Butch Jones finally rolled out his long-awaited catch-phrase for Team 120: Own It.
Jones might as well have been sending a message to the fans as much as he was to his players. There are lots of things we Vols fans have grown accustomed to owning and optimism is not one of them. But I’m willing to give my all and indeed, own it.
So for all fans, for whom optimism doesn’t immediately spring forth when the Vols come to mind, I offer a few completely orange-colored glasses statistical predictions for Team 120.
1. Team 120 will score more points than Team 119.
Last year the Vols scored at a clip of 35.2 points per game, which was good enough for third in the conference and 29th nationally. Everyone of consequence returns; this team will be better than last year.
2. Team 120 will surpass 3,000 team rushing yards.
Team 119 grinded out 223.7 rushing yards per game (2nd in SEC/20th nationally) on to the second best rushing season in UT history (2908 yards). Jalen Hurd, Alvin Kamara, Joshua Dobbs and crew will run up huge totals this year also due to the development (and depth) of what should be one of the best offensive lines in the conference, thus 3,000 rushing yards is in sight for the Vols. Some of those yards will be pretty meaningful for UT history, as Hurd should eclipse Travis Henry as the all-time leading rusher and Dobbs needs only 38 yards to claim the top-spot as the all-time rushing leader for quarterbacks.
3. Dobbs will surpass his 2015 total offense yards (2,291 yards passing, 671 yards rushing) but not by much.
Why? He’ll be out of the game, and Quinten Dormady will be taking snaps. UT will be on the right side of a few more blowouts this season and the coaching staff will keep Dobbs fresh for what we all believe will be a crucial stretch-run to Atlanta.
4. Vols fans will see a better Dobbs, who will improve his accuracy (59.6 % in 2015) and his touch on intermediate and deep throws, leading to more touchdown passes than last year (15). No one expects Dobbs to transform into Aaron Rodgers this year but even slight improvements will be enough to make a significant impact on the team’s success.
5. UT will have different leaders in the 3 major receiving categories.
Last week, Will previewed Dobbs' targets for the upcoming season. The passing attack should be steadied by returning yardage leader Josh Malone who I believe will again lead the Vols in this category. Because Coach Jones has given me a newfound optimism for the season, likewise I think this is the year it all comes together for the Station Camp product. My top contender for Team 120’s reception leader is veteran Josh Smith especially given his move to the slot. Smith is a smart, precise route runner, and oh yeah, the hands are pretty good, too. In what should come as a surprise to no one, Preston Williams should lead the Vols in receiving touchdowns, offering Dobbs not only his best redzone option, but also an explosive playmaker who can turn quick-hitters into home runs.
6. Shoops’s squad will finish in the Top 3 in total defense in the SEC. Before we crown Bob Shoop the defense whisperer, let’s remember that the Vols defense did finish 5th in the conference (16th nationally) in scoring defense last year holding opponents to 20 points per game. However, the Vols were wedged firmly in the middle of the conference in total defense (7th at 362 ypg). Shoop’s impact on teams is undeniable when you look at his track record at Vanderbilt and Penn State. Shoop will make the most out of this collection of elite talent and do with this unit what Jancek did not. Like Jay Z said to Nas, "Yeah, I sampled your voice/You was using it wrong/You made it a hot line/I made it a hot song." Shoop’s defense will be dropping more than beats for Team 120 all year long.
7. Team 120 will set a new team record for either sacks or takeaways. No analysis needed. See above.
8. We will see fewer special team touchdowns this year for a number of reasons. Not to take anything away from Evan Berry, Cam Sutton, or Kamara, or to put too much emphasis on the coaching transition from Mark Elder to Larry Scott, but it might just be that the special teams standard of Team 119 is too difficult to replicate…especially if no one will kick to them this year. Consider your options if you were an opposing coach: Take your chances with one of the above three guys or just bomb it away from them and risk a bit of field position? If I’m in a close game against the Vols, who possess an explosive offense and a terrorizing defense, why tempt fate by giving their special teams a chance to beat me, too? I believe most coaches will follow suit leading to fewer TD’s from this exceptional group.
So to recap: on paper, everything is awesome.