ESPN’s Bill Barnwell released his updated SP+ rankings this week and they have a favorable view of the Tennessee Vols in 2022.

Barnwell’s new SP+ rankings, which take new rosters released by programs this spring into account, have the Vols as the No. 9 team in the nation.

The SP+ rankings are based on returning production, recent recruiting, and recent history. Which means these rankings aren’t necessarily a writer’s opinion — they’re based on actual data.

Here’s the entire top 10:

  1. Ohio State
  2. Alabama
  3. Georgia
  4. Michigan
  5. Oklahoma
  6. Clemson
  7. Notre Dame
  8. Texas A&M
  9. Tennessee
  10. Wisconsin
Vols
Tennessee running back Jaylen Wright (20) leaps into the end zone for a touchdown during an SEC conference game between Tennessee Vols and Vanderbilt at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.
Kns Tennessee Vanderbilt Football

I think this ranking for the Vols is a bit ambitious, but it’s hard to argue against data. I’m more comfortable with Tennessee in the No. 20 to No. 25 range (which is likely where they’ll be in the preseason AP Top 25 poll when it drops later this year).

The Vols should be a good team in 2022. A lot of media outlets are predicting them to finish No. 2 in the SEC East (behind Georgia). But while I think the program is on a top 10 trajectory under head coach Josh Heupel, I don’t think they’re there just yet. Tennessee needs to build more roster depth before they can be considered a threat to finish in the top 10.

I think the Vols will eventually get there under Heupel — last year’s success was too impressive to ignore. I just think it’ll be another year or two before Tennessee gets to that point.

Featured image via Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports