Tennessee did not win an SEC game in 2017, but that’s not discouraging SEC Network analyst Marcus Spears.
Vols fans have had months to let that sad fact sink in as they watch the changing of the guard from Butch Jones to the Jeremy Pruitt era. Spears is here to let the folks in Big Orange Country know there are brighter days ahead, and they may be coming quicker than one might anticipate after a 4-8 season.
Fresh off a visit with Pruitt’s program in Knoxville, Spears took to the SEC Network airwaves to make a bold prediction on Tennessee’s outlook for the 2018 season during The Paul Finebaum Show on Monday.
“I think this could be a 7- or an 8-win football team, Paul,” Spears told Finebaum. “I really do. And I’m going to tell you why. We’ve gotten so souped-up on Georgia and everybody’s excited about Florida and Dan Mullen, but I think Tennessee is just quietly going about their business. And, usually, that’s the teams — if you think about this conference — the teams with the least amount of noise are the ones who usually end up surprising people or it goes the other way.
“Well, in this case, you have a football coach at Tennessee. It’s about football at the University of Tennessee now, which was always in question with the guy that left before in Butch Jones. I think this team believes in each other. I think they’re excited about the newness. I think they’re excited about what Jeremy Pruitt brings in terms of his history with what he’s been around and what he’s been able to accomplish.”
That type of optimism for a quick turnaround is music to many fans ears after what has been a very discouraging stretch for one of the nation’s most enthusiastic fan bases.
Spears went on to explain that he believes the talent for the 8-win mark has been there all along, and that one spoiled season under Jones doesn’t change that upside.
“You look at Tennessee and say, ‘Can they be a 7- or 8-win team?’ and the answer is yes,” Spears said. “But Tennessee has been that. They were riddled by injuries one year when they were supposed to be good, and obviously the underachieving has become the discussion around here. Especially in a down [SEC] East. Now you have a strength on this side of the conference with what Kirby Smart has done and the addition of Dan Mullen, but I think if Jeremy Pruitt is capable of getting the Vols to play on their level, they have the players to get it done.
“Obviously the quarterback situation — like most schools — is in question. But if they can get production out of that position, they have the offensive and defensive line to get things done. I met two linebackers today, Paul, who looked like they were seven-year pros in the NFL.”
The Vols did achieve back-to-back eight-win regular seasons from 2015-16.
Earlier in his interview with Finebaum, Spears praised Pruitt, likening him to South Carolina coach Will Muschamp and Alabama coach Nick Saban.