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Staples to Finebaum: “I’m not giving up on Tennessee in terms of competing in the SEC East.”

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Andy Staples thinks the Vols could surprise in 2017.

NCAA Football: Tennessee Practice Knoxville News Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK

Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples joined the Paul Finebaum show this week. The two big time college football voices discussed Tennessee, among other things. Staples was surprisingly high on the Vols, giving praise to the program and a chance to win the SEC East title.

Staples began by discussing the Georgia Tech opener, along with the quarterback situation. He noted the uncertainty on offense as a result of the fresh faces under center.

“With Tennessee, I’m not giving up on them in terms of competing for the SEC East Title,” Staples said. “I don’t believe last year was their only window.”

“My guess is that this year’s team will have a lot better chemistry than last year’s team did. You can’t possible have any worse injury luck on the defensive side of the ball.”

There’s no debating Andy’s point here. Last year’s squad was riddled with injuries on the defensive side of the ball, particularly up front. It was hard to put a consistent product on the field with the constant shuffling of bodies up front. That’s an area where Tennessee has a shot to improve, despite losing Derek Barnett and Corey Vereen.

Finebaum pressed Staples a little, looking for a bold statement to cap off his positivity on Tennessee. Staples came back with, “I’m giving them a chance.”

“I’m happy to give them a chance. They have upgraded the talent very well in that program. They have built it into a program that can compete in the SEC. We’ll see if this mix of people can compete a little better than last year’s mix of people.”

Part of me will always wonder what a healthy mix of players would have done on the field last season. I think Tennessee missed a golden opportunity last season, but as Andy stated — let’s not shut that window yet. Just because Tennessee has some unknowns on the roster doesn’t mean they can’t compete. We’ll see what this new mix of coaches and fresh faces can accomplish in 2017.

You can listen to the full interview with Staples and Finebaum here.