- Is this the year Tennessee finally breaks through and wins the SEC East? The Volunteers are No. 10 in SI's 2016 college football preseason Top 25 rankings.
Key returning starters: QB Joshua Dobbs, RB Jalen Hurd, WR Josh Malone, RG Dylan Wiesman
This unit could score last season (35.2 points per game, third in the SEC), and it brings back nine starters. But the Volunteers need senior quarterback Joshua Dobbs to lead a more reliable aerial attack—Tennessee finished ninth in the league in passing offense last fall—to reach its potential.
Key returning starters: DE Derek Barnett, LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin, CB Cam Sutton
Bob Shoop’s arrival as Tennessee’s new defensive coordinator will add an edge to an experienced group, which returns menacing end Derek Barnett and ball-hawking corner Cam Sutton. Still, pinpointing an emotional leader to replace fifth-year linebacker Curt Maggitt might determine this unit’s ferocity.
Leader in rushing: Hurd. Last fall Hurd became the first Tennessee sophomore to rush for 1,000 yards in a season when he compiled 1,288 and 12 scores.
Leader in receiving: Malone. The junior underachieved in 2015 (31 catches for 405 yards) but is poised to be the corps’ headliner after 12 starts last season.
Leader in tackles: Reeves-Maybin. He skipped a shot at the NFL to build on a campaign in which he amassed 105 tackles, 35 more than any other Vols player.
Leader in interceptions: Todd Kelly Jr. The safety snagged two of his three interceptions last season in Tennessee’s double-overtime loss to Oklahoma, which went on to make the playoff.
Opposing coach's take
“They’ve got two monsters in junior running backs Jalen Hurd (6' 4", 240 pounds) and Alvin Kamara (5' 10", 215). Hurd looks like a defensive end and Kamara is about as explosive as anyone in the country. And they’ve got an experienced offensive line. If I’m them, I’m going to rely heavily on the run be- cause I can control the game that way. [Senior] quarterback Joshua Dobbs has plenty of experience, but he’s more likely to beat you with his legs than his arm. You want to keep him in the pocket and make him throw. One of their best plays last season was running Dobbs, especially in the red zone. It’s hard to defend that.
The defense has playmakers at every level. Outside linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin would have been selected in the first few rounds of this past NFL draft if he hadn’t stayed for his senior year. Expect new coordinator Bob Shoop to bring some pressure, especially out of zone coverage. He certainly wants to load up the box and stop the run, which you better be able to do in the SEC.
Special teams–wise, they’re one of the best in the country. [Senior cornerback] Cameron Sutton was first in the FBS in punt-return average last year, and [junior safety] Evan Berry led the country in kick-return average.
This is one of the most complete teams I’ve seen. They’re the team to beat in SEC East.”
Preston Williams caught just seven passes as a freshman, in 2015 (he missed four games with a hamstring injury), but he led the team with an explosive 22.6 yards per catch. His first career grab was a 25-yard touchdown against Western Carolina. This spring Williams, a former five-star recruit, was the Volunteers’ most improved receiver. If the imposing (6' 4", 209 pounds) wideout can develop into a consistent target, their offense will truly take flight.
6: Consecutive victories to end 2015, the Volunteers’ longest winning streak since ’03.
5: Consecutive years that new coordinator Bob Shoop has led a defense that finished in the Top 25.
4: Running back Jalen Hurd’s SEC rank last year in yards per game (99.1) and total yards (1,288) over 12 starts last year.
3: SEC players over the last 20 years to have 300 yards passing and 100 yards rushing in a game: Tim Tebow, Johnny Manziel and senior QB Joshua Dobbs.
5: Interceptions thrown by Dobbs in 2015, the least by a Vols starter since Peyton Manning had four in 1995.
|Sept. 1||Appalachian State|
|Sept. 10||vs. Virginia Tech (in Bristol, Tenn.)|
|Oct. 1||at Georgia|
|Oct. 8||at Texas A&M|
|Oct. 29||at South Carolina|
|Nov. 5||Tennessee Tech|
|Nov. 26||at Vanderbilt|
Top 25 rankings
|24||San Diego State|