The Vols entered 2016 as the favorites to win the SEC East. And it appeared they were a team of destiny after Josh Dobbs hit Jauan Jennings on the final play to beat Georgia. Tennessee’s magic started to run out during their come from behind thriller against Texas A&M. Then the wheels came off after losing to Alabama and South Carolina. With the Sugar Bowl insight, the Vols managed to choke away a first half lead to Vanderbilt.
In early October, it looked like Butch Jones had finally taken the next step as a head coach. The Vols were loaded and always could find away to win. However, after the two overtime loss to A&M the injuries began to pile up and Jones went from state hero to “Champion of Life.”
A Look Ahead
The 2017 season doesn’t bring the same expectations 2016 did. Most publications have the Vols slated third (some fourth) in the East. Losing Alvin Kamara (RB), Cam Sutton (CB), Derek Barnett (DE), Jalen Reeves- Maybin (LB), Josh Malone (WE) and Dobbs (QB) to the NFL will defiantly be tough to overcome.
However, the Vols should be improved on the offensive line and in the defensive back field. Those units had nowhere to go but up tough. All other units are questions marks.
This year’s schedule is roughly on par with last year’s. Tennessee opens the season in Mercedes-Benz Stadium vs Georgia Tech. The other games away from Knoxville are at Florida, Alabama, Kentucky and Missouri. Indiana State, UMass, Georgia, South Carolina, Southern Miss LSU and Vandy will all come to Neyland.
Three Big Questions:
1) Who is the quarterback?
Junior Quinten Dormady will get the first shot at the job. However, much heralded redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano is probably a better fit for the offense. Jones has indicated he will play both early, but I expect one of the two to have the job secured by the trip to Gainesville.
2) Can the defense improve?
This unit started off well, but injuries and suspensions decimated Tennessee in the second half of the season. The Vols gave up 536 yards a game and 45 points to Vanderbilt. On top of that, Tennessee lost the guy who broke Reggie White’s sack record (Barnett) and their best cover corner (Sutton)
I imagine the defense will be better in Bob Shoop’s second season. But there will be some growing pains.
3) Is Butch Jones the guy?
After finally beating Florida and coming from behind to win several other games early in the year, it appeared Jones had figured it out.
Then after the Georgia game rumors about starting running back Jalen Hurd began to leak out and he was dismissed from the team two weeks later. Then there was the ugly loss to Bama and the stinkers against USC and Vandy. Jones didn’t handle the fallout well either.
Butch’s clichés have defiantly started to wear on the fan base and a new athletic director is in town. Butch switched agents over the winter and has not gotten an extension yet.
Tennessee’s defense line totally dominates and there are only a few minor injuries. Dormady becomes Heath Shular and the Vols go 11-1 then beat Bama in the title game and are the two seed in the playoff.
The Vols can’t stop Tech and the option and start the season 2-3. Muschamp continues his dominance of Butch then Bama and Kentucky pile on. LSU comes to town and puts a seventh loss on the team and Butch becomes wide receivers coach for the Cowboys. The fans are all in on Gruden or Kelly and Tennessee hires Chuck Martin from Miami-Ohio.
Most Likely Scenario:
The Vols finish at 9-3 and probably third in the East with a trip to the Tax Slayer Bowl.
If that is how the season comes together, most Tennessee fans will be satisfied. However, it will really up the expectations for 2018.