Tennessee’s sports calendar never really ends, which is great when you’re good at everything. Softball hosts their regional this weekend, while baseball is at South Carolina, trying to play their way into hosting theirs. The hope is both teams give us the chance to watch them play into the month of June.
This time of year also marks the full turn into lookahead season for football, led by the tangible sign of preseason magazines. It’s no longer way-too-early season. And though we’re still a hair more than 100 days to Tennessee’s kickoff on September 3, what’s being put out into the world by many prognosticators now represents their final draft of 2023 expectations.
For the first time since 2016, we don’t have to wonder if Tennessee will be ranked. The Vols were the proverbial last team in for the preseason AP Top 25 in 2015, 2017, and 2020. They were the first team out last season, the first “also receiving votes” in the 2022 preseason poll.
Now that we’ve rectified all that with a season as good as any other around here that didn’t end in a national championship, where will the Vols begin again?
In 247’s post-spring consensus Top 25, Tennessee was ranked tenth. As you’ll see, that would put them in excellent company with what this program was at its peak.
When we talked about Tennessee being back, that wasn’t just to 1998. Are you in the hunt? And, in a sport preparing to move to a 12-team playoff, anything in that range for preseason expectations is a good sign.
That’s exactly where the Vols found themselves in the proverbial good old days:
Tennessee in the Preseason AP Top 25 Era (1989-Present)
From 1990 to 2007, Tennessee was ranked in the Top 15 of the preseason poll 16 times in 18 years.
That kind of consistency in that kind of company is what this kind of program is looking for. Roughly, the Top 12 (six automatic qualifiers plus six at-large) is getting ready to be the cutoff point. So anything in that neighborhood to start the season means you’re, again, in the hunt.
Last year’s team put Tennessee back in the promised land. And I believe this year’s team is going to begin their hunt from the same kind of ground we’re accustomed to seeing the Vols stand on when things are working well.