Like so many of you, I count myself as excited for the upcoming football season. Between the upcoming realignments and the changes to the College Football Playoffs, this season will be exciting to watch. The University of Tennessee Volunteers will be one team I am excited to see play their 2023 season. Let’s take a look at the season outlook for the Volunteers.
The Vols had a solid season with Hendon Hooker at quarterback and although he was injured late in the 2022 season, Joe Milton came in to lead the team to a strong finish and a win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl. That being said, the 2023 Volunteers team will look different than they did in 2022. Hooker, as well as receivers Jaylin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman, departed for the NFL via the draft. On defense, the team however returns three of the team’s four leading tacklers.
I’m excited to see what Joe Milton can do as the starter in the Volunteers. He’s very athletic and has a cannon for an arm. He started his college career at Michigan and was poised to start in 2022 however was derailed due to injury. Joining Milton on the offense, are receivers Bru McCoy, Squirrel White, and Ramel Keyton. All three receivers helped the Volunteers offense in ’22. Time will tell who emerges as the go-to leader for Milton. McCoy finished second on the team in receiving yards and all three showed a great ability to gain yards after the catch. The running game will be led by Jaylen Wright who averaged 6 yards per carry in 2022 (led team in rushing). He’ll look to improve on those numbers and showcase his speed (4.37e).
Graduate transfer Keenan Pili will look to join forces with Aaron Beasley and lead the Volunteers on defense. Beasley, the team’s leading tackler a season ago will once again bring his physical play style that helped land him on the watchlist for the 2024 Senior Bowl. Beasley excelled at beating blocks and disrupting the offense in the backfield, 13 of his 76 tackles were for a loss. Pili, like Beasley, is on the watchlist as well and was second in tackles for BYU in 2022. Pili, showcased a good ability to finish his tackles well. Limited in the 2021 season to three games (31 tackles), he came back well in 2022 (62 total tackles).
While the Volunteers begin play on Saturday (Sept. 2) against Virginia in Nashville, their season is promising. With warmup games to begin the season, their first road test is a trip to SEC foe Florida followed by a home game against South Carolina. While the SEC is always a brutal grind for teams hoping to contend for the College Football Playoffs, a showdown with Alabama in Tuscaloosa will show where the two teams stand as they battle through the season. There is a strong chance for the team to be at one loss heading into their home game with defending champ Georgia (Nov. 18) in a crucial late-season matchup.
With favorable matchups throughout the season, the Volunteers are poised for another strong season. Matchups against Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina are question marks, however, I think the team wins at least one in that stretch and possibly two. A nine-win season is the floor for this team with as many as 11 wins at the end of the season. Conference alignment would have them on the outside looking in for the conference title, however, a return to the Orange Bowl is possible.
Final record prediction: 11-2 record including a bowl game.