“Tennessee is going to be really good next year.” That’s the line that many college football fans have heard every year for almost a decade. Unsurprisingly, the line has, more often than not, failed to hold up over the course of the season. Since the 2006 season, Tennessee has won ten games just once and had a string of four consecutive losing seasons. However, this might actually be the year where Tennessee breaks through. It’s year four for Butch Jones in Knoxville and there is not only talk of winning the SEC East, but also of winning the SEC and going to the College Football Playoff.
Unlike many of the teams across the country, Tennessee does not have to replace too many key guys on either side of the ball. Offensively, the Vols have the most experienced QB in the SEC with Josh Dobbs. Entering his senior year, Dobbs is widely considered one of the smartest football players in the country and has gotten progressively better every year he’s been at Tennessee. He won the starting job full time going into last season and had a decent year, throwing for 2,291 yards and 15 TD’s while also rushing for 671 yards and 11 TD’s. To complement Dobbs, the Vols have one of the top running back tandems in college football with Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. Last season Hurd had 1,288 yards and 12 TD’s while Kamara had 698 yards and 7 TD’s. One of the things that cost Tennessee several games last year was the offense taking their foot off the gas when they took a big lead. This offense is more experienced now and, hopefully for Tennessee fans, that shouldn’t be a problem going forward.
On the defensive side of the ball, Tennessee has a new coordinator. Bob Shoop arrives in Knoxville from Penn State where he coached the Nittany Lions defense for James Franklin for the last two years. He does have experience in the SEC, having been the defensive coordinator at Vanderbilt for three years under Franklin. Shoop takes over a defense that was stout last year, giving up only 20 points per game and holding four teams to ten or fewer points. The defense is led by a pair of potential first round NFL draft picks: linebacker Jaylen Reeves-Maybin and defensive back Cameron Sutton, both of whom are team captains. Maybin had a whopping 105 tackles last year (including 21 against Oklahoma) while Sutton had 24 tackles and 1 INT.
Tennessee is the trendy pick to win the SEC East. Their non-conference schedule is intriguing with a pair of solid Group of 5 teams and of course the marquee Week 2 matchup against Virginia Tech in Bristol. As soon as they start conference play there is a brutal four week stretch that could cause the season to unravel. But if they can get through unscathed or with just one loss, they should be in pretty good shape going down the stretch.
What held Tennessee back last year was the inability to finish games. The Vols blew big fourth quarter leads against Oklahoma and Florida because they took their foot off the accelerator. The players and coaching staff have matured since then. The influx of talent into Knoxville has also been mighty impressive. That, more than any other reason, is why expectations are so high on Rocky Top.
2016 Tennessee Volunteers Schedule
9/1 – Tennessee vs. Appalachian State – Neyland Stadium
9/10 – Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech – Bristol Motor Speedway*
9/17 – Tennessee vs. Ohio – Neyland Stadium
9/24 – Tennessee vs. Florida – Neyland Stadium
10/1 – Tennessee @ Georgia – Sanford Stadium
10/8 – Tennessee @ Texas A&M – Kyle Field
10/15 – Tennessee vs. Alabama – Neyland Stadium
10/29 – Tennessee @ South Carolina – Williams-Brice Stadium
11/5 – Tennessee vs. Tennessee Tech – Neyland Stadium
11/12 – Tennessee vs. Kentucky – Neyland Stadium
11/19 – Tennessee vs. Missouri – Neyland Stadium
11/26 – Tennessee @ Vanderbilt – Vanderbilt Stadium
*denotes game being played at neutral site