#OPPORTUNITYISNOWHERE: Tracking Tennessee Football's Opportunity for Improvement in 2011

A few weeks into the season, we'll begin using this space and time to do a statsy preview of the upcoming game. Those things generally travel the continuum from completely unreliable early in the season to something approaching a decent guess by the time all of the games have been played. Before the season is played and based on last year's stats, it's totally not worth it, and that's true particularly where the opponents' resumes are compiled in two different college football subdivisions.

So instead, I thought I'd update our Monitoring Tennessee's Improvement series we did last year and re-brand it #opportunityisnowhere.

Last season, the things UT did well (as defined as those things in which it ranked as one of the nation's 30 best teams) mostly trended upward, and the team finished the season doing okay to fine in the following categories.

Categories In Which Tennessee
Was In The Top Quarter in 2010
Category

2010

Kickoff Return Yardage Defense 9
Passes Intercepted 19
Turnovers Gained 23
Fewest Yards Penalized Per Game 30
Pass Efficiency Defense 30
Passing Offense 30

 

Hey, look. We've become KICKOFF RETURN YARDAGE DEFENSE-U! That stat is mystifying, especially in light of the fact that the kicker couldn't get the ball into the end zone and pretty much just kicked to like the 15. Am I remembering that right?

Anyway, the team was also pretty good at generating interceptions (which is also probably factored in to turnovers gained), and just on the cusp of being okay at fewest yards penalized, pass efficiency defense, and passing offense. I'm milking the fewest yards penalized stat for every last ounce of solace it can provide, hoping that it means our guys are disciplined guys who just weren't all that experienced in 2010. Disciplined and more experienced should mean good things, right?

So how many of those Things We Did Well were the result of players who are no longer here? Here's the chart of Tennessee players who ranked in the top 30 of the nation last year. You don't need a cup of coffee; it's a short list.

Player Ranking Stat
Janzen Jackson 22nd Interceptions
Prentiss Waggner 23rd Fumbles Recovered

 

Jackson's gone, of course, but P-Swag is still here, so woo for him. As we all know, the key questions for the passing game this year are whether Bray can reduce the interceptions and whether Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers can become (or can improve on) Denarius Moore and Gerald Jones, who each barely missed the top quarter in a couple of receiving categories for 2010. Stay tuned on that.

#OPPORTUNITYISNOWHERE

So that's pretty much it for Things Tennessee Did Well in 2010. But that just means that wehavemoreopportunitythanmost, right? The Vols were mostly just lost in the middle of the stat categories last season, and they climbed their way out of the basement in several of them as the season progressed. Still, they finished in the bottom quarter in several categories, and so these things head up the euphemistic Opportunity List:

Categories In Which Tennessee
Was In The Bottom Quarter In 2010

Category 2010
Pass Sacks Allowed 115
Tackles for Loss Allowed 113
Punt Returns 109
Rushing Offense 105
Red Zone Efficiency 104
Offense Fourth Down Efficiency 96
First Downs 92
Time of Possession 90

 

With a few notable exceptions (i.e., punt returns, which is mostly a matter of simply finding someone who will catch the ball and not drop it), most of that is offensive line stuff, which is actually good news, I think, and not just because we're reading "nowhere" as "now here." Tennessee's offensive line was about as green as they come last year, and although that means they're still young this year, they played a lot last year and are therefore gaining quickly on the rest of nation in terms of actual experience. Experience tends to graduate, and wedon'treallyhavethatproblem. Couple that with that postive fewest yards penalized stat above, and we should really see some improvement in most of those categories.

For what it's worth, the Vols barely missed the cut on interceptions -- recording 15 and placing 88th in the nation -- and on offensive third-down efficiency, in which they also finished 88th. So watch those categories as well.

So what do y'all think? In what area do the Vols have the best chance of becoming among the top teams in the nation? What areas are you most concerned about improving?

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