Tennessee Win Totals: What We Expect & What We Hope For

This week we fired up our Expected Win Total Machine for the first time this fall, looking to establish a baseline for fan expectations going into the year. The initial results from week zero: our community projects the Vols to win 8.03 regular season games.

It’s an almost identical number to the 8.10 we got when we ran the win total machine after spring practice. A lot about this team feels known: system, coordinators, quarterback, eight(ish) starters back on both sides of the ball, etc. As such, we are apparently less prone to a fall camp boost, at least a week before kickoff. No quarterback competition for us to pile our hopes on, no significant injuries to our opponents, etc.

The win total machine uses the word “expected”, which makes this the sentence we’re trying on for size: “8-4 would meet expectations.”

That part feels right to me – I’ve got the Vols at 8.24 wins myself – and an 8-4 regular season would put UT on the right side of their 7.5 number in Vegas. The updated SP+ ratings project the Vols to win, you guessed it, 8.0 regular season games.

In seven days we’ll be immersed in the glorious week-to-week nature of this sport. So for one last time, a word on how far we’ve come to this point.

An 8-4 regular season would match the best year at Tennessee since 2007. That’s 15 years and six head coaches. And in that span, it’s only been done twice. That was years three and four under Butch Jones, and both times 8-4 left us feeling like there could have, should have been more.

Maybe we would feel that way about it this year, maybe not. All 8-4s are not created equal. It’s week-to-week.

But the notion that equaling the best regular season around here in 15 years in year two for Josh Heupel – given the history and the headaches he inherited – the notion that an 8-4 season would qualify as “meets expectations”? As we said after spring practice, that’s a testament to the good work these guys already did in year one.

Here’s the game-by-game breakdown from our win total machine:

Expected Win Percentage by Game

Ball State98.70%
at Pitt61.90%
at LSU48.40%
UT Martin98.90%
at Georgia22.60%
at South Carolina66.50%
at Vanderbilt89.70%

It’s what you’d think: assumed wins vs Ball State, Akron, UT Martin, and Vanderbilt. Missouri is viewed as the next easiest contest, with Tennessee getting better than 75% odds. The Vols getting around 20% chances against Alabama and Georgia in preseason is a good start; we’ve been running the win total machine since 2017, and have had plenty of, “Is 5% too much?” conversations about those games. We’re still not at a projection of .5 wins against those guys, where you can round up to an upset…but we’re getting closer.

Among the fanbase, here’s the meat of it: using these percentages, we expect the Vols to get 2.998 wins against Pitt, Florida, LSU, Kentucky, and South Carolina. So the most logical way we get to 8-4 is losses to Bama and Georgia, then 3-2 in those five games.

We’ll keep tracking these numbers every week, but that’s the initial expectation.

What can we hope for?

We throw 9-3 out there at lot for all the benchmarks it would clear, before you really get into fun fantasy scenarios about 10 wins and/or Atlanta. A 9-3 regular season has not been done in 15 years. A 9-3 regular season would almost certainly send the Vols to something better than the “Outback” Bowl for the first time in 18 years. A 9-3 regular season assures you beat at least one of Florida, LSU, Alabama, and Georgia.

It’s not the expectation, nor does it deserve to be yet. And like many of our hopes, it’s hard. Is 9-3 more likely than 7-5? For our community, the answer is yes, barely. The Vols played four one-possession games last year and went 1-3 in them. There can be a thin line between 7-5 and 9-3, but our feelings about those two outcomes would be much, much wider.

But we can indeed hope for it. And it’s a real hope, not a pretend or exaggerated one. Meaningful history is possible, right now.

If the expectation is to do as well as we’ve done in 15 years? And we can hope – really hope – for even more than that?

We’ve got a chance to have a really good time this year.

See you next week. Go Vols.

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Tom Turley
Tom Turley
3 months ago

Looks like I’m in the minority in being more afraid of Pitt than LSU. Based on his career at Notre Dame, I’m just not convinced that Brian Kelly has the coaching chops to win big in the SEC. Could be wrong, of course–I usually am!