2007 RECORD: 10-4; SEC: 6-2
Won Outback Bowl vs. Wisconsin 21-17
LOCATION: Knoxville, Tennessee
STADIUM: Neyland Stadium (102,038)
HEAD COACH: Phillip Fulmer
OVERALL: 147-45 (16 seasons)
AT TENNESSEE: 147-45 (16 seasons)
There are high expectations in Rocky Top. Many are focusing on the fact that Tennessee hasn’t won a conference title since 1998 when they went a perfect 13-0 and won the BCS Championship. It doesn’t help that the Florida Gators won it all in 2006 and are led by Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow or that the Georgia Bulldogs ended last season ranked No. 2 in the country and enter this season at No. 1. The Vols did win the SEC East last season, but will be hard pressed to make their way back to the SEC Championship game in 2008.
WHEN THE VOLS HAVE THE BALL
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Dave Clawson (1st Season)
OFFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 8
KEY LOSSES: Erik Ainge, LaMarcus Coker, Brad Cottam, Chris Brown
Jonathan Crompton is entering his first season as the starting quarterback and he is set for success. Tennessee returns all five starters along the offensive line, a line that allowed only four sacks the entire 2007 season for an offense that aired the ball out over 500 times. Joining Crompton in the offensive backfield is Arian Foster who, barring injury, will leave Knoxville as the school’s all-time leading rusher. Backups Montario Hardesty and sophomore Lennon Creer are capable ball carriers. Also returning are the Vols’ top three receivers, Lucas Taylor, Austin Rogers and Josh Briscoe—all three had 50-plus catches for at least 500 yards last season. Look for super soph Gerald Jones to break out as a receiver and runner—he will even line up in the shot-gun at times. Crompton remains unproven but the highly touted signal caller has the strong arm and athleticism to flourish.
TOP PROSPECTS: 1) WR Gerald Jones (SO), 2) OG Anthony Parker (SR)
WHEN THE OTHER TEAM HAS THE BALL
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: John Chavis (14th Season/20th at Tennessee)
DEFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 6
KEY LOSSES: Jerod Mayo, Jonathan Hefney, Ryan Karl, Xavier Mitchell, Antonio Reynolds
The Vols’ secondary is stacked, beginning with the dynamic duo of Eric Berry and Demetrius Morley at safety. Berry lived up to the hype in his true freshman season, while Morley returns after missing last year due to off-the-field issues. They are talented at cornerback as well, where sophomores Dennis Rogan and Brent Vinson are competing for playing time. Junior LB Rico McCoy leads the front seven and should take over for Jerod Mayo and the lead the club in tackles. He’s undersized, but is a blur once he gets his sights set on the football and he packs a wallop when he gets there. The key will be the play of a pair of seniors along the defensive line, DE Robert Ayers and DT Demonte Bolden. Each is physically gifted, but neither has reached the lofty expectations set for them.
TOP PROSPECTS: 1) SS Eric Berry (SO), 2) LB Rico McCoy (JR)
The Vols start the season on the left coast for a second straight year and expect better results at UCLA than they had in Berkeley last season (a 45-31 loss). The schedule does not get any easier when they return to the southeast, as Tennessee takes on two top ten teams (Florida, Auburn) in September and a third (Georgia) by midseason. They make trips to Auburn and Georgia, and while they play host to the Gators, Tennessee has struggled against their rival—Florida has won three in-a-row overall and three of four in Neyland Stadium. A 4-2 start would be impressive. In the second half of the season they must take on the Tide, as well as visit the ‘Cocks, but could end the year with six straight wins.
D-Fense: Last season, Tennessee finished tenth in the SEC in scoring defense with the second worst pass defense in the conference. Opponents completed nearly 60 percent of their passes for an average of 6.8 yards per attempt—the second highest in the SEC. Their run defense wasn’t that much better, allowing 165 yards per game (they averaged 139 yards) and 4.2 yards per carry. Overall, they finished in the bottom half of the conference in turnovers forced, total defense, pass efficiency, first downs allowed, Red Zone defense and third down defense. That’s not vintage Tennessee football. Regardless of how well Crompton performs, if the defense does not step up, Tennessee will not challenge Georgia or Florida for the SEC East.
CFI FINAL ANALYSIS
If the Vols were in any other conference in America they would have an excellent chance to be considered a top ten team and would surely be among the favorites in the Big East and ACC, and prime challengers in the Big Ten and Pac-10. Alas, they are in the SEC and have to deal with life in the toughest, deepest, most talent rich conference in all the land. They are not a national title contender, but if they can win one of their early season division battles against Florida or Georgia (whom they defeated 35-14 last season), Tennessee could surprise. At the very least, the folks with the checkered end zone who sing “Rocky Top” should not be counted out…that’s when they are at their most dangerous.
Photo Credit: SEC Sports Media
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
2007 RECORD: 10-4; SEC: 6-2