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Smoke ‘Em Vols (Tennessee Volunteers Preview)

Posted by Ryne E. Hancock on August 26, 2007

In college football, as well as in life, you have your good days and your bad days.

And in the case of the Tennessee Volunteers in 2005, those bad days were plenty as Tennessee sat at home during the holidays for the first time in nearly 20 years, finishing 5-6 on the year including a loss to Vanderbilt at Neyland Stadium to close out the season.

With that behind them, the Vols did the Vol Nation proud in 2006 by bouncing back with a respectable 9-4 record and a New Year’s Day bowl berth, only to lose to Penn State in the Outback Bowl.

But despite this, the Vols are fast approaching a decade without an SEC Championship, or even a mention in the national championship hunt, something that has the locals in Knoxville a bit edgy and concerned as championships are expected each and every year like the checkers in the end zones at Neyland.

And as Philip Fulmer, the dean of SEC coaches, enters his 15th season in Knoxville, the pressure for an SEC championship will be greater than ever as Erik Ainge returns for one more year on the Hilltop.

In 2006, Ainge threw for 2,989 yards and 19 touchdowns, good enough for a 67.0 completion percentage. Many of those passes went to targets such as Robert Meachem, Bret Smith, and Jayson Swain, who combined for a total of 2,439 reception yards and 22 touchdowns in 2006, and with them gone, it’s up to a brand new batch of receivers that include only one that saw any type of game action in Lucas Taylor.

Joining Taylor will be sophomore Quinton Hancock and Austin Rogers, who both emerged from spring drills as the top wideouts.

The running game, for the most part, is a bit on the medicore side as the Vols averaged the worst amount of yards per game in over 20 years with 108 yards per game in 2006. Atlanta native LaMarcus Coker will be splitting time with former freshman phenom Adrian Foster at tailback. Coker rushed for 717 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2006 while Foster rushed for 359 yards and 5 touchdowns. The wild card in the running game will be Montario Hardesty, who finished second on the team in rushing with 419 yards and 4 touchdowns and who should see some valuable playing time in 2007.

For a school that is known for churning out guys like Reggie White and Al Wilson, the Vols defense in 2006 was absymal as Tennessee finished 72nd in stopping the run. With the departure of the 4-3 defense that has been in place since 1989 and experimenting with the 3-4, the Vols look to close out games that could have played a role in determining whether or not they would play in a BCS bowl last season.

Notables that return on offense include linebacker Jerrod Mayo, who finished third on the team with 83 stops and 12.5 tackles for loss. He will be joined senior Ryan Karl, who collected 66 tackles in 2006 and is a thinking man’s player according to some publications around the South.

Final analysis: A decade ago, it was Tennessee and Florida carrying the banner for the SEC, making the third Saturday in September count towards not only the conference championship, but a shot at a national championship as well. Now that the Gators have their second national championship and returned to their status as the class of the SEC, the Vols, for the most part, are on the clock if they want to return to glory in 2007. This year can be the giant step Tennessee can take to getting back to that point in the SEC.

Projected record: 10-2 (6-2 SEC)

2007 Tennessee Volunteers

Sept. 1st @ California

Sept. 8th Southern Mississippi

Sept. 15th @ Florida

Sept. 22nd Arkansas State

Oct. 6th Georgia

Oct. 13th @ Mississippi State

Oct. 20th @ Alabama

Oct. 27th South Carolina

Nov. 3rd Louisiana-Lafayette

Nov. 10th Arkansas

Nov. 17th Vanderbilt

Nov. 24th @ Kentucky


7 Responses to “Smoke ‘Em Vols (Tennessee Volunteers Preview)”

  1. Just2Cocky said

    I would say that Tennessee’s chances to win the East are better than average, given they have a lot of their tough matchups at home. That game at Florida stands out, but I don’t think that Florida will have been able to make adjustments in enough time and the Vols could steal one early.

    It may not make a difference, but watch out for an upset on October 27th, as Visorman has Phil’s number. That game at Kentucky is primed for the Wildcats to take as well, especially if Tennessee has the East wrapped up by then.

  2. Matt said

    Thanks for your thoughts, J2C, and I agree. I think you all have a solid chance of taking that one in Knoxville in October as do we at home in November.

    Tennessee has a brutal schedule though, luckily they don’t play LSU this year or they’d really be screwed.

  3. Steven said

    The SEC is always brutal, but honestly, the Vols have a cakewalk as far as SEC schedules go.

    As J2C stated, they play all their tough games at home and their easier games on the road. (Almost the exact opposite of USC, which also plays @ LSU).

    I really think that Tennessee won’t be that great this year, but simply because their schedule is set for the taking, I think they win 9 or 10 games in what will likely be an unimpressive season.

  4. Bob Swerski said

    I think they go 8-4, losing to Florida, Bama, the Cocks, and 1 of the last 3 games. I should also state however that I know next to nothing about college football and even less about the SEC, so hold my opinion with a grain of salt

  5. Matt said

    Good point Steven…I guess the SEC is brutal regardless…

    What is ya’ll’s strength of schedule this year? It has to be Top 5…I think Kentucky’s is 12 but I am sure that differs depending on the site..

  6. Condo said

    Let me start by saying that NO team in the SEC has an easy schedule. From top to bottom, the SEC is the toughest conference in America, and this is coming from a Big 10 supporter (Ohio State).

    However, I don’t think Tennessee was given as big of a break as far as having home contests go. Going to ‘The Swamp’ is NEVER fun, regardless of how young Florida may be this season. Can Tennessee go in there and win? Of course they can, but not sure that they will.

    They get some major breaks by facing Georgia, USC, and Arkansas all at home and by avoiding both Auburn and LSU altogether. But they still non-conference wise have to travel out to Cal to start the season and in conference play @ Alabama (never easy regardless of Bama’s record) and @ Kentucky (which will be no joke this season).

    All and all, I’d say Tennessee will go anywhere between 8-4 to 10-2. I am leaning more towards the 9-3 record with losses @ Cal (eastern teams NEVER seem to win out on the west coast against west coast teams), @ Florida, and then at home versus South Carolina. I think the possible trap game that could drop them to 9-3 if they win any of those 3 I said they will lose would be to Kentucky.

    I think their season also hinges on how well (or poorly) they play @ Cal. If they come out of there with a convincing win, they could honestly be serious players at a SEC crown and even a national championship. They go to Cal and get blown out… I don’t think 7-5 or even 6-6 would be out of the question.

  7. Steven said

    I agree Condo.

    A LOT of the Vols season IMHO hinges on what confidence they gain or lose in that Cal game.

    Generally I wouldn’t think so as it is a nonconference game and in the big scheme of things isn’t as important as your conference games, but for a Vol team that some expect to win the SEC East and to be a top 10 or even top 5 team Nationally, they have to prove it starting in week 1 as there is very little room for error.

    The SOS I saw had:
    – Kentucky, Ole Miss and MSU all tied for 3rd toughest schedule Nationally
    – Tennessee, AUB and Bama are all 3 tied for 12th Nationally
    – USC and Vandy are tied for 15th toughest Nationally.

    Now, I am no mathematician mind you, but that appears to me that 9 of the top 15 (60%) toughest schedules Nationally.

    Another tough year in the toughest conference in America.

    ~ Steven (TaySC)

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