Tennessee is the “it” team in the offseason in the SEC. Everyone seems convinced this Volunteers team will be the one to break all the various hexes and return the program to national prominence, competing for a SEC East Division crown and maybe even more.
It is hard not to feel the excitement and anticipation for this coming season as Butch Jones’ team looks to turn a major corner to get to that level after a 9-4 season and yet another bowl win.
Count famed college football magazine author Phil Steele among those jumping on the Tennessee bandwagon.
Phil Steele’s magazine is famously emblazoned with the moniker “Most accurate preseason college football magazine.” So when Steele issues this kind of an opinion, it might be something fans have to listen to.
Steele joined Sports 180 on WNML in Knoxville, Tenn., and went a step further, saying Tennessee are contenders for the national championship.
“You look at the fact that if you win the SEC East, you find yourself in the SEC title game,” Steele said. “And if you win the title game, you’re basically one game away from being right there in the playoffs. I think Tennessee’s got a good shot, provided they don’t let those leads slip away and play up to their talent level.”
Steele said Tennessee has the most experienced team among the power five conferences. Putting the Volunteers one step from the College Football Playoff with an SEC schedule, and they certainly have an opportunity.
Steele said it plainly, “They’re definitely a legitimate national championship contender.” And all four of Tennessee’s losses came off one possession and had a chance to win in the fourth quarter — with leads against Oklahoma and Florida.
Tennessee has plenty of chances to take that step forward. People are buying in. Now they have to wait to see how the Volunteers do on the field and whether they can win these big games.