We can debate the merits of a "second-year bump" for coaches all we want -- whether it's an actual thing or just statistical and anecdotal noise, how big of a factor it is in the fortunes of a team with a sophomore coach, and so on. After long being a skeptic, I've come around to thinking there's something to it. The players have a better idea of what to expect out of the coach and -- hopefully -- a better command of the playbook, while coaches have a little bit better handle on the talent they have and what the players are capable of.
By that calculation, Tennessee might be ready for a bit of a bump under Butch Jones. And in a vacuum, you would expect the Volunteers to go from a 5-7 team in 2013 to a bowl team in 2014, maybe even reaching 7-5 or 8-4. But we don't live in a vacuum, and there are a couple of reasons to think that Tennessee will take a step forward and still end up right around the same record they had last year, give or take a game.
The first is something we've talked about ad nauseam, so I won't spend too much more time on it: Tennessee has to essentially replace its entire defensive and offensive lines. If the Volunteers needed to find a new group of starters along one of the lines, particularly the defensive line, I would be happy to give them a slightly better chance at improving enough to push their record up. But replacing both of them is going to hurt, particularly in the early part of the season.
The second problem with projecting Tennessee to pick up too much ground this year is the schedule. It's not necessarily harder than in 2013, per se, but it's just as hard, and that's difficult enough to give even a better team than Tennessee trouble. Sure, Oregon rolls off; it's replaced by Oklahoma. Alabama's still there. Auburn is replaced by a rising Ole Miss, and while the Rebels might not be as good as the Tigers were a year ago, they're still probably better than Tennessee right now.
I do expect Tennessee to be a better team at the end of the year than at the beginning, particularly as the offensive line jells (which is part of why I'm picking the Vols to win the annual rivalry game against Vanderbilt at end of the season). And while I'm predicting a 5-7 record, I give Tennessee almost a 50-50 shot at going to a bowl. The game against Florida is dangerous for the Gators, who go to Knoxville after a bye following the Alabama game on one side and before the showdown with LSU on the other, and I wouldn't rule out a win against Missouri. Split those, and Tennessee is back in the postseason. I'm just not there yet.
|Place: 5th in the SEC East
Record: 5-7, 2-6 SEC
Could be: 4-8 to 8-4
Best chance for an upset: FLORIDA
|8.31.14 | UTAH STATE | WIN|
|9.6.14 | ARKANSAS STATE | WIN|
|9.13.14 | at OKLAHOMA | LOSS|
|9.27.14 | at GEORGIA | LOSS|
|10.4.14 | FLORIDA | LOSS|
|10.11.14 | CHATTANOOGA | WIN|
|10.18.14 | at OLE MISS | LOSS|
|10.25.14 | ALABAMA | LOSS|
|11.1.14 | at SOUTH CAROLINA | LOSS|
|11.15.14 | KENTUCKY | WIN|
|11.22.14 | MISSOURI | LOSS|
|11.29.14 | at VANDERBILT | WIN|