Head Coach: Butch Jones
2015 record: 9-4 overall, 5-3 SEC East
2015 Postseason results: Beat Northwestern 45-6 in the Outback Bowl
2016 returning starters: 9 offense, 9 defense
Odds to win 2017 College Football Championship game: 15/1
Odds to win 2016 SEC Championship Game: +405
Odds to Win 2016 SEC East Division: -140
Regular season wins: under 10 1/2 -235 / over 10 1/2 +178
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The Tennessee Volunteers went 9-4 last season and won their last six games of the season. Still, the season could have been even more special. The Volunteers’ four losses all came by 7 points or less, including losses to two of the four playoff teams Oklahoma 31-24 in double overtime and 19-14 to Alabama. Tennessee also lost to Arkansas 24-20 and rival Florida 28-27. Tennessee would end the season by routing Northwestern 45-6 in the Outback Bowl.
This year, Tennessee gets 18 starters back for coach Butch Jones. The Volunteers are significant favorites to win the SEC East title over Georgia and Florida. Tennessee has not played in the SEC Championship game since 2007.
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Tennessee averaged 422 yards per game on offense including 224 rushing yards, and 35 points per game. Nine starters are back for coordinator Mike DeBord.
Quarterback Joshua Dobbs threw for 2,291 yards with 15 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, and also had 146 carries for 671 yards and 11 touchdowns. He is an adequate passer but a very dangerous runner. Quinten Dormady will be the back-up again. He took a handful of snaps mostly in garbage time last year.
Behind Dobbs, Tennessee has a talented duo at running back. Jalen Hurd had 277 carries for 1,288 yards with 12 touchdowns, along with 22 catches for 190 yards and 2 touchdowns. Barring injury, he will become the leading rusher in Tennessee history this season and will be playing in the NFL soon. Alvin Kamara had 107 carries for 698 yards and 7 touchdowns, plus 34 catches for 291 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Tennessee loses their top receiver Von Pearson to graduation. He had 38 catches for 409 yards and 3 touchdowns. Josh Malone had 31 catches for 405 yards and 2 touchdowns last year. Josh Smith had 23 catches for 307 yards and 2 touchdowns. Tight end Ethan Wolf had 23 catches for 301 yards and 2 touchdowns. Besides Hurd and Kamara no other receiver had more than 14 catches last year. Jauan Jennings moves into the starting line-up to replace Pearson.
Tennessee returns four starters on the offensive line. They allowed only 20 sacks last year.
Tennessee allowed 362 yards per game and 20 points per game last year. Despite being in the top 40 nationally in both categories the Volunteers dismissed defensive coordinator John Jancek. They hired Bob Shoop as the new coordinator. Shoop held the same position at Penn State. He gets nine starters back. Shoop has boasted that no one will be able to run against his defense. That is pretty big talk in a league that features Leonard Fournette, Nick Chubb and Ralph Webb at running back.
End Derek Barnett had 69 tackles last year, including 12.5 for loss and 10 sacks. Corey Vereen and Jonathan Kongbo will platoon at the other end. Vereen had 9.5 tackles for loss last year. Kahlil McKenzie and Kendal Vickers will start at the tackles.
Jalen Reeves-Maybin had 105 tackles last year including 14 for loss and 6 sacks. Darrin Kirkland, Jr. had 66 tackles last year including 6.5 for loss. They form one of the top linebacking duos in the country. Cortez McDowell will also start at linebacker.
The only two new starters will be both safeties, Todd Kelly, Jr. and Evan Berry. Kelly had 3 interceptions last year. Cameron Sutton and Justin Martin will start at the corners. Sutton could have gone to the NFL but decided to come back for his senior season.
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Kicker Aaron Medley was inconsistent last year converting 21/31 field goals. He needs to be better if Tennessee is truly going to be a contender. Punter Trevor Daniel averaged 45.7 yards per punt and landed 25 inside the 20. Berry averaged 38.3 yards per kick return and took three to the house. Sutton averaged 18.7 yards per punt return and returned two for touchdowns.
Outlook and Schedule
Tennessee does not leave the state until October 1. The Volunteers host Appalachian State before playing Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway. Tennessee hosts Ohio and Florida to close out September. The Volunteers then travel to Georgia and Texas A&M. They host Alabama before a road game at South Carolina. Tennessee then hosts Tennessee Tech, Missouri and Kentucky before closing the season at Vanderbilt.
The Volunteers will likely be favored in every game except perhaps Georgia and Alabama. They have to solve their Florida problem as the Gators have beaten them 11 straight times. I think the Volunteers win the SEC East but I don’t think they are as talented as Alabama or even LSU.
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