“Tennessee Is and Isn’t a Year Away.”

I see Stewart Mandel joins the list of pundits who pick the Vols to win the SEC East this season.

I’m not buying Tennessee as much as some (as you’ll see, I have them losing at home to Oklahoma), but I still see the Vols winning a mediocre East. Georgia and Tennessee both play Alabama as a crossover foe, but the Dawgs also have to visit Auburn while Tennessee hosts Arkansas.

Okay, so it’s not the most enthusiastic blessing you’ll ever see… in fact, I’m not even sure why, given the recent history in the series, Mandel sees Georgia traveling to Auburn as being that significant a difference from playing the Hogs in Knoxville.  But taking it for the sake of argument as an acceptance that Tennessee is back, maybe not as a conference powerhouse so much as at least not hopelessly outclassed in the division any more, why so?

I get that the Vols have had two very strong recruiting classes in a row.  But Tennessee is far from the only SEC team which can make that claim.  And I also get that, as a result, the overall talent level of the team is better than it was under SOD.  But that’s really damning with faint praise, given what went on with Tennessee recording between the end of Fulmer’s term and Jones’ arrival.

The 85-scholarship era has hurt power teams like Tennessee and Nebraska who reside in states that don’t produce much talent. The Vols specifically have been hurt by a string of coaching mishaps, from the messy exit of Phillip Fulmer to the one-and-done year of Lane Kiffin to the ineffective Derek Dooley. The thought of hiring a recruiting ace in Kiffin wasn’t bad in and of itself after declining results from Fulmer’s classes, but the strikeout rate on Fulmer’s final two and Kiffin’s one class is just crazy. Dooley turned out to be in over his head with the job anyway, but trying to dig out of that hole was never going to be an easy task for anyone.

It’s a deep, deep hole that Jones finds himself trying to climb out of, in other words.  And the big issue there is depth.

The one part of the rebuild that Jones hasn’t had time to do yet is build true depth. Non-Vols fans out there can’t name Dobbs’s backup, and don’t say Nathan Peterman—he transferred to Pitt. There is basically nothing behind Hurd and Kamara at running back. Last year’s offensive line was a mess in part to turning over all five positions, and it’s unclear if this year’s will be leaps and bounds better or just kind of better. The defense is in better shape in this regard than the offense is, although linebacker other than Maggitt (who splits time as an end) and Reeves-Maybin is a question mark.

So what’s it gonna take for Tennessee to win the East in 2015?  Some luck with health, some hope that the schedule cooperates (although Missouri, which is riding a three-game winning streak against UT, has a far easier path than the Vols do) and every other contending team in the division falling on their collective faces.  And remember, this is a team and a coaching staff that has yet to find major success handling a conference slate.  That’s a lot of reaches for a program that barely scraped into a bowl game a year ago.  Admittedly, stranger things have happened.  But that’s a pretty thin margin for error Jones has to work with.

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35 Comments

Filed under Because Nothing Sucks Like A Big Orange

35 responses to ““Tennessee Is and Isn’t a Year Away.”

  1. Chadwick

    That is a classic example of throwing shit against a wall to see what sticks.

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  2. PTC DAWG

    UT has had one decent SEC win under their current Coach…not sold on them yet..I see them at 4-4 in conference.

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    • Mayor

      I think that’s about right. I also see them likely as 6-6 overall in the regular season with losses against Oklahoma, at Florida, Arkansas, Georgia, at Bama, South Carolina and at Missouri. UT’s wins should be Bowling Green, Western Carolina, at Kentucky (I’m not so sure about that one), North Texas and Vandy. The Vols have to upset somebody to have a winning regular season with the most likely upset victim being South Carolina, although that happened already and the Ole Ball Sack will have his team ready to play for that reason–for sure. I also think that if they have gotten drubbed four times by the time they play at Kentucky the Vols may have already quit on Sgt. Carter and/or he may have already been fired. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say UT is 5-7 in the regular season, misses a bowl and Sgt. Carter is gone post-2015.

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  3. Do none of these writers look to see who UT actually beat last year, not a good team in the bunch and their bowl opponent was not even their best win. I don’t see UT as being there yet.

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    • Will (The Other One)

      A lot of the Dobbs praise seemed based on a mix of stats padded against really bad defenses, and the simple fact that he didn’t wet himself against Bama.

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  4. Cojones

    I think that their close games with us led to this myopic selection, so we partially can blame ourselves. The idea is repugnant to me since there is no way to equate the good players that they have to UGA’s players and depth. Every time someone examines Tenn, they push the capabilities of their QB beyond hype and into the Heisman running. Each pundit has to outdo the others and when they get through, seem to be embarrassed not to make the analysis of Tenn to win the East. It’s both a right and left-handed slap at us.

    Oh, well. Guess we have to show them in Neyland. If we lose to anyone before facing them, I wouldn’t want to be on that orange field wearing orange because the Dawgs will be seeing a brighter color that game.

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  5. Here is my prediction … UT wins 9 regular season games but finishes 2nd in the East. Butch leaves UT to become head coach at Miami

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    • Cojones

      Al, the Jimmie Carter of Miami, could use a helping hand with the recruiting and getting a lot out of the good players he has. My next door neighbor haz a sad, but “Taa, tadada,tadadaa”, Butch is familiar to him and has been wanted back for some time.

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  6. Argondawg

    This just shows how much stock is put into recruiting rankings. They recruit better than they have in a long time. Usually that translates into wins down the road. I see them as a 7 or 8 win team. If they win 6, with all of this hype does that put Butch on the hot seat?

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  7. Irwin R. Fletcher

    I just don’t get the U10 love. Everyone is falling all over themselves not to be the pundit that missed the revival…but….they won 2 conference games and then 3 conference games over the past two seasons. I looked at SECCG participants since 2000…you’ve only had 6 out of 30 who had sub-.500 conference records the year prior. 2006 Arky, 2010 Carolina and Auburn, 2011 UGA, 2013 Mizzou and Auburn. All of those schools other than 2010 Carolina won 7 conference games or more.

    The only one that I think is a valid comp is the 2010 Carolina team…which wasn’t really that good of a team to begin with…that was more of a transition team to some of Spurrier’s great teams at Carolina (who ironically didn’t make the SECCG). I guess there is an outside chance that Sgt Carter gets the Vols to 7-1 in conference and makes the SECCG, but I think the more likely scenario is either a flop or a 5-3 finish that you absolutely would have to respect going into 2016.

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  8. Granthams replacement

    No mention of hiring a new OC?

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    • DawgPhan

      Yeah I dont get how UGA hiring an NFL veteran OC is a bad thing, but them hiring an administrator who hasnt called plays in years goes without mention.

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  9. RG

    I do think UT will be better this year. But I still think we edge them in Knoxville this year. I think Arky beats them at home and that takes a little wind out of their 4-0 start sails. That’s assuming we beat Bama and arrive in KnoxVegas with our hair on fire.

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    • Irwin R. Fletcher

      They could realistically have 2 or even losses with games against Arky, Florida, and Oklahoma in August. I think everyone forgets…they lost to Florida last year at home. No guarantee they will go to UF and win.

      The pundits all ready have their ‘overrated/justified the hype’ wrap up for the U10-Arky game….they just left the team names blank so they could paste them in after the game.

      Just so I get today’s sports journalism…create the narrative so that you can report on that narrative or in the alternative, report on a change in the narrative.

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    • No way UT beats Oklahoma. They could have 3 losses by the time we and Bama show up against the Vols.

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      • Irwin R. Fletcher

        Oklahoma lost 40-6 last season to Clemson, they lost 4 conference games, and “only” signed a top 15 or so recruiting class. This is really a put up or shut up year for them….they have to prove they haven’t fallen behind TCU and Baylor…and there are a lot of teams in the Big 12 that are scrapping in similar circumstances (KSU, Texas, Okie State, W VA, and OU).

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        • That’s a fair statement, but they beat the Vols soundly last year in Norman. I just don’t see the Vols undefeated when the Dawgs come to play them in their cow pasture surrounded by an erector set with seats not wide enough for Lulu and Junior.

          I’m not sold on any team with Jancek and Martinez on the staff. I also don’t think Sgt. Carter is a very good game coach.

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          • Cojones

            Yeah, but did you see that QB? Tall and can actually throw the football downfield where he’s handcuffed by WRs who can catch a beer w/o spilling any foam, but can’t catch the football by leaping for the QB’s oversights. Each time he practices, he consistently remembers he can throw downfield. Wow! What an underappreciated and unranked SEC player he is! With a new OC and new WRs, everyone is just goose-bumpy about the secret weapon who can pass downfield, just like all the other QBs in the SEC.

            The one time Townsend falls on him will signify the end of QB hype at Tenn. Butch is gonna be whistlin’ thru the graveyard before this season is over.

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  10. If Pruitt doesn’t go into a prevent shell at the end of both halves last year, the game isn’t even close. We gave up a cheap TD at the end of the 1st half and then gave one up after our last TD purely because we were exchanging yards for time.

    I’m more worried about a post-Bama hangover win or loss rather than Tennessee’s overall talent level compared to ours. It’s been a decade since the Vols have beaten the Gators anywhere even with Boom at the helm, so they need to get that monkey off their back first.

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  11. Cosmic Dawg

    Tennessee got crushed by a few teams last year, but in making predictions about their EAST chances, consider how competitive they were against their division rivals:

    Georgia only beat them by 3
    Florida only beat them by 1
    Missouri only beat them by 8

    and Tennessee beat South Carolina, Kentucky, and Vandy.

    I realize the games against the west also count toward their division hopes, but if you believe Florida and Missouri will either be even or slightly worse incarnations of 2014, Tennessee isn’t a completely insane choice. They may lack some depth, but that’s surely going to be better this year and it didn’t prevent them from playing “deeper” teams in the east to a standstill.

    So…when we go up there this year I hope the Dawgs beat them into the 5th dimension.

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    • Irwin R. Fletcher

      And on the flip side of that argument…they beat Vandy by only 7 and squeaked by Carolina in OT…so by your own reasoning, they are just as close to winning one conference game last year as they were to only losing 2.
      Carolina, U10, and Florida were basically the same team last year…so i get predicting that one will probably get worse, one will stay the same, and one will get better. I just don’t see how that justifies them jumping them above Mizzou or UGA. (part of it is the media perception that Mizzou is a paper tiger and UGA is always a good pick for a flop…but that’s a different issue)

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      • Cosmic Dawg

        Yep, that’s true…I don’t think they ought to be favored, btw. I may be a bit sympathetic to the Tennessee argument b/c I re-watched that game from last year, and they did not strike me as a team lacking in talent or desire, just young. Jones had ’em thinking they could win.

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  12. Giff Smith is the real deal as a coach.

    Not too sure about UT’s OC, DC, and DB coaches.

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  13. UGA85

    Don’t you think this reflects the perceived parity in the East? Let’s face it, the East hasn’t exactly set the world on fire recently. No one expects UGA to come out and dominate (I.e., undefeated or one loss season). I would love to come out and hammer through the schedule this year, but most people won’t believe in us until we prove it on the field.

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  14. Macallanlover

    Tn has basically the same talent as last year minus an AA linebacker and with some good freshman talent thrown in. They didn’t have a significant win last year, and showed that at the end of the season when they couldn’t move the ball at all against Mizzou’s defense at home, a game they needed to make a statement that they were turning the corner. Can they upset us? Sure, but as noted by the Senator, Mizzou has an easier path than UT and a coach who has won a big game or two. I still pick UGA first and Mizzou 2nd in the East. ITN has to get past FU and SC to get back to third in the division before they dream of titles.

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  15. Dave

    Dude….all we have to do is run a bootleg. Willie ftw!!!!

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  16. Bulldog Joe

    “So what’s it gonna take for Tennessee to win the East in 2015?”

    Winning in Columbia Missouri on November 21.

    Given how last year’s game went at home, I don’t see Tennessee doing it.

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  17. SouthernYank

    Good Lord. First off, someone ban Mayor from posting. Gentlemen, they were the youngest Power 5 team last year and they got almost everyone coming back. Coupled with UF being a TRAIN WRECK, Carolina being a big ? and Mizzou having to replace WRs and DL. They are the only other realistic pick to threaten UGA in the East.

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    • Cosmic Dawg

      If you banned Mayor from posting about Tennessee he’d turn purple and all his hair would fall out. Mayor hates Tennessee. Hates them. Like, won’t take a flight from Atlanta to Chicago because it flies over Tennessee kind of hate. I think it’s kind of awesome…I have always wanted something to hate like that. Maybe if Florida and Auburn had sex, I would hate that baby like that, but I would have to wait until it grew up, it being a baby and all.

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  18. Until proven otherwise, Vandy and UK are the only teams I see not having a shot. Everyone in the east has done a lot of crapping the bed lately.

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