ESPN doesn’t think the Tennessee Vols are going to climb to the top of the SEC East over the next few years.

On Tuesday, ESPN released their top 25 future power rankings. These power rankings from ESPN are supposed to “examine the programs on a macro level for the 2022, 2023 and 2024 seasons”.

Here are ESPN’s top 25 programs over the next three years:

Note from ESPN on how rankings are determined: At its core, FPR remains personnel-based and assesses how current and future players will impact performance for their teams. Recruiting in the past few seasons or projected success in 2023 carries some weight. But some programs consistently outperform their recruiting rankings and deserve to be recognized appropriately in the team list.

  1. Alabama
  2. Georgia
  3. Ohio State
  4. Texas A&M
  5. Clemson
  6. Notre Dame
  7. Oklahoma
  8. Michigan
  9. USC
  10. LSU
  11. Miami
  12. Cincinnati
  13. Oregon
  14. Utah
  15. Penn State
  16. Baylor
  17. Oklahoma State
  18. Michigan State
  19. Wisconsin
  20. NC State
  21. Iowa
  22. Florida
  23. BYU
  24. Houston
  25. Kentucky
Tennessee Vols
Tennessee tight end Princeton Fant (88) speaks with Tennessee Head Coach Josh Heupel during an NCAA college football game between the Tennessee Volunteers and the South Carolina Gamecocks in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021.
Kns Tennessee South Carolina Football

I’m not sure if ESPN forgot Tennessee exists or if they really don’t believe in the Vols over the next three years.

ESPN’s Bill Connelly had Tennessee at No. 9 in his post-spring SP+ rankings. The FPI, however, takes a completely different view of the Vols by not including them at all in the top 25 over the next three seasons.

The reasoning for the discrepancy is unclear.

I know the FPI is supposed to take an objective look at college football, but these rankings feel subjective. How can LSU be at No. 10 and Miami at No. 11 when both teams have new coaches? We have no idea how Brian Kelly and Mario Cristobal will fare at LSU and Miami.

Putting Kentucky at No. 25, a program that’s having its best stretch in modern program history but has still been dominated by Tennessee, is also a bit confusing. UT dominates the Wildcats most years and yet ESPN still thinks Kentucky will be the better program over the next few years? I can’t make it make sense.

The Vols were on the cusp of being a top 25 team last season. If Joe Milton completes one more pass against Ole Miss and if the referees don’t wrongfully disallow Jaylen Wright’s touchdown against Purdue, then Tennessee wins 10 games and probably finishes as a top 15 team. I know the “ifs” don’t make fans feel better about those losses, but it just illustrates how close the Vols were to being a top 15 team last year.

Fortunately, these rankings mean nothing and have no impact on what happens in the future. The Vols had a solid 2022 recruiting class and they’re building what should be a top 10 or top 15 recruiting class in 2023, which includes five-star quarterback Nico Iamaleava (a five-star quarterback is the main ingredient for success for a college football program).

Tennessee is on the right track under Heupel. The program is clearly on an upward trajectory. Fans should believe in Heupel until he gives them a reason to not believe in him. So far, we haven’t seen any red flags from the second-year UT head coach.

Featured image via Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK