.

Last week, Publisher James Phillips, Sports Editor Johnathan Bentley, Sports Writer W. Brian Hale and New Media Coordinator Jeffery Winborne selected the bottom three teams in the conference.

This week they are picking teams 9 through 11. Tennessee was the only team to appear in the projections of all four writers while South Carolina appeared in three.

Teams 6 through 8 will be released next weekend and the top two teams will be released the weekend of Aug. 17.

See last week’s picks at the end of the article.

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Here are this week’s picks, along with a brief outlook on each team.

James Phillips

No. 11 Tennessee

Projected — 5-7, 2-6

The Volunteers may be on the rise, but I don’t think Tennessee will see its stock shoot through the roof in 2019. A bowl game could be possible, but I think they will come up just short of that goal in year two under Jeremy Pruitt. Still, the five wins leaves the Volunteers just one upset win away from getting back to their first bowl game since the 2016 Music City Bowl.

No. 10 Arkansas

Projected — 6-6, 2-6

I’m a little higher on the Hogs than most, but an easy first four games could have Arkansas 4-0 to start the year. That early season success should lead the Razorbacks into an upset of Kentucky later in the year and an easy win over Western Kentucky to made them bowl eligible in 2019, which would be a huge boost for second year head coach Chad Morris, who won just two games last season.

No. 9 South Carolina

Projected — 6-6, 3-5

South Carolina has a quarterback with something to prove in Jake Bentley. They also have a head coach (Will Muschamp) who is a head case, so I think the Gamecocks find themselves in a bowl game, but just barely for 2019. They need a win over North Carolina to kick off the season to make that happen. The Gamecocks could be looking at a six- or seven-win season for the third time in Muschamp’s four years in Columbia.

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Johnathan Bentley

No. 11 Tennessee

Projected — 6-6, 2-6

Year one under new coach Jeremy Pruitt included some highlights — road wins over Auburn and Kentucky — but in the end the Vols still didn’t make bowl eligibility thanks in part to blowout losses to Florida, Missouri and Vanderbilt. I feel the Vols will take another step forward and actually get to a bowl this season, though it may come down to the final regular-season game of the year against the Commodores. Vanderbilt has won three in a row in the series for the first time since the 1920s. Tennessee should go 4-0 in its non-conference games with matchups against Georgia State, BYU, Chattanooga and UAB.

No. 10 South Carolina

Projected — 6-6, 3-5

The worst thing Will Muschamp could have done was win nine games two years ago. Now South Carolina fans expect that kind of success. Instead, Muschamp is at best an average coach, meaning six or seven wins will always be the norm. The Gamecocks were just a few points from having a disastrous season last year. South Carolina defeated Missouri, Tennessee and Ole Miss by a total of nine points. To be fair, the team nearly beat both Texas A&M and Florida. This year also marks the end of the quarterback Jake Bentley era in Columbia. He will go out with another marginal record.

No. 9 Kentucky

Projected — 7-5, 3-5

Kentucky was the surprise story of the SEC in 2018, winning 10 games for the first time in 40 years, and only the third time in school history. The Wildcats closed out with a Citrus Bowl win over Penn State. With the departure of 16 seniors, along with star running back Benny Snell, I see a return to the norm for the Wildcats in an improving SEC East. Kentucky won seven games the previous two seasons. I see that in store yet again. Despite a lot of new faces, Kentucky should have no problem in the non-conference with games against Toledo, Eastern Michigan, UT-Martin and a two-win Louisville team.

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W. Brian Hale

No. 11 Tennessee

Projected — 5-7, 2-6

It’s amazing to think that it’s been a decade since Lane Kiffin brought in his infamous recruiting class that all but disappeared within a couple of years and proved to be a severe blow with ramifications that are still being felt today. Is this the year the Vols finally turn the corner and return to being one of the SEC’s elites? No. Tennessee has a strong playcaller in Jarrett Guarantano, but need to develop more receivers, a better running game and work on cohesion after the Vols ranked 124th in total offense. It doesn’t help that Guarantano was sacked 22 times last season either, so the O-line needs work. Defensively, well, Tennessee didn’t scare anyone at 48th overall in yards surrendered. The Vols should win their first three games before taking the plunge.

No. 10 Missouri

Projected — 6-6, 3-5

You never know exactly what you’re going to get from Missouri year in and year out — or for that matter, each week. The Tigers return key players from a 2018 offense that ranked 11th and will be bolstered by incoming transfer QB Kelly Bryant — expect fireworks and lots of yardage. The problem? When is the last time a Missouri defense scared anyone? The Tigers are more suited for play in their former conference, the Big 12, where all offense and little defense is the norm — I don’t expect much difference this season. Fortunately for Missouri, it plays in the SEC East where things are a lot more wide open behind Georgia.

9. Mississippi State

Projected — 8-4, 4-4

Taking over for the successful Dan Mullen, Joe Moorhead took the helm in Starkville and led the Bulldogs in a pretty solid debut campaign, featuring the league’s best defense(4th nationally). The departure of QB Nick Fitzgerald is obviously going to be a concern this season, but running back Kylin Hill — who is on the Maxwell Award watch list — should help take the pressure off of whichever quarterback is under center. DC Bob Shoop’s group should be good again, though not quite as formidable as last year’s. By the end of the year, Mississippi State should find itself back where it was in 2018 at 8-4 and searching for its ninth win in a bowl game.

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Jeffery Winborne

No. 11. Tennessee

Projected — 4-8, 1-7

Vols quarterback Jarrett Guarantano went off on Auburn last year to the tune of 328 yards and two touchdowns. If Jeremy Pruitt and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney can get that kind of production out of the redshirt junior consistently, it will be an entirely different look for Tennessee. Plus they are returning 10 starters on offense. However, only six are coming back on a defense that gave up 377 yards per game. I’m not counting on the Vols being able to be consistent in a very competitive SEC West. My upset-of-the year is calling for UAB to knock off Tennessee in Week 10.

No. 10. South Carolina

Projected — 6-6, 3-5

Will Muschamp’s squad will take a slight step back in 2019 but will still reach bowl eligibility. Jake Bentley is back for his final season in Columbus after throwing 24 touchdowns a year ago.

While his top two receivers from a year ago are back, Bentley also threw 14 interceptions. If he can’t take better care of the ball, South Carolina can’t take the steps needed to compete with Georgia and Florida in the SEC. And it doesn’t help that Alabama is coming to town for the first time since 2010.

No. 9 Auburn

Projected — 7-5, 4-4

Arguably, Gus Malzahn’s biggest failure as a head coach is developing talent once he gets it on campus. Since Cam Newton, the Tigers have had raw talent on the roster but have yet to get the most out of them on the field. After losing the Kelly Bryant recruiting battle to Missouri during the offseason, Malzahn is down to choosing between two quarterbacks with no collegiate experience. To be fair, Joey Gatewood threw one pass last year as a freshman. It was incomplete. Auburn should have an improved defense again in 2019, but with no consistent offense to speak of, Malzahn should take some time to enjoy what could be his final year on the Plains.

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Last week’s results

James Phillips

14. Ole Miss (2-10, 0-8)

13. Vanderbilt (3-9, 1-7)

12. Kentucky (5-7, 1-7)

Johnathan Bentley

14. Arkansas (4-8, 0-8)

13. Ole Miss (4-8, 1-7)

12. Vanderbilt (5-7, 1-7)

W. Brian Hale

14. Arkansas (3-9, 0-8)

13. Vanderbilt (5-7, 1-7)

12. Ole Miss (5-7, 2-6)

Jeffery Winborne

14. Arkansas (4-8, 0-8)

13. Ole Miss (4-8, 1-7)

12. Vanderbilt (5-7, 1-7)