Fans didn’t expect the Tennessee Vols to be ranked entering the 2021 season.

But I don’t think fans expected the Vols to be ranked as low as The Athletic has them ranked, either.

Earlier this week, The Athletic’s Chris Vannini ranked all 130 FBS programs

Unsurprisingly, Alabama came in at No. 1, followed by Clemson, Oklahoma, and Ohio State (in that order).

That’s pretty much the standard College Football Playoff prediction, too.

I expected to find the Vols somewhere between No. 30 and No. 50.

Somewhere in the No. 45 range felt about right.

To my surprise, I had to scroll….a lot….to find Tennessee.

The Vols are all the way down at No. 85 in Vannini’s rankings, among programs like Arkansas State (No. 75), Kent State (No. 76), Tulane (No. 83), Wyoming (No. 84), and Fresno State (No. 86).

I mean, do we really think the Vols wouldn’t beat Kent State or Tulane?

(South Carolina, by the way, is No. 81 in the rankings.)

I know Tennessee is in the middle of a massive rebuild. And I know the program lost numerous key players to the transfer portal. But this is still a program with overall top 30 talent.

New Vols head coach Josh Heupel, who has plenty of experience, should, at the very least, be able to immediately turn Tennessee into a respectable program that’s among the top 30 or 40 in the nation.

I don’t know if the Vols will finish the 2021 season with a winning record. And I don’t know how many SEC games they’ll win. But I have no doubt that the program is better than No. 85 in the country. And I think we’ll see Tennessee make that clear on September 2 when they open the season against Bowling Green (No. 125, just FYI).

Featured images via UTAD/Andrew Ferguson