UT vs. South Carolina
Ja'Quain Blakely, #48, celebrates with students in the stands following a victory over South Carolina at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, October 26, 2019.

Tennessee football took big leaps in two national polls last week. The Vols are currently No. 16 in the Associated Press Top 25 and rank No. 21 in the Amway Coaches Poll. Before last week, Tennessee was No. 25 in the AP Top 25 and was not ranked in the Coaches poll.

This is the first time that the Vols have been ranked in either poll under head coach Jeremy Pruitt. 

The Vols current placement in the AP Top 25 poll was its highest since being No. 9 on Oct. 10, 2016. At that time, Tennessee was 5-1 after defeating Appalachian State, Virginia Tech, Ohio, Florida and Georgia. The Vols’ lone loss was at Texas A&M. 

They finished the 2016 season with a 9-4 record and were No. 22 and No. 24 in the AP poll and the Coaches poll, respectively. The Vols capped that season off with a 38-24 win against Nebraska in the Music City Bowl. 

Tennessee is joined by seven other SEC teams, including No. 2 Alabama, No. 4 Georgia, No. 5 Florida, No 6. LSU, No. 8 Auburn, No. 10 Texas A&M and No. 23 Kentucky. Tennessee will play each of these teams this season except for the reigning National Champion, LSU. 

The pressure is on for the Vols and Pruitt, who is entering his third season as head coach. In the 2019 season, Rocky Top was off to a rocky start as the Vols went 1-4, including two upsets in the season's first two games of the season against Georgia State and BYU. 

Tennessee bounced back and finished the season with an 8-5 overall record and a 5-3 SEC record. The Vols also earned a spot in the 2020 TaxSlayer Gator Bowl against Indiana. Tennessee won the game, 23-22, after being down by 13 points within the final five minutes. 

The Vols' success from last season came off of a much-improved defense. Tennessee’s defense ranked 23rd in the nation in total defense (334.5), which stood as its best total in a decade for the Vols. Tennessee also did well preventing teams from airing the ball out as their pass defense finished 20th (194.0) and also finished with 15 interceptions. The Vols front seven created enough pressure to record 34 sacks, good for third in the SEC. Tennessee gave up 10 plays of 30 plus yards, which was the fewest in the nation during the 2019 season. 

“There’s a decent chance Tennessee is the team we overhype greatly thanks to a late-season push,” 247sports national college football analyst Chris Hummer said. “Still, it’s hard to ignore a six-game win streak to end the season and the team’s rising talent level. The Vols bring back 17 starters, including the core of a young defense that allowed just 15.5 points per game during their season-ending win streak.

“Quarterback is a bit of a question for Tennessee, though Jarrett Guarantano played well over the team’s final six games. Finding replacements for Marquez Callaway and Jauan Jennings at receiver will be critical,” Hummer said.

Tennessee will kick-off its season against South Carolina at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 26 in Columbia, S.C.

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