Tennessee is not a team that opposing coaches are going to want to face in November. The Vols are in the unique position of returning the fewest percentage of letterman in the conference, and yet fielding a team that is inarguably both deeper and more talented than last season's outfit. And so the question of how good the Vols can be this season depends on how long it takes this talented but green squad to both buy into and fully grasp a new system, and to develop the chemistry needed to play, not as individuals, but as a collective unit with a united purpose. And this is on both sides of the ball and in the special teams as well.
SEC Rank CFB Rank Team Returning Lost Total Lettermen % Return 1 1 South Carolina 58 10 68 85.29% 2 3 Mississippi State 57 12 69 82.61% 3 23 Texas A&M 54 18 72 75.00% 4 32 Auburn 53 19 72 73.61% 5 35 LSU 44 16 60 73.33% 6 57 Florida 49 21 70 70.00% 7 66 Kentucky 50 22 72 69.44% 8 67 Vanderbilt 43 19 62 69.35% 9 72 Ole Miss 60 27 87 68.97% 10 73 Georgia 51 23 74 68.92% 11 75 Arkansas 44 20 64 68.75% 12 78 Alabama 48 22 70 68.57% 13 111 Missouri 39 24 63 61.90% 14 120 Tennessee 43 29 72 59.72%
Tennessee has a tough early-season schedule (Utah State in the opener is no pushover and there's a trip to Oklahoma) and given that the Vols have to replace most of their offensive line, the going could be rough early. That being said, Tennessee is overall more talented than it was a year ago during the first season of the Butch Jones era and one has to think that talent will start to find its groove and develop by the last month of the regular season
I certainly agree that the Vols will likely be firing on all cylinders by the time we reach the red zone of the season. But what if the Vols come out firing on all cylinders as early as game 3? Could just be a fun year, and crazier things have happened.
Phil Steele, the greatest college football prognosticator in the history of college football (just ask him)1, has Tennessee at #8 on his list of most improved teams, and also notes the likelihood for significant improvement as the season progresses:
In the past three years, the Volunteers are 4-20 in SEC play. This year's squad has much more experience at the skill positions than last year but remarkably has zero returning starters on the offensive and defensive lines. While they play my No. 2 toughest schedule in the country, those inexperienced lines will have more experience come November, when, if they sweep the likes of Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt in their final three games, they will be bowling for the first time since 2010.
- In addition to holding his annual football camp in Knoxville the weekend of June 21st, Eric Berry was also in Knoxville reportedly working out with the Vols' secondary this past weekend (though I haven't been able to find any pictures). Eric appeared on the GVX radio program where he discussed his brothers games, his love for UT, how the energy Coach Jones has brought to the Vols is similar to what Andy Reid brought to Kansas City when he arrived, and he even discusses my homeboy Tyler Bray for a bit.
- The SEC Network should be available on Comcast when it debuts on August 14th. No word yet on which of Comcast's packages will carry it. Because, as you know, cable companies like to bundle their channels together in packages.2
I Believe That We Will Win!
1. "Making my most improved list has generally been a blessing for teams, as they usually make big turnarounds."↩