Friday, July 14, 2017
Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Tennessee Volunteers
If they gave out championships and titles for winning the game of life, as Butch Jones likes to point out, the Vols would be truly legendary, but they are not winning it where it counts, which means SEC East titles in a very watered down division. Butch Jones had the window open last season to take the division title and play in the SEC title game, but he fell short, and now the window on the Vols getting to that vaunted place has been slammed shut. With all of the losses that Tennessee suffered, how difficult will it be for them to keep up with Florida and Georgia, and stay ahead of the lower tier programs in the division?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
John Kelly returns at RB for the Vols, and may very well be a central piece of the offense, even though he is not a returning starter. He averaged 6.43 yards per carry last season in limited duty, but is probably the best bet they have for a big play performer.
Jauan Jennings is back at WR, and he will definitely be a major component as the Vols are bringing along an otherwise inexperienced corps of receivers. He caught 40 passes last season and scored seven times. Ethan Wolf caught 21 passes last season at TE, and should be able to help out alongthe way.
Strengths on the line should come in LG Jack Jones, C Jashon Robertson, and RT Chance Hall.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
Josh Dobbs is gone after a mostly up and down career, so the Vols will have to hit the rest button. The backup from last season, Quinton Dormady, is expected to startm but will get a major push from Jarret Guarantano, a RS freshman. Dormady attempted al of 17 passes last season.
While Jennings and Wolf bring stability to the receiving corps, the rest of the group is mostly an unknown situation, as a pair of sophomores are stepping up in Tyler Byrd and Marquez Calloway. They combined for all of 16 receptions last fall.
There are a couple of concerns on the line, as the Vols are turning to a sophomore to start at LT in Drew Richmond, and a freshman at RG in Trey Smith.
The kicking game has some ups and downs to deal with as well, as Aaron medley hit just 11/16 FG attempts last season.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Both LBs return in the 4-2-5 defense this fall in Cortez McDowell and Darrin Kirkland, Jr. They combined for 99 tackles last fall.
Trevor Daniel returns at Punter, and is one of the bets in the nation after averaging 44.57 yards per punt last fall.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
With Derek Barnett gone, the Vols lost one of the best defensive players that they have ever had. Replacing him will be most difficult. Darrell Taylor and Jonathon Kongbo will try their best at the DE spots, but they have a ton of work to do to get to where the tandem was last year at DE. Kendal Vickers and Reginald Khalil McKenzie, Jr. will start at DT, but hardly have wrecking ball numbers behind them.
The secondary will be loaded with new or under performing players this fall. Justin Martin and Shaq Wiggins will start at the CB spots, while Rashaan Gauldin, arguably the best of the bunch, starts at NB. Todd Kelly, Jr. and Nigel Warrior will project to start at the Safety spots.
2017 Schedule: 9/4 at Georgia Tech, 9/9 Indiana State, 9/16 at Florida, 9/23 U Mass, 9/30 Georgia, 10/14 South Carolina, 10/21 at Alabama, 10/28 at Kentucky, 11/4 Southern Mississippi, 11/11 at Missouri, 11/18 LSU, 11/25 Vanderbilt
Butch Jones has been a master recruiter, but that recruiting acumen has not turned into much on the field, and championship of life trophies or rings don't cut it in SEC play. He is in a win now situation, because it would seem, as I said earlier, the window on Tennessee getting a foothold on SEC East dominance has closed on them. They've certainly had their chances to get there, they just have not. Don't be surprised of this team either finishes third in the East behind Florida and Georgia, or completely bottoms out and misses a bowl. Either scenario could be likely.