Contributing journalists: John Dunn, Rachel Ward, Trevor Morris, William Allen, Tyler Graham and Miguel Detillier
John Dunn (Senior Staff Writer; Managing Director; Host): 2020 has been a crazy year. With the pandemic limiting the season, the whole viewpoint regarding the season has shifted dramatically. With the change to a 10-game conference-only schedule, the Vols removed what I would describe as two "sure-fire" wins from their schedule, in Furman and Charlotte. Tennessee also lost out on a huge matchup with the Oklahoma Sooners in week two in Norman, OK. Now, Tennessee will look to survive the SEC gauntlet for the duration of the entire season.
Survival begins in week one against the South Carolina Gamecocks in Williams-Brice Stadium. In 2019, it took the Gamecocks one play to hit pay dirt. After that, the Vols outscored South Carolina 41-14 to pull away with a decisive 41-21 victory at home. I believe that Tennessee wins this game, but I don't believe that it will be as wide of a margin of victory as last year.
This is the first game of a delayed season. I expect the Vols to come out a little sluggish before eventually pulling away for the win. I also expect Tennessee's running game to be the strength of the team during this game. Behind Tennessee's monstrous offensive line, I believe that Ty Chandler and Eric Gray will both be close to, or eclipse, the 100-yard rushing mark. I think that South Carolina will seize the early-game momentum and take a small lead, but the Vols will battle back to regain the lead and pull away to win by 10-points.
Prediction: Tennessee - 34 | South Carolina - 24
Rachel Ward (Senior Staff Writer): After finishing 4-8 season last year, with a 41-21 loss to the Vols in Knoxville, Muschamp and his team are looking to find their footing. Key returning players for the Gamecocks include: QB Ryan Hilinksi and OL Sadarius Hutcherson, as well as DL Aaron Sterling, LB Ernest Jones and CB Jaycee Horn. Hilinski is an NFL style, pocket passer with a big arm. The Gamecocks, however, have elected to go with freshman Connor Hill under center.
The Vols’ defense has the ability to apply pressure to Hill, forcing him out of the pocket. Look for key players Henry To’o To’o and Quavaris Crouch to rush the passer. Vols’ players on the defensive line to watch for include: Matthew Butler and Latrell Bumphus. The Gamecocks have a strong defensive line as well, and it will be interesting to see how Eric Gray uses his talents to get down the field.
With strong talent on both ends of the ball this season, I predict Pruitt and his boys will head back to Rocky Top with a season opening W.
Prediction: Tennessee - 28 | South Carolina - 14
Trevor Morris (Junior Staff Writer): This is a matchup between a team with tons of promise, and one that has outlived any sort of promise it had. Two years ago South Carolina was riding high after a nine win season. The way they were hyped up to be a contender in the SEC East is very similar to the hype surrounding the Tennessee program nowadays.
The only difference is that the Volunteers are recruiting a lot better than the Gamecocks have in recent history. Last season’s game ended 41-21 Volunteer’s taking the win. That South Carolina team was riddled with injuries though, and we can expect a more even playing field this time around. The Gamecocks return a defensive line with two five stars (one freshman DE Jordan Burch and the other sophomore DL Zacch Pickens), DT Keir Thomas coming back from injury, and DE Aaron Sterling who contributed 6 sacks last season, along with a Defensive backfield with tons of experience.
This will be a good test to see if Tennessee’s offensive line deserves all the praise it has received this offseason. If Tennessee is going to win this game, then Jarret Gaurantano is going to need to have a good game. Running the ball will be difficult and without spring ball and the wide receivers will still be rusty having hardly played together.
The South Carolina offensive will also struggle having lost Bryan Edwards, and not having a defined starter at running back. Connor Hill has shown a lot of promise as long as the offensive line could keep the pocket clean. The team that wins this game is the one that gets the most pressure on the quarterback. It’s going to be a defensive game that is decided in the trenches, which is in the Volunteers favor.
Prediction: Tennessee - 21 | South Carolina - 17
William Allen (Junior Staff Writer): The Tennessee Vols open the season at South Carolina this season. This year's battle will feature the a new quarterback, as the Gamecocks have elected to start Connor Hill. Tennessee will go with Guarantano, who has experience in defeating South Carolina.
Even though the Vols won by 20 last year in Neyland, the Gamecocks will be hard to stop at home. Tennessee lost it’s top two wide outs, and that will hurt them in the passing game. However, I have them winning in a thriller in Columbia.
Prediction: Tennessee - 31 | South Carolina - 30
Tyler Graham (Junior Staff Writer): In 2019, The Volunteers defended Neyland Stadium against the Gamecocks with a 41-21 victory. South Carolina return 2019 starting QB Ryan Hilinski, who in the 2019 meeting went 28/51, 319 Yds, and 1 TD, and earlier in the year last year, led South Carolina to a 20-17 win over the (5) Georgia Bulldogs. The Gamecocks, however, will be starting Colorado State grad-transfer Collin Hill in week one.
The Volunteers come into this game on a six-game winning streak and are returning, presumed starter, QB Jarrett Guarantano who in the 2019 game with the Gamecocks went 11/19, 229 Yds, 2 TD; one of which, Guarantano took a shot from South Carolina linebacker T.J. Brunson that, unfortunately, broke Guarantanos’ left hand and he would go to have surgery.
Guarantano would have seven screws put in his left hand, yet, would return just the following week against UAB and continue to lead the Vols on their six game winning streak. In 2020, The Volunteers seemed focused and ready; my prediction has the same result as 2019.
Prediction: Tennessee - 36 | South Carolina - 17
Miguel Detillier (Junior Staff Writer): Tennessee starts their year against South Carolina on the road. They beat the Gamecocks last year with a dominant 41-21 win, and are looking to do so again, after losing seven straight times to Will Muschamp prior to 2019.
While the Vols will see most of their starters return offensively and defensively, they need to get better quarterback play, particularly from senior Jarrett Guarantano. Tennessee’s season opener will provide him a test to make this happen, especially against an average Gamecocks defense led by the cornerback duo of Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu. They should also put their rushing attack with Ty Chandler and Eric Gray to good use in this game as the Tennessee offensive line was one of the top offensive lines in the SEC last year.
The Vols should also work on having a potent defensive game against a South Carolina offense that ranked 12th in the SEC in scoring last season. Tennessee will not have too many issues containing Hill at the quarterback position, as long as they give him a tough game. While they held the Gamecocks scoreless during their previous matchup in the second half, the Vols should also expect South Carolina’s offense to look different with their new offensive coordinator, Mike Bobo.
He worked in the same position for Georgia for eight years before coaching at Colorado State over the last five seasons. Tennessee will be familiar with Bobo’s offensive coverage, and use that to their advantage to help them secure victory.
Prediction: Tennessee - 33 | South Carolina - 17
John Dunn: W
Rachel Ward: W
Trevor Morris: W
William Allen: W
Tyler Graham: W
Miguel Detillier: W