Opponent: Tennessee Volunteers. Also known as The School to the East or simply THEM.
Date: November 30 in Knoxville. Can we visit the Sunsphere?
All-Time Series Record: Tennessee leads, 75-33-5. As any Vol fan will dutifully remind you any time you bring up the results of the last three years.
Last meeting: Vanderbilt won last year, 38-13. Somehow, the final score does not properly convey the beating that the Commodores put on the Vols. Vanderbilt outgained Tennessee, 467-242, and outside of a 75-yard Ty Chandler run to open the second half, Tennessee gained 28 yards on 13 rushing attempts. And Kyle Shurmur threw four incompletions all day.
Last year: 5-7, 48th in S&P+
Head coach: Jeremy Pruitt (5-7, 2nd year)
The reversal of fortune in Vanderbilt’s annual rivalry against Tennessee has been nothing if not stunning. As you will recall, Vanderbilt lost 22 in a row against the Vols from 1983 to 2004, and most of the games frankly weren’t even close: Tennessee won those games by an average of 12.9 points per game, with seven shutouts (including three in a row from 2001 to 2003.)
Since 2005, Tennessee leads 8-6. Average score: Tennessee 26.1, Vanderbilt 24.6. And over the last seven years, Vanderbilt leads 5-2, including wins in the last three.
But this is the year that Tennessee reverses course and reasserts its dominance over Vanderbilt, because this is always the year. Or so we’re told.
But this time around... well, they kind of have a point. Tennessee ranks 2nd nationally in Bill C.’s returning production ranking, behind only Western Michigan. They return 91 percent of their offensive production. Starting QB Jarrett Guarantano returns, as do their top two rushers and their top eight pass catchers (there’s some overlap in those groups.) Overall, they have ten starters returning on offense. The defense is a tad less experienced, with only six starters returning; Tennessee ranks 25th nationally in returning production on that side of the ball, but they do return star LB Daniel Bituli.
Now, here’s the negative: the Vols weren’t really as close as their 5-7 (2-6 SEC) record would tell you. In eight SEC games last year, Tennessee’s defense surrendered 36.1 ppg and their offense averaged 20.3 ppg. Granted, that was a slight improvement on the 2017 team, but they also weren’t particularly close to being a good team last year.
Of course, Pruitt mostly continued Butch Jones’ recruiting success in his first year with a class ranked 12th in the 247 Sports composite. And the Vols have a favorable nonconference schedule, with Georgia State, BYU, Chattanooga, and UAB all coming to Knoxville.
Add it all up, and as much as we like to crack about the Vols’ recent demise, this looks like a team that should go 7-5 and at least get back to a bowl game. If you’re a believer in Guarantano (I’m not), add a win or two to that total. No, they’re not ready to compete with Alabama or Georgia or even Florida. But beware of the Vols’ resurgence.
(This has been your one yearly serious post about the Tennessee Volunteers football team. Now, we return to reminding them that they have lost three in a row to us.)