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Pump The Brakes On That Big Orange Hype Train

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It's only February but the anticipation around Tennessee's 2015 campaign is reaching uncharted waters. National media members are quickly jumping on the bandwagon as Butch is busy trying to throw them back off.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee enters 2015 with legitimate expectations for the first time since the 2008 season, let's not discuss what happened that season or any other pre-Butch era, it's too depressing. Despite their recent history, pundits are seeing bright things in the works in Knoxville and have Tennessee as one of the nation's up-and-coming programs.

ESPN's Mark Schlabach has Tennessee in his Way-To-Early preseason top 20 following another impressive signing day haul.

FOX Sport's Bruce Feldman asked Butch if Tennessee is prepared to win the SEC (at the 4:00 mark) with the talent now in place in Knoxville.

ESPN's Travis Haney has Tennessee pegged as a program on the rise (Insider Link) and suggests that if Butch can't start winning, UT should bring in a coach that will win with the talent on hand in Knoxville. (That's a tough argument to make in my opinion, as Butch is the main reason so many elite prospects have recently chosen Tennessee)

Only 74 days ago, Tennessee struggled on the road against a 3-9 Vanderbilt in Nashville, ultimately winning 24-17. I felt compelled to write this as I read ESPN's Brad Edwards pick Tennessee to go to the 2015 Sugar Bowl (Insider Link).

Here was my immediate reaction:

Tennessee, coming off a 3-5 SEC campaign is going to the Sugar Bowl!?!? Two of those wins were against Vanderbilt and Kentucky. The other was the improbable comeback in Columbia. My point is, no one currently involved with the football program was even around in 2008 when Tennessee had expectations coming into a season. This is new ground for everyone at Tennessee. Before everyone starts purchasing hotel rooms in Atlanta on December 5th, take a deep breath while I attempt to slow this hype machine down to a respectable level.

In Edwards' own words, "the Vols may be a year away from being a top-10 caliber team." How much improvement we see from the offensive line and the impact of the incoming freshmen will have a tremendous amount to do with how soon this team can reach their potential. Edwards credits Tennessee "as returning the majority of both sides of the line", but at times last season, I thought the offensive line was going to get Justin Worley decapitated at some point. They clearly played better with Joshua Dobbs behind center and the addition of Mike DeBord to the staff will presumably help the offensive line more than any other unit on offense, but they are still very much a work in progress. Edwards also commented on the Vols schedule, saying "only the trip to Tuscaloosa looks like a probable loss." As we learned with Ole Miss this past season, judging the strength of schedule a year in advance can be a very flawed approach. Any one of the Vols SEC opponents is capable of derailing next season. How's this for an early season stretch: @Florida, Arkansas, Georgia and @Alabama in five weeks! Despite Florida's struggles on the recruiting trail, the Gators didn't pay Colorado State $7 million dollars to buyout McElwain's contract and expect a rebuild, they expect to win now. The Gators have the talent in place to beat Tennessee in the Swamp next season. The Vols follow that game up with a visit from an Arkansas team that was one of the hottest teams in the nation down the stretch, followed by the SEC East favorite Georgia coming to Neyland. The Georgia game is followed by a trip to Bama. Don't forget the trip to Mizzou late in the year, keep in mind the Vols have never beaten the Tigers in a football game. Pretty much a cakewalk if you ask me.

I understand the excitement following another tremendous recruiting class following a blowout win in the Taxslayer bowl, I'm pretty damn fired up too, but keep in mind the majority of Tennessee's elite recruits are linemen. It's so rare for a player to come in and have the impact Derek Barnett made in his freshman year. In case you may have forgotten, Barnett was the first true freshman defensive linemen to start the opening game in the history of Tennessee football. It's much more common for a high profile lineman to contribute little his first year on campus, e.g. Dewayne Hendrix. Kahlil McKenzie and Kyle Phillips appear to be players too good not to make an impact next season, but we won't really know until we see them hit the field in the fall.

We all know that Butch Jones has Tennessee on the rise but be careful to temper your expectations for 2015. Think back to Butch's first season, getting beat worse than any Tennessee team in 108 years, losing 59-14 at Oregon. Tennessee has made a huge improvement from that day, but that was only two years ago. If Butch can bring Tennessee back from that and into New Year's Six discussions in two years time, imagine what he can do in the next two years. Tennessee is building a foundation that championship teams will be built upon, but don't expect them until at least half the starting roster is at least juniors.

Hey, if I'm proven to be wrong and Tennessee does make the Sugar Bowl next season, first round is on me on Bourbon Street. Everybody wins! Just don't book the trip until it actually happens...