SDS kicks off a series looking in-depth at teams and their biggest subplots heading into 2014. Next up: Tennessee Volunteers.

SEC Subplots 2014:

1. Have to make a bowl game
If you’ve read anything this preseason around college football, you’ll know many project Tennessee to have between five and six wins this year. How many SEC teams go bowling largely depends on if Tennessee makes the cut. The goal for this season is bowl game or bust, period. The Vols haven’t been bowling in three straight years; that’s altogether crazy and incredible knowing how passionate the fans are and how much tradition the fallen powerhouse has. Winning six games this season could hinge on beating Florida in Knoxville, and it would prove the Vols are getting over the proverbial hump and Jones is righting the ship. By taking that next step and making a bowl game, prospects around the country will take more notice of Jones and his staff and of their accomplishments. Tennessee recruiting has been on fire lately, and making a bowl game will only help put the Vols in a position to win the SEC East in the next few years.

2. Navigating the schedule
Making a bowl game will require Tennessee to navigate one of the toughest schedules in the country that even features a road trip to Oklahoma, who most figure will compete for the College Football Playoff. Tennessee plays six preseason top 25 teams, including the annual bout with Alabama and dark-horse SEC West candidate Ole Miss. Tennessee’s opponents won 65.15 percent of their games last season; that’s good for third most in the country. There’s just one game we can circle as a win: Chattanooga. Non-conference bouts with Utah State and Arkansas State will be very interesting, but they should be wins. Florida, Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt are swing games, and the Vols usually play Georgia tough and did upset South Carolina last season. Winning six games on this year’s schedule would actually be a rather impressive feat for Jones and company.

3. Line of scrimmage
In college football’s biggest line of scrimmage league, Tennessee replaces every starter along both lines of scrimmage. That’s been well publicized this off-season, and that has probably added to sleepless nights for Coach Jones and his staff. So, maybe more so than the schedule, how does Tennessee navigate the roster losses? It’ll be a revolving door this season, and both lines of scrimmage will be tweaked throughout the season. Mack Crowder, Marcus Jackson and Coleman Thomas lead the offensive line, while Jordan Williams and Corey Vereen lead the defensive line. The X-factor for the defense is linebacker/end hybrid Curt Maggitt, who’s returning after missing last season with a knee injury.

4. Wide Receiver U
Tennessee may have historically been viewed as Running Back U, with a plethora of big-time NFL running backs, but the Vols could have this year’s best receiving corps. MarQuez North, Von Pearson and Josh Malone is a nasty trio for quarterback Justin Worley, assuming the offensive line can provide enough protection for the quarterback. North could be the SEC’s best kept secret, and he’s a complete freak. The JUCO transfer Pearson was already featured on ESPN with a top 10 play during spring, and Malone is SEC-ready right now. Again, the receivers’ production depends almost entirely on the quarterback, and Tennessee hopes Worley can play his best football yet.

SDS Takeaway: The most important thing Tennessee fans need to realize is that Butch Jones is righting the ship. That doesn’t mean he’ll make a bowl game this season, but the Vols are set up to compete for the East in the next couple of years with a roster littered with young – but undeveloped – talent. I still think rough waters are ahead this season, and 5.5 Vegas over/under is a coin flip. So, if the Vols miss on another bowl game, it reflects more on the program inherited than Jones’ coaching ability. Butch Jones its the right man for this job, and coming to grips with the mess he inherited can’t be overlooked.