How Tennessee can 'Own It' as SEC champs and make playoff
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee, through fall camp thus far, has looked like a team that can not only compete for an SEC East championship in 2016 but win the SEC.
Talent is everywhere, extending beyond the starters throughout the depth chart.
Butch Jones has turned around the Tennessee roster from when he received it in 2013, and what you see on the practice field is night and day.
To win in the SEC, teams have to be able to run the ball and stop the run, and Team 120 appears capable of doing both.
Jalen Hurd and Josh Dobbs in the run game, complimented with Alvin Kamara’s ability to be a versatile factor in the run and pass game, give the Vols an offensive identity.
On the other side of the ball, bringing in Bob Shoop to coordinate the defense was a big-time hire. His track record in the SEC proves he has the ability to blend scheme and skill; there shouldn’t be any more late leads slipping away.
Having players such as Derek Barnett, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Cam Sutton, Todd Kelly, Jr., Darrin Kirkland, Jr., Jonathan Kongbo, Kyle Phillips and others will make Shoop’s job easier in preparation.
With all of these factors in place, no wonder Tennessee’s motto in 2016 is “Own It.”
“What did this team need,” Butch Jones asked himself this offseason. “I think ‘Own It’ is very fitting. When you really think about it, it’s owning everything. It’s owning the expectations. It’s owning your style of play, owning your conditioning, owning your fundamentals, owning your attitude, owning your academics, owning your personal life.
“There’s so much that goes into it. If you look at it, if you own something you’re going to take greater care of it than if you rent it or borrow it. Just own it.”
The road to Atlanta
The road to Atlanta points to a three-team SEC East race with Florida and Georgia.
Tennessee finally has the depth ito take on a gauntlet stretch that begins with hosting Florida on Sept. 24 and concludes with hosting Alabama on Oct. 15.
Road trips to Georgia and Texas A&M are sandwiched between the Florida and Alabama games.
Georgia looks to have the easiest path to Atlanta. The Bulldogs play host to Auburn and go to Ole Miss for their two SEC West games. The Bulldogs host Tennessee and play Florida on a neutral-site. If Georgia defeats Tennessee at home Oct. 1, a cocktail-party win over Florida could give the Bulldogs the SEC East championship. A loss at Ole Miss and victories over Florida and Tennessee should have Georgia playing for the SEC championship, but with two losses to Ole Miss and Tennessee the Bulldogs would more than likely be out of reach for Atlanta.
Florida is trying to to win consecutive SEC East crowns in 2016, trying to recreate the magic they had during the first part of last season – and forgetting the disaster during the second half following quarterback Will Grier’s PED-use suspension. The Gators travel to Arkansas and host LSU as their two SEC West opponents.
All three teams host their traditional SEC West opponent, and go on the road to play three tough opponents in three difficult road settings – making for head-to-head match-ups between Florida, Georgia and Tennessee even more decisive.
Florida and Tennessee need to at least split between their SEC West games – and both are possible. Georgia should beat Auburn, giving the Bulldogs a leg-up in cross-divisional matchups.
It all comes down to head-to-head, and Tennessee and Georgia each host one of those games. Florida is on the road for both, though one is the neutral site clash with Georgia in Jacksonville.
Tennessee’s four-game gauntlet will determine whether the Vols represent the East in Atlanta on Dec. 3. Jones has assembled a team capable of surviving it. The back end of the schedule is comparatively soft, which means the Vols would be fresher than their opponent in the SEC championship game.
It all comes down to Team 120 “owning it” and executing on game day.
If the Vols are good enough to end the 11-year losing streak to Florida and leave Athens and College Station victorious, Tennessee is capable of winning the conference and making a College Football Playoff appearance.