Previewing the 2015 Tennessee Volunteers via the national media
It shouldn’t be long until the SEC East returns to its historical level of fierceness, and Tennessee is a big reason for that.
The Vols have enjoyed a steady ascent under coach Butch Jones, who also has a two-year head start on first-year Florida coach Jim McElwain.
It’s clear that Tennessee will be a much better team in ’15, and that ’16 represents a better title shot. But just how many games will UT win this fall? And could the program catch the rest of the SEC East sleeping and steal a surprise division title?
WHAT THE MAGAZINES ARE SAYING
ESPN: “The expectations are easily the highest they’ve been on Rocky Top in a decade — but September tilts with Oklahoma and Florida could bring hopes down in a hurry.”
Lindy’s Sports: “UT has the look of an eight- or nine-win team that could seriously contend for the East Division if it all breaks right.”
Athlon Sports: “With the suddenly high expectations for the Vols comes pressure for Butch Jones for the first time in his Tennessee career. There’s talent at the skill positions, but enough to win the SEC East?”
The Sporting News: “The talent and coaching is upgraded but there is still plenty of youth on this team, still lessons to be learned. The East is up for grabs and the Vols could finish first, but this team is probably still a year away. Eight or nine wins is doable and reasonable.”
Phil Steele: “(Tennessee) will finally be looked at as one of the powers in the East again, but can they finally end that 10-game losing streak to Florida?”
- QB Joshua Dobbs
- RB Jalen Hurd
- WR Marquez North
- DE Derek Barnett
- LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin
- CB Cam Sutton
WHAT WE LEARNED
- ESPN uncovered some interesting stats on the Vols: 1) the offense scored 34.2 points per game with Joshua Dobbs as the starter last year vs. 24.2 with Justin Worley, 2) Derek Barnett and Curt Maggitt (21 combined sacks in ’14) are the most productive returning pass-rushing tandem in the SEC, and 3) Tennessee allowed 181.6 rushing yards per game in SEC contests last season.
- According to Lindy’s Sports, Tennessee actually averaged 36.7 points with Dobbs at quarterback last year. The main point is clear: the Vols were a much better rushing team, and the offensive line’s flaws were less exposed.
- Rashaan Gaulden could replace nickel corner Justin Coleman, but the team also gave a long look to potential All-SEC CB Cam Sutton at the position. Considering the Vols deploy five defensive backs pretty often, that could be a way to ensure Sutton spends a lot of time covering the opponents’ No. 1 receiver.
- I can’t be the only one who didn’t know “Pig” Howard’s birth name (Alton Howard), right?
- Tennessee is just 1-26 against ranked teams in the last five seasons and hasn’t beaten a ranked team on the road since 2006, according to Phil Steele. Ouch.
There’s a pretty strong consensus about Tennessee’s overall outlook for 2015, with most prognosticators predicting 8-4 or 9-3 in the regular season as a lower-end Top 25 team.
It’s hard to disagree with that assessment. The Vols have a few questions — run defense, the play of the offensive line and overall depth chief among them. The team remains relatively young, and to expect more is to put tremendous pressure on Joshua Dobbs as well as the rest of the team to stay healthy.
It also will become very interesting this year to watch the correlation between fan expectations, the perception of Butch Jones and actual on-field production.
When discussing potential defensive questions, the magazines focused almost solely on who will replace A.J. Johnson at middle linebacker.
While that’s a huge unanswered query (see below), I don’t think the magazines gave adequate and equal space to discuss similar worries at defensive tackle.
This may be in part because Derek Barnett had such a rare and outstanding true freshman season as the team’s starting defensive end. Also, I get that Khalil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle were touted recruits and bring plenty of physical ability to Knoxville.
But aren’t we assuming Tennessee’s interior defensive line will be good?
Starting tackle Jordan Williams is gone, and the team’s veteran options (Danny O’Brien and Owen Williams) are underwhelming, especially compared to the personnel on the outside. If the interior linemen can’t get push against the run, that will put even more pressure on a learn-on-the-fly starting middle linebacker.
Biggest Remaining Question: How will the team’s defensive tackles and middle linebacker fare against the run?
Consensus Projection: 2nd place, SEC East
Impact Newcomers: RB Alvin Kamara, DT Kahlil McKenzie