Tennessee has been in the headlines all year for their outrageously elite recruiting, as they are challenging for a top-5 2021 class. The future could be bright for Tennessee, but 2020 will not be their year just yet. I think Tennessee’s offense could be relatively strong, but defense will doom the Vols this season, as I believe that unit is one of the worst in the conference. However, the Vols were last seen engineering a ridiculous comeback in their bowl game victory over Indiana, so if that type of energy rolls over, I could definitely see the Vols having the talent to at least challenge for a top-3 finish in the SEC East.
Top Returners: Jarrett Guarantano, Bryce Thompson
Guarantano returns under center for the Vols in 2020, and he will be absolutely critical to Tennessee’s hopes at attaining SEC relevancy. He threw for 16 touchdowns and 8 interceptions in 2020, so if he limits the mistakes and gets some help from his playmakers. I think he’s the second-best signal-caller in the division to Kyle Trask of Florida, so no doubt he’s a crucial asset in Knoxville.
While I have major questions about the Tennessee defense, many of those questions do not revolve around Bryce Thompson, who will lead the secondary in 2020. Thompson has gained some preseason recognition in the conference, but he remains a largely underrated asset for the Tennessee defense, after notching 32 tackles and 3 interceptions last season.
Biggest Concerns: The Pass Rush
With pass-rush extraordinaire Darrell Taylor off to the NFL, the defensive line has some solid returners, but no dynamic game-changer. I think the secondary will be largely fine, but if the Vols don’t generate a pass rush, there’s only going to be so long that their safeties and corners can clamp down on opposing receivers.
X-Factors: Shawn Shamburger
With three sacks and an interception a season ago, Shamburger is Tennessee’s best hope at a game-changing pass-rusher in 2020. With Taylor no longer roaming the gridiron, can Shamburger handle the attention that will come as the top rusher for the Vols. Can he increase his production and provide Tennessee with a viable and disruptive threat on the line? The answer to these questions will provide some major clarity when it comes to Tennessee’s 2020 prospects.
SEC Record Prediction: 3-5
It’s not going to be a horrible season in Knoxville, and a bowl game berth seems pretty likely. But I don’t think they’re ready to challenge Florida and Georgia yet, nor with Alabama, one of their cross-division clashes. Those look like three losses that can be marked right away, and I think they’ll be competitive but not dominant with the rest of their schedule.