We finally got to see Josh Heupel coach a game for the Tennessee Vols and he passed the initial (though, admittedly pretty easy) test. A relatively breezy 32-point win was a good start but where do we go from here?
My A to Z Sports compatriot, Zach Ragan, and I already gave our full prediction for the season on the Big Orange Podcast before we ever saw Heupel coach a game in Knoxville but now that we’ve seen some of the action unfold, I wanted to re-predict what might happen in the next 11 games for the Vols.
Here’s my best case, worst case, and most likely outcome predictions for Josh Heupel’s inaugural year with the Big Orange…
BEST CASE: 10-2
This one could be considered more of a “miracle case” than “best case” but hey, all things are possible in the minds of us Tennessee fans. In this scenario, quarterback Joe Milton truly turns the corner and leads Tennessee to a season that no one saw coming. Milton has the talented pieces around him to lead a good offense but the Bowling Green game showed us that he’s not some revelation from the heavens that will have Knoxville feelin’ like ’98. There were flashes where Milton looked poised and like he could be a legitimate playmaker but those were few and far between.
For Tennessee to win the games that it shouldn’t (i.e. Ole Miss, Florida), Milton has to be the man and maximize the exciting talent around him like Tiyon Evans and Jalin Hyatt. We’re still not beating Bama and Georgia because come on, let’s be real here, but in every other game in 2021, a victory appears to be at least possible, although, even for some of those wins to be possible, lady luck will probably have to shine down on the Vols and give them some kind bounces. But no matter what, for miracles to happen you have to have a miracle worker and Milton (or some other QB) would have to be that guy.
Chance of this outcome occurring: 3% (even that’s probably hopeful)
WORST CASE: 4-8
There are four built-in wins on Tennessee’s schedule, the three snoozer group-of-five/FCS games and Vanderbilt. Vandy stinks. Really bad. And barring some unforeseen astounding turnaround from VU, if Heupel can’t win that game, he should probably be let go as he walks off the field in Neyland. But just as I mentioned that 10 games on this schedule are at least winnable, 8 games are also absolutely losable. With the volatility of Heupel’s breakneck speedy offense and bend-don’t-break defense, things could go south real quick this season. Please don’t let this happen. Please.
Chance of this outcome occurring: 20% (SERIOUSLY, DON’T DO THIS)
MOST LIKELY: 6-6
To me, a 6-6 record really tracks with what we saw last Thursday (although, I’m still sticking to the 7-5 prediction I made on the Big Orange Podcast). To go 6-6, Heupel has to win the four gimmes and then some combination of Pittsburgh, Missouri, South Carolina, and Kentucky. This is certainly doable, judging from our initial view of all of these teams. And it goes without saying that Saturday’s matchup with Pitt is massive. This week’s game could be the difference between having a bowl game locked up by week 10 or fighting for 6-6 or 5-7 against Vandy. A Vols win over Pitt would be an excellent tone-setter and an impressive show of competence from Josh Heupel. No pressure, though.
Chance of this outcome occurring: 60%
Featured image via Randy Sartin/USA Today Sports