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An Agreeable Expectation: Vols Ranked Ninth

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The last and most famous poll agrees with everything else we’ve heard this off-season on Tennessee’s ability to think big in 2016.

Outback Bowl - Northwestern v Tennessee Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Eleven days before kickoff, we get one last reminder of This Is Where We Are Now.

Tennessee is ranked ninth in the preseason AP poll. All the things we said when the Vols were ranked tenth in the initial coaches’ poll ring true once more. It is also noteworthy how much consensus there is on Tennessee right now, especially considering all the "always overrated/they ain’t no good" angst on social media about a team that hasn’t won more than nine games in the regular season since 2004 now finding themselves in the Top 10. (You realize very quickly on a day like today that this is the first time the Vols have been in the national college football conversation in the social media era.)

But this Tennessee team doesn’t even really have a dark horse profile. The Vols aren’t ninth by way of half the country thinking they’re a Top 5 team and the other half thinking they’re overrated. Tennessee was sixth in Lindy’s, seventh in Athlon, seventh in Phil Steele, tenth in Sports Illustrated, 11th in ESPN The Magazine, and 13th in Sporting News. This is where the Vols have been living all summer according to almost everyone. Not in the top tier of Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Florida State. But a without-a-doubt Top 15 team in the eyes of everyone making a living at this.

So the goals we’ve said were realistic for this team this year? The polls agree: win the SEC East, get to Atlanta with a chance to get to the playoff. Tennessee has some separation from Georgia (18) and Florida (25). The Vols won’t see LSU (5) or Ole Miss (11) unless it’s in the Georgia Dome. Only top-ranked Alabama represents a higher-ranked foe on the schedule.

And even if the Vols don’t win the SEC or make the playoff, just meeting these preseason expectations means Tennessee would be a contender for a spot in the Cotton, Orange, or Sugar Bowls; landing in any of those would represent the Vols’ most prestigious bowl bid since playing in the Fiesta Bowl in January 2000. Even playing in the Citrus Bowl would be the best postseason destination for Tennessee since January 2002.

For all the cries of having to earn it? You only have to wait a week and a half to start doing that. This is still the least important poll of the year for Tennessee. But the Vols arrive in the Top 10 at the start of the 2016 season with a fairly strong consensus, far larger than those in orange, that this team is capable of reaching goals we haven’t seen in a long, long time. That’s worth celebrating today. And Team 120 will have every opportunity to chase bigger celebrations in just a few short tomorrows.

The full AP poll:

RANK TEAM RECORD POINTS FIRST PLACE VOTES PREVIOUS RANK
1 Alabama Crimson Tide 0-0 1469 33 1
2 Clemson Tigers 0-0 1443 16 2
3 Oklahoma Sooners 0-0 1352 4 5
4 Florida State Seminoles 0-0 1325 5 14
5 LSU Tigers 0-0 1269 1 16
6 Ohio State Buckeyes 0-0 1224 1 4
7 Michigan Wolverines 0-0 1147 1 12
8 Stanford Cardinal 0-0 1029 0 3
9 Tennessee Volunteers 0-0 1021 0 22
10 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 0-0 1006 1 11
11 Ole Miss Rebels 0-0 718 0 10
12 Michigan State Spartans 0-0 710 0 6
13 TCU Horned Frogs 0-0 707 0 7
14 Washington Huskies 0-0 651 0 NR
15 Houston Cougars 0-0 644 0 8
16 UCLA Bruins 0-0 496 0 NR
17 Iowa Hawkeyes 0-0 484 0 9
18 Georgia Bulldogs 0-0 448 0 NR
19 Louisville Cardinals 0-0 447 0 NR
20 USC Trojans 0-0 344 0 NR
21 Oklahoma State Cowboys 0-0 316 0 20
22 North Carolina Tar Heels 0-0 283 0 15
23 Baylor Bears 0-0 280 0 13
24 Oregon Ducks 0-0 218 0 19
25 Florida Gators 0-0 180 0 25
Others Receiving Votes: Miami 159, Texas A&M 81, Utah 74, Washington St. 68, Boise St. 49, San Diego St. 46, Wisconsin 42, Auburn 22, Pittsburgh 15, Arkansas 14, Texas 12, Nebraska 11, Navy 8, Northwestern 5, W. Kentucky 4, South Florida 2, Toledo 2.