A good year under Josh Heupel means one thing going into year two – expectations. And this is a good thing. The groundwork has been laid and several key veterans are back for more, including super senior quarterback Hendon Hooker.
Given the state of the SEC East, Tennessee is likely to be a popular pick to move up to second overall this season behind Georgia. While there’s still a gap between the Volunteers and the Bulldogs, a popular metric thinks the gap is closing and expects big things from Josh Heupel’s program in Year Two.
Bill Connelly’s S&P+ rankings for 2022 are out, and it ranks Tennessee 9th in the nation. The metric uses return production, recruitment, and recent history to spit out a predictive ranking.
Despite going 7-6 last season, Tennessee finished 10th in the S&P+ rankings last season. The metric is clearly a fan of Heupel’s offense, ranking Tennessee as the seventh-best offense in the nation to finish 2021. Looking to 2022, Tennessee now ranks third, thanks to the return of Hendon Hooker and Cedric Tillman. The Vols are also expected to fire four of the five starting offensive linemen from last season, as well as two veteran tight end starters.
Tennessee’s defense, which will clearly be the biggest question mark of this season, ranks 42nd in this preliminary ranking. The Volunteers still have clear needs as a linebacker and cornerback, and could also use more depth at safety and defense. We will see what this staff is capable of in the outgoing portal of spring practice.
The next SEC East ranked team is Florida at 18th, then Kentucky at 21st. Pittsburgh, which Tennessee will play again this season, sits 13th overall despite losing Kenny Pickett. The Panthers, however, picked up Kedon Slovis from USC.
So what do you think of 9? It’s probably a rich touch for me, considering the defensive issues that have yet to be resolved. However, the opportunity and the path are certainly there for Tennessee in 2022, at least to take a big step forward and step onto the SEC pole. Hooker’s comeback is huge, and if the Vols can get a similar effort from Tim Banks in Year 2, a nine-win season could easily be a reality. Ten wins might even be on the table.