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Tennessee Picked 3rd in SEC East by Athlon Sports

Athlon is projecting a similar 2017 season for the Vols.

NCAA Football: Florida at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Athlon Sports released their SEC preview this week, filled with predictions for the upcoming football season. They have the Vols slotted for 3rd in the SEC East, predicting a 8-4 record overall and a 4-4 record in the SEC.

That’s a pretty realistic scenario. It would mean that Tennessee takes the season opener against Georgia Tech, but drops four conference games — likely Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Florida. Those games will all likely feature the Vols as underdogs.

Tennessee certainly could win any of those games outside of Alabama, but South Carolina, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Missouri aren’t going to be automatics, I’m afraid. I actually think an 8-4 mark would be a success for this team, considering all that they’re replacing.

The sports mag also called Tennessee the hardest team to evaluate in the conference. I can definitely see that. There is going to be so much roster turnover in Knoxville this season that it’s really hard to gauge what a potential season could look like. The quarterback position is what comes into focus here. Nobody knows — not even Butch Jones — what Tennessee is going to get from under center.

Replacements on defense have to step up. High profile recruits like Shy Tuttle, Kahlil McKenzie and Jonathan Kongbo have to show out. They have to be leaders and consistently be difference makers for this team to succeed. All of this leads to uncertainty, which makes the Vols really tough to pin down for 2017.

Tennessee offensive lineman Trey Smith was mentioned as a possible top freshman, along with running back Ty Chandler. Both are on this list due to talent and the ability to contribute quickly. We should see a healthy dose of both early on.

Are these predictions fair?