In 2022, how would we feel about 8-4?
In the last 14 years, it’s a number the Vols hit only twice. Tennessee went 8-4 in 2015 and 2016 under Butch Jones. Both of those seasons came with mixed feelings, an 11-game winning streak bookended by disappointing outcomes to open 2015 and close 2016. The Vols made plenty of individual memories in that stretch, but couldn’t sustain enough success to create lasting change.
Six years later, our feelings might still be mixed about an 8-4 outcome. If that’s the case, it’s a testament to what Josh Heupel’s team did in year one.
The 8-4 finishes in 2015 and 2016 came in years three and four under Butch Jones. He went 6-6 in year two. His predecessor went 5-7 after Tyler Bray was injured. And his successor went 7-5 by way of losses to Georgia State and BYU, followed by a six-game winning streak to close the year.
An 8-4 regular season would be the best any of Tennessee’s head coaches have done in year two since Phillip Fulmer. And if you believe in diminishing returns – or at least the idea of it – Josh Heupel’s mountain was steeper than any of them considering what he inherited.
And yet, we talk very little about what he inherited these days because of what he did with it in year one.
In the early returns from our expected win total machine, our community projects the Vols to win 8.1 regular season games. It’ll stay live on our site throughout the summer, then we’ll clear the board when fall camp begins and retake our temperature once we know more about transfer portal outcomes, health, and offseason chatter. Either way, 8.1 is a tantalizing number when you consider it in the form of, “What’s more likely: 7-5 or 9-3?”
Some individual percentage breakdowns we’ll talk more about as we go this summer:
- It’s close, but our community gives the Vols a slight edge in a pair of games the numbers suggest Tennessee will ultimately split: a 57.5% chance of beating Florida, and a 52.8% chance of winning at LSU.
- We’re still not quite ready to assume a major upset, but the Vols get puncher’s odds against Alabama (20.4%) and Georgia (18.6%).
- The numbers suggest Tennessee goes 3-1 in this group of four: at Pittsburgh (65.2%), Kentucky (67.8%), Missouri (73.8%), and at South Carolina (67.8%).
If all of those outcomes held, you’d get 8-4 by way of what we might consider a disappointing loss to a team from that last group, but also a signature win over Florida or LSU. Not all 8-4s are created equal, to be sure.
We think the win total machine does a good job with managing expectations in a healthy way. In that sense, 8-4 might feel like “achievement”: not over, not under, just the head nod and yep, we probably did what we should’ve done.
But here again lies the beauty of hope, bolstered by the reality of the way Tennessee exceeded expectations under Heupel in year one. Tying the best regular season number the Vols have put up in 14 years might feel a little underwhelming at first glance. But just beyond it – well within the realm of the possible – is the kind of season that couldn’t help but elevate your program. A 9-3 finish hasn’t been done here since 2007. If that led to the Outback Bowl, that’s been done once here since then. If that led to the Citrus Bowl, that hasn’t been done here since 2001. If that led to anything beyond, that’s never been done here in the CFP format. And if the Vols won any of those bowl games to finish 10-3, that hasn’t been done here since 2004.
This is the conversation Josh Heupel and this program have built for themselves going into year two, from the ashes of everything they inherited going into year one. Doing it as well as it’s been done around here in the last 14 years is the starting point. And going beyond – and continuing to create real change for this program – is within reach.