It finally feels like Tennessee fans have something to be excited about.

A football program that has used youth as an excuse for not meeting expectations for the past five seasons will finally have dozens of talented upperclassmen in 2016.

So is Tennessee for real?

If you look at the returning players on this team, the answer is a resounding yes. Tennessee has the potential not only to make a splash in the SEC but also nationally. Let’s take a look at the five best players returning for the 2016 season (this excludes DB Cameron Sutton, LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin and RB Alvin Kamara because they submitted paperwork to the NFL draft advisory for feedback on declaring early).

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Tennessee sports betting officially launched on November 1, 2020. Tennessee was the first SEC state to legalize sports betting.

1. DE Derek Barnett: After recording 10 sacks in each of the past two seasons, Barnett has the potential to be a breakout star next year if he can stay healthy. And if Tennessee can find another quality pass rusher to play opposite Barnett — reducing the double teams he faces — he could be an All-American.

2. RB Jalen Hurd: After the sophomore rushed for 130 yards on 24 carries in the Outback Bowl and won the game’s MVP award, Hurd became the first Tennessee running back to rush for more than 100 yards in two bowl games. There’s a good chance that he will finish his career as Tennessee’s all-time rushing leader. Current leader Travis Henry is only 891 yards ahead of Hurd.

Hurd also has the ability to make plays like this:

3. QB Joshua Dobbs: The junior is a dangerous runner, but an inconsistent passer. Dobbs only averaged 176.2 passing yards per game this season, but he threw 15 touchdowns and only five interceptions. He also led all SEC quarterbacks with 671 rushing yards and had six games with 50 rushing yards or more. Against Florida, Georgia, Missouri and Vanderbilt, Dobbs rushed for 401 total yards. If Dobbs can become a better passer during the offseason, Tennessee’s offense will be tough to stop in 2016.

4. OG Jashon Robertson: In Tennessee’s final three games when Robertson was healthy, the Vols rushed for 248 yards against Missouri, 331 yards against Vanderbilt and 226 yards against Northwestern. Each of those teams ranked in the top 40 nationally in rushing defense.

5. KR Evan Berry: The sophomore led the nation averaging 38.3 yards per kick return this season. His average was almost 5 yards better than the next-best kick returner.