1. Expectations for Tennessee are steadily rising. It’s a senior-laden offense and a defense that has experience up front and stout talent across the board. How would you set their expectations in 2020?
Julian Mitchell: I think they will continue their momentum from the end of last season that saw them put together six wins in a row to end the season. Expectations are rightly elevated, but shouldn’t be set at contending for the East title just yet.
Andrew Spanel: This feels like deja-vu after the Texas A&M roundtable since both programs are basically mirror images of each other. Both have coaches with high expectations, both have quarterbacks that need to take the next step, and both have enough talent to be able to compete with the better teams in the SEC.
Tennessee finished last year on a six game win streak, which really turned things around for them; however, keep in mind that they didn’t really face a murderer’s row down the stretch. For Vol fans this year, it really comes down to two things- quarterback play and the new schedule. Don’t expect them to beat Florida or Georgia, but frankly, finishing outside the top 3 in the East would be a major disappointment.
Chris Novak: I don’t think they’re quite ready to hang with the big dogs of the SEC East yet. But, I do think Pruitt has the team on the right track. They’ve got experience at wide receiver but may lack some playmaking. The defense lost Darrell Taylor, but should have some guys to plug those holes. I think this team will be sneaky good and could pick off a team or two. I’m buying what they’re selling in Knoxville.
2. Jarrett Guarantano is still the guy at Tennessee (really it feels like it’s been forever). With Ty Chandler in the backfield and receivers like Josh Palmer and Brandon Johnson, and tight end Princeton Fant, how do you expect Guarantano to play this year?
Julian Mitchell: The Vols passing game is where I have some skepticism. Marquez Callaway and Jauan Jennings are HUGE losses. A lot of pressure will be on Josh Palmer’s shoulders, in my opinion. The addition of Georgia transfer Cade Mays should at least help with Guarantano’s time in the pocket if he’s ruled eligible by the SEC. Tennessee’s running game should be fine with Chandler leading the charge.
Andrew Spanel: I’m probably more bullish on Guarantano than most people. He showed some flashes here and there and threw for 415 yards last year against Missouri, which was one of the best passing defenses in the SEC. Tennessee finally found some stability, and they also brought back OC Jim Chaney who helped improve the offense last year. I think Guarantano could finish as a top five QB in the SEC this season.
Chris Novak: As Julian said, losing Jennings and Callaway is huge. Josh Palmer is a great talent, and Princeton Fant has some potential. That being said, I think others will definitely have to step up around them. I do like what they have though, and Guarantano does have the luxury of having Trey Smith and (likely) Cade Mays to help protect him this season. Guarantano could be quite the threat. Chandler is real good in the backfield, meanwhile.
3. There are four seniors up front on the defensive line, with Matthew Butler, Aubrey Solomon and LaTrell Bumphus. Who do you see standing out the most in 2020?
Julian Mitchell: LaTrell Bumphus had 6 tackles for loss last season and should become the guy that fills the departed Darrell Taylor’s shoes.
Andrew Spanel: Butler had 45 tackles last year. Let’s go with him.
Chris Novak: I will dare to be different, and go with Aubrey Solomon.
4. Who’s a player under the radar who you expect to make some noise?
Julian Mitchell: Definitely Eric Gray. He had limited carries as a freshman in 2019, but was given his shot towards the end of the season. He combined for 332 yards on the ground in the Vols’ final two games. He’s flat out explosive in space.
Andrew Spanel: Not necessarily under the radar to Volunteer fans, but linebacker Henry To’o To’o should be the leader on the defense in a position group that faces some uncertainty. He’s not a household name yet, but SEC fans will get to know him this year.
Chris Novak: I’ll echo Julian’s thoughts once again here, and go with Eric Gray. He’s a dynamo and could have some big, big playst his season.
5. Make your prediction for the Vols in 2020.
Julian Mitchell: 5-5
Andrew Spanel: 6-4 (which is a really good season with their schedule)
Chris Novak: 6-4