We are just two days away from football time in Tennessee.
In 2021, first-year head coach Josh Heupel led the Volunteers to a 7-6 record. Heupel was a co-winner of the National First-Year Coach Award and exceeded everyone’s expectations.
Even though Tennessee went 7-6 in 2021, many believe the Vols will take a step forward this season. Tennessee returns 15 starters, including senior quarterback and Heisman hopeful Hendon Hooker.
Tennessee will score plenty of points and should have one of the best offenses in the country in 2022, but it needs to improve defensively if it wants to take the next step. As 2022 nears, here are game-by-game predictions for the Volunteers:
Week 1 vs. Ball State, Sept. 1
Tennessee opens the year on a Thursday night at Neyland Stadium. Expect the Vols to get the year started with a big win against Ball State. Ball State finished 6-7 in 2021, and sixth in the MAC. The Vols are heavy favorites for this one.
Prediction: Tennessee 56, Ball State 10
Week 2 at Pittsburgh, Sept. 10
The Johnny Majors Classic heads to Heinz Field. Last year, these two teams faced off Week 2 with Pittsburgh escaping in a 41-34 shootout in Knoxville. This year will be another early-season battle and Tennessee will be looking for revenge. Neither team was ranked last season, but Tennessee has high hopes for 2022 while Pitt is the reigning ACC champion.
This is a tricky game for both teams. Pittsburgh will be coming off a physical rivalry game against West Virginia in Week 1, which could benefit Tennessee. Pittsburgh also lost standout quarterback Kenny Pickett to the NFL. However, the Panthers added former USC quarterback Kedon Slovis via the transfer portal. Pitt returns a lot on defense and is loaded up front.
Prediction: Tennessee 38, Pittsburgh 34
Week 3 vs. Akron, Sept. 17
The Tennessee offense should be way too much for Akron to handle in this one. Coming off a 2-10 campaign, the Zips have just three total wins over the last three seasons.
Prediction: Tennessee 48, Akron 13
Week 4 vs. Florida, Sept. 24
Is this the year that Tennessee can finally beat Florida? The Volunteers may find themselves as a favorite, but beating Florida has been no easy task. The Gators have won 16 of the last 17 in the series. With a 3-0 start in our projection, Tennessee has momentum. Florida has a first-year head coach, and this one is at Neyland Stadium.
By Week 4, we should know what type of team Florida will be. Let’s not overthink it. Tennessee goes undefeated for the month of September, and gets a monumental win over longtime rival Florida to start the year off 4-0.
Prediction: Tennessee 31, Florida 20
Week 5 – Bye
Tennessee will enter its bye week with a perfect 4-0 record.
Week 6 at LSU, Oct. 8
The Volunteers are traveling to Death Valley for the first time since 2010 and we have them at 4-0 as a sold-out Tiger Stadium awaits. Two weeks removed from a major victory, Tennessee will travel to one of the toughest places to play in the country. LSU has lot of gaps to fill, but whoever is starting at quarterback for will be comfortable in the offense by this point in the season.
Prediction: LSU 41, Tennessee 27
Week 7 vs. Alabama, Oct. 15
Alabama will again be one of the better teams in the country. Coming off a loss at LSU might help fuel the Vols, but Alabama will simply be too much. Tennessee will put up a fight and points, but its defense won’t be able to stop the Crimson Tide. After starting the 2022 season 4-0, Tennessee will suffer back-to-back losses.
Prediction: Alabama 42, Tennessee 37
Week 8 vs. Tennessee-Martin, Oct. 22
Looking to avoid a third straight loss, expect the Vols to score early and often in this game, and for the defense to play very well. This is one of those games where Tennessee needs to put it on the Skyhawks early and get its starters some rest. Having this one in the middle of a daunting SEC schedule could prove very beneficial for Tennessee.
Prediction: Tennessee 63, Tennessee-Martin 6
Week 9 vs. Kentucky, Oct. 29
This has the potential to be a contest that is vitally important for both sides. Both teams believe they should win this game this year. In perhaps the most underrated rivalry in the SEC, there will be no love lost. This rivalry, however, has been completely one-sided in its history. Year after year, the Vols seem to beat the Wildcats. In recent years, Kentucky has actually had the better team, but Tennessee has ended up winning head-to-head.
To make things even more interesting, both teams should be ranked headed into this rivalry game. Like the 2021 matchup, expect this year’s meeting to be an offensive battle. Kentucky hasn’t won a game (with a full crowd) at Neyland since 1984. The quarterback battle will be a big story line. Whoever plays better between Will Levis and Hendon Hooker will likely leave with a win. We’re taking Hooker to be the best signal caller in Knoxville.
Prediction: Tennessee 49, Kentucky 31
Week 10 at Georgia, Nov. 5
Believe it or not, Tennessee knocking off the reigning national champions in Athens is a popular upset pick. Tennessee is very capable of winning. Georgia lost a lot of players from its national championship team; however, Tennessee doesn’t play Georgia until late in the season, which benefits the Bulldogs.
Whatever kinks Georgia has to work out during the 2022 season should be fixed by the time the Vols come to Sanford Stadium. This game will be very competitive, but it’s hard to go against Kirby Smart’s squad at home.
Prediction: Georgia 28, Tennessee 24
Week 11 vs. Missouri, Nov. 12
Coming off a loss at Georgia, the Volunteers will be hungry and ready to play against the Tigers. This one would likely be a little closer in Columbia, but Tennessee is a better team and this contest being held in Knoxville will amplify that. Tennessee left Missouri with a 62-24 win last season. Expect similar offensive success for the Volunteers this time around.
Prediction: Tennessee 52, Missouri 28
Week 12 at South Carolina, Nov. 19
This could be a tricky game for Vols. After overachieving in 2021 and adding former Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler, South Carolina should be better in 2022. This is a sneaky good game late in the season and should be extremely close. Rattler is a huge upgrade behind center for the Gamecocks, but Hooker will again be the best quarterback on the field. The Vols will sneak out of Columbia with a very close win, and improve to 8-3 on the year.
Prediction: Tennessee 42, South Carolina 35
Week 13 at Vanderbilt, Nov. 26
Vanderbilt just simply doesn’t have enough talent to make this game competitive. This being the last game of the year, the Commodores will be beat up and Tennessee’s depth will be too much. Tennessee will be coming off a big road win, so the game will probably start off slow for the Vols, but they will pick it up late to cruise to an easy win.
Prediction: Tennessee 59, Vanderbilt 21
With Hooker, a super senior, back at quarterback, we have Tennessee going 9-3 with one of the most prolific offenses in the country. The Volunteers have a great wide receiver corps with Cedric Tillman, Bru McCoy, and Jalin Hyatt.
The Tennessee defense should be a lot better in 2022, which will be a big problem for opposing teams. Tennessee has the pieces to take a big step forward and will capitalize on this opportunity.
Depending on the bowl game, the Vols could have their first 10-win season since 2007. For the first time in a long time, there is a lot to be excited about in Knoxville.
Photo credit: Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee athletics