Tennessee is No. 25 in the preseason top 25 rankings. What are the five things that matter about the 2016 Volunteers?
Can Butch Jones actually win?
There’s no excuse now. Tennessee has more talent than anyone in the SEC East, more experience, and now, more expectations. The Vols are better than Florida and Georgia, and should be ten miles ahead of Kentucky, Missouri and South Carolina, at least going into the season.
Even though they should beat Alabama at home – at least if everything is humming along – they’re still probably no better than the third best team in the SEC West. Lucky for them, they’re not in the West, and if they can get to the SEC title game with a shot at possibly going to CFP, that’s all that matters.
But first, Jones and his team have to prove they can win the tight, clutch game. They couldn’t do it last year.
The defense should be dominant
It took a while to build it up, but the Volunteers’ defensive front should be as dangerous and effective as any in college football. It starts with Derek Barnett on the outside, and will eventually revolve around Kahlil McKenzie in the interior. With the rotation to fill in whenever needed, and the linebacking corps that’ll be the best in the East, this is everything Tennessee fans have been waiting for.
Experience isn’t an issue on offense, either
If Joshua Dobbs isn’t the best quarterback in the SEC, he’s at least the smartest. If Jalen Hurd isn’t the best running back in the SEC, he’s among the most physical. The offensive line returns four starters, the receiving corps is full of veterans, and there’s explosive potential all over the offensive board. But potential has been the key word for the Vols for years – now it must be realized.
Again, it’s time to start coming through in the clutch
The biggest advantage to having a veteran team is that it’s supposed to keep its head when things get tight. Last year, Tennessee had Oklahoma dead in the water, and couldn’t bury Baker Mayfield. It had Florida beaten, and couldn’t come up with a fourth down stop. It hung tough with Alabama, but couldn’t stay quite physical enough. All that’s missing is the knowledge and confidence that the team can win in the fourth quarter on a regular basis. Then again, the Vols might be so good in most games, they might not have to worry.
What’s going to happen?
An 11-1 record and on to the SEC title game. This has to be the year when Tennessee becomes Tennessee again – there are too many good pieces for it not to be. The Vols get Florida and Alabama at home, and they don’t face a team that went bowling last year the rest of the way after October 15th. It’s Tennessee, so it’ll biff a game it shouldn’t – pencil in the road game at Texas A&M – but no one will complain if the Vols are in Atlanta in early December taking cuts against LSU or Alabama.