Head Coach: Butch Jones
2016 record: 9-4 overall, 4-4 SEC East
2016 Postseason results: Beat Nebraska 38-24 in the Music City Bowl
2017 returning starters: 7 offense, 6 defense
Odds to win 2018 College Football Championship game: 103/1
Odds to win 2017 SEC Championship Game: 26/1
Odds to Win 2017 SEC East Division: 9/2
Regular season wins: over 7 1/2 -115 / under 7 1/2 -105
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Last year, Tennessee entered the season with sky high expectations of an SEC title and a potential playoff berth. They started off 5-0, including wins over rivals Florida and Georgia, but a three game losing streak dashed any hopes of even winning the SEC East. They would win four of the last five games, including a 38-24 win over Nebraska in the Music City Bowl. Still it was a disappointing 9 win season for the Volunteers.
This year, the expectations aren’t quite as high but Tennessee still will be factor in the SEC East. Thirteen starters are back for coach Butch Jones. Here is a look at Tennessee on offense, defense, special teams and the schedule and outlook for the season.
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Tennessee averaged 444 yards and 36 points per game last year on offense. Offensive coordinator Mike DeBord left for the same position at Indiana. Jones promoted tight ends coach Larry Scott to offensive coordinator. Seven starters are back.
Quarterback Joshua Dobbs is now with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He completed 63% of his passes for 2,946 yards with 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, plus 150 carries for 831 yards and 12 touchdowns to lead the team in rushing. Junior Quinten Dormady and redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano are locked in a tight battle to replace Dobbs. Jones has yet to name a starter. Both will likely see action in the season opener against Georgia Tech in a couple of weeks. Dormady threw for 148 yards last year behind Dobbs. Dormady is more of a pocket passer, while Guarantano is more mobile by a long way.
Running backs Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd are both gone. Kamara is now with the New Orleans Saints. He had 103 carries for 596 yards with 9 touchdowns, along with 40 catches for 392 yards and 4 touchdowns. Hurd left the team midway through last season and will transfer to Baylor. Hurd had 122 carries 451 yards and 3 touchdowns, along with 10 catches for 81 yards and 2 touchdowns. John Kelly is back though and rushed for more yards than Kamara and Hurd. Kelly had 98 carries for 630 yards and 5 touchdowns, plus six catches. Sophomore Carlin Fils-Aime will get most of the back-up carries. True freshman Ty Chandler will also get some carries.
Receiver Josh Malone is now with the Cincinnati Bengals. He had 50 catches for 972 yards and 11 touchdowns. Jauan Jennings is back after making 40 catches for 580 yards and 7 touchdowns. Tyler Bird had 15 catches for 209 yards. Marquez Callaway will also start at receiver. Receivers Josh Smith and Jacquez Jones are both out indefinitely. Tight end Jason Croom is now with the Buffalo Bills after making 21 catches for 242 yards. Tight end Ethan Wolf had 21 catches for 239 yards and 2 touchdowns last year.
The offensive line will be a strength. Center Jashon Robertson is very talented and could also play guard if necessary.True freshman Trey Smith is widely considered the number one prospect in the 2017 class. He is penciled in at right guard. Jack Jones will start at the other guard. Drew Richmond will likely be the left tackle. Right tackle Chance Hall is out for the season. Marcus Tatum will start in his place.
The Tennessee defense was terrible last year especially against the rush. The Volunteers allowed 449 yards per game including 219 yards per game on the ground. Tennessee allowed 29 points per game. Coordinator Bob Shoop could be on the hot seat if the defense doesn’t improve. Six starters are back for the Volunteers.
Defensive end Derek Barnett is now with the Philadelphia Eagles after making 18 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. Jonathan Kongbo will take over as the dominant pass rusher but the talent of Barnett will be difficult to replace. Darrell Taylor will start at the other end. Kendal Vickers and Reginald Kahlil McKenzie, Jr. will start at the tackles. Kongbo, Vickers, and McKenzie were all battling various injuries during the spring but look to be healthy for the season.
Middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland, Jr. is back after battling a high ankle sprain last year. He had 38 tackles in only 7 games. Cortez McDowell will also start at linebacker after making 47 tackles last year. Daniel Bituli and Quart’e Sapp will also see time at linebacker.
Todd Kelly, Jr. will start at one safety after making 67 tackles and 2 interceptions last year. Nigel Warrior will also start at safety. Justin Martin will start at one corner and Shaq Wiggins will start at the other corner. Rashaan Gaulden is the nickel back but Tennessee is expected to use more 4-3 defensive sets than the 4-2-5 they used last year.
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Kicker Aaron Medley made 10/15 field goals last year. Trevor Daniel averaged 45 yards per punt and landed 26 inside the 20. Evan Berry looks to return kicks again but suffered a knee injury late last season. Tyler Byrd will return punts.
Schedule and Outlook
Tennessee opens the season in Atlanta against Georgia Tech on Labor Day. It is technically a neutral site game but Atlanta is the home city of Georgia Tech. A home game against Indiana State precedes the SEC opener at Florida. The Volunteers get three straight home games against Massachusetts, Georgia and South Carolina. Road games at Alabama and Kentucky are next. A home game against Southern Miss is next followed by a road game at Missouri. Tennessee closes the season at home against LSU and Vanderbilt.
Tennessee has a very difficult schedule and questions on both sides of the ball. I think they win 7 games and make a mid-tier bowl.
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