POV: Butch Jones has recently been fired, and we're in the midst of one of the most chaotic, circus-like coaching search carousels the sporting world has ever witnessed. There are so many "candidates" being thrown around hourly it's almost impossible to keep up. Heck, I'm pretty sure General Neyland himself was rumored to be in the running to return from the grave to lead the Volunteers. And after all the madness, we ended up with… Jeremy Pruitt? One of the few names unspoken of in the search until it came to light they’d reached an agreement with him. An uneasy optimism ensued, hoping to be once again in the promised land of college football. And although we all know too well the outcome, we can't blame ourselves for having hope.
Now we've found ourselves in similar territory heading into the 2021-22 CFB season as the Vols had a less, although not completely null, wild west style of a coaching search. We'd swung for the fences and probably had unrealistic head coach expectations, yet unsurprisingly ended up with one of the lesser talked about candidates: Josh Heupel, reunited with his former Athletic Director at Central Florida. On one hand: a coach who inherited a winning team at UCF, yet slowly won less over his time there. Optimistically speaking though, his offenses consistently topped the rankings in multiple categories, specifically the most important ones, at every stop he's made as a coach.
This brings us to the title of the article. Option 1: He gathers the troops and they dog walk Bowling Green back to wherever it is they come from (somewhere in Ohio, I'm told). That's what should happen. Then there's option 2: We pull a Georgia State, or something close to it. Let's play that scenario out real quick in what would be an alternate universe we hopefully aren't destined for. First, every fan immediately shuts down into cardiac arrest, simultaneously. And when they wake up, they realize it isn't a nightmare, but their only way to cope is to not put themselves through watching any longer. But the point is all support is over right then and there. Second, any recruits on the fence present and future quickly look to that game to realize UT isn't where they should be or want to be. Third, and this might not be an exaggeration, the entire city of Knoxville bans football from the city, never to be played again there at the collegiate level. Essentially, I'm not sure the fanbase has it in them to endure seeing through yet another coaching buyout and rebuild process lasting another decade, nor should they.
Okay, so those are the two scenarios, so how do we think it plays out? I want to preface this by saying I'm absolutely one of the more reasonable fans in college sports, so my head is clear for how game one goes down at least. That said, I believe we kill their spirits. We haven't fielded the most talented teams of late, but our experience is glaring. 17 of the 22 starters are upperclassmen, and our second string don't get much younger from there. Our biggest weakness, to me at least, is the linebacker position, as it lacks the playmakers of UT's past as well as the proper depth for an SEC team. However, I don't think the issue will be too pressing against a team that amassed an 0-5 COVID-shortened record last year in MAC only play (and not to mention their closest loss was by 25 points).
The line currently sits at -35 in favor of Tennessee with an Over/Under of 61 points. The line is extraordinary considering UT opened only as 27-point favorites, with the line moving 8 points in their direction. The way I'm betting the game is one that I don't imagine will happen often this season in UT games (depending on how Vegas views the Volunteers). I'll be taking the under, Tennessee money line, and for the Vols to cover as well. For a season set with many uncertainties, my final score prediction is 48-7.
P.S. I would also to like to point out here, I believe Heupel will pleasantly surprise some fans this year, but we will have some let downs as well. Looking at our schedule, I'm projecting a 6-6 season, with all of our losses coming in SEC play. We should have an offense bound to make mistakes along the way, yet will be exciting nonetheless. IF we are going to lose games, we might as well score points doing it.
To adhere to our weekly SEC betting challenge for 2021, here's what each of the experts of the Bucket Squad predict for Tennessee's game against Bowling Green. The remainder of our picks for every other SEC team's game will be out on Friday morning, so be sure to check that out when the time comes so you can make money on top of enjoying your team's opening weekend.
Good luck to everyone this weekend. May your favorite team win and all your bets hit.
Written by Alex Hill