SDS kicks off a series looking in-depth at teams and their biggest subplots heading into 2013. Up next: Tennessee.
- Mississippi State
- Ole Miss
- South Carolina
- Texas A&M
1. Back on the map
Butch Jones and his new coaching staff are trying to put Tennessee back on the map in the southeast and around college football. Jones currently has Tennessee in the top 10 in recruiting and is selling the UT brand more in a few months than Derek Dooley did in three years. Ultimately, however, momentum will be gained or lost during the season. If Tennessee makes a bowl game, the momentum should continue, but if the Vols fail to make a bowl game, momentum could cease. Jones will send the Vols to fight the SEC’s fourth toughest schedule, with road trips to Oregon, Florida and Alabama. Remember, the current prospects were just children when Tennessee was on top.
2. Best O-line in the country?
Tennessee’s overall roster may be absent great talent or depth, but the offensive line could be the best in the country. Tackle tandems Antonio Richardson and Ja’Wuan James are the best in the SEC…and maybe the country. Senior center James Stone and guard Zach Fulton are also two of the best. Combined, this position corps leads the SEC with 123 career starts, good for second in the country. So, expect Jones and his staff to lean on the SEC’s toughest big uglies to help establish a better-than-advertised running game.
The quarterback position at Tennessee reaches back into a wealth of talent and stars of yesterday. Peyton Manning, Tee Martin, Heath Shuler and Andy Kelly are a few of the former Vol greats, but currently, UT has no starting quarterback. The job is down to returners Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman and newcomers Josh Dobbs and Riley Ferguson. Worley has the most experience, but either freshman could be the future of the program. Ferguson has been performing the best during practice. It’s anyone’s guess who starts the most games for Jones in 2013, but he won’t hesitate to start a true freshman should things pan out that way.
4. Transforming the SEC’s worst defenses
New DC John Jancek has the tallest task of any position coach on the staff. He’s tasked with completely altering the worst defense in the SEC, as well as the worst defense in Tennessee history. The Vols gave up more than 471 yards per game to opposing offenses and had trouble tackling and covering. A new coach, scheme and identity should work wonders for one of the most head-scratching and reckless defenses in UT history. Watch out for star LB AJ Johnson to eat up ball carriers this season.
SDS takeaway: Jones has done a fantastic job through the first seven months. He’s built a fence around Tennessee and has attacked recruiting reminiscent of Phil Fulmer’s days, and the Vols aren’t done yet. Ultimately, the season and bowl hopes could hinge on beating Vanderbilt in November. Nonetheless, Vol fans are eager to kick off the Butch Jones era.
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