Tennessee Ranked as the SEC's Most Undervalued Team in 2020
Volunteer Country Staff
As Jeremy Pruitt walked to midfield to congratulate Georgia State head coach Shawn Eliott on his stunning victory over the Volunteers, it was unlikely that he — or anyone else in Neyland Stadium — thought that there was a way to salvage the season. In fact, after the Vols would go on to lose three of their next four football games, most Tennessee fans began to feel the deep sense of melancholy that they had grown all too familiar with over the last decade. However, in one of the most improbable stories of the College Football season, the Volunteers were able to go on a 6 game win streak — defeating South Carolina, UAB, Kentucky, Missouri, Vanderbilt, and Indiana to complete one of the most miraculous finishes in the program’s 128-year history.
Despite the magnificent turnaround, most major media outlets are not considering the Volunteers to be much of a threat to compete for the SEC East this season. However, CBS Sports’ Ben Kercheval disagrees with those who are choosing to sleep on the Big Orange. “The SEC East has been the Florida-Georgia show as of late,” wrote Kercheval in his recent piece for CBS Sports on the most undervalued teams in College Football. “The Bulldogs and Gators have won the last five divisional titles, all while Tennessee has either fallen short or been in rebuild mode. With Florida and Georgia being the favorites out of the East in 2020, don't overlook Tennessee as a longshot.”
“The talent Coach Jeremy Pruitt has stockpiled is impressive,” wrote Kercheval. “The Vols have a legit offensive line with a nice mix of proven veterans and young promising tackles. The quarterback room is led by Jarrett Guarantano who, despite his ups and downs, has been good enough, but there’s more upside behind him with blue-chip freshman Harrison Bailey. If there’s a Year 3 jump, it’s in part because of the guys Pruitt recruited.”
Kercheval’s praise for Tennessee’s recruiting should come as no surprise to any recruiting guru. The Volunteers finished the 2020 recruiting cycle with a consensus top 10 class — signing some of the nation’s most talented prospects such as Keyshawn Lawrence and Harrison Bailey. In fact, the Volunteers recruiting since Jeremy Pruitt first arrived on Rocky Top has consistently been in the top 20, and with another elite class on the rise, that trend will seemingly continue in 2021.
Kercheval also believes that Tennessee’s tough schedule could play into the narrative that they are undervalued. “It (the schedule) is hard — the early-season trip to Oklahoma sets the tone — but there are opportunities for the Vols to be a chaos team in SEC play,” wrote Kercheval. “Florida, Missouri, Kentucky and Alabama all come to Knoxville. If Pruitt improves upon last year's seven-win regular season with Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma on the schedule — all four could be vying for playoff spots at the end of the season — that will say a lot about the direction of the program.”
Tennessee’s schedule is one of the most difficult in the entire nation. In fact, the harsh schedule is likely why so many other media personalities are lower on Tennessee this year than Kercheval is. 247Sports rated the Volunteers’ schedule as the 6th toughest in the country, and CBS Sports ranks Tennessee as having the 2nd best strength of schedule in the SEC — trailing only Arkansas.
Kercheval, who has been covering college football since 2010, also rated the other 4 power-5 conference’s most undervalued teams: Pittsburg in the ACC, Cal in the PAC-12, Purdue in the Big Ten, and Baylor in the Big 12. Only time will tell if those predictions prove to be accurate, but for now, all we can do is speculate as the start of the season on September 5th feels as if it is decades away.