Tennessee Volunteer’s 2017 Football Preview

This is my team, this is my school. Nothing gets my blood going for sports more than hearing Rocky Top, the Tennessee Waltz, or the immortal words, “It’s football time in Tennessee!”

Though as I preview and go through a season, I try to take off the orange tinted glasses and take a look at how the team will do and what are their true strengths and weaknesses.

OFFENSE

So much of Team 121’s success could ride of who will get the majority of snaps at quarterback. Both junior Quinten Dormady and redshirt freshman Jarrett Guaratano have been vying for the starting position, trying to replace the popular and dynamic Joshua Dobbs. What makes this quarterback competition interesting is how different Dormady and Guaratano are. Dormady has a bit more experience and a stronger arm, while Guaratano is more mobile. The zone-read scheme that Butch Jones brings is usually more effective with a mobile quarterback, however that QB has to be a good leader as well. I believe both guys will get plenty of snaps in the first few games but Dormady will start them. As the season progresses we will see who comes out on top.

At the skill positions, the Vols have some really good talent but not much game experience overall. John Kelly emerged as a solid runner after Jalen Hurd quit the team. Now with Alvin Kamara off to the NFL, the job is all Kelly’s. Hopefully top prospect Ty Chandler can spell Kelly for a few series a game.

At receiver you have some of the same story. Jauan Jennings is a top talent and made plenty of remarkable catches last season. However Josh Malone was the top receiver last year so now it is Jennings turn to step into that role. Jennings will have some help with experienced TE Ethan Wolf, we just need to see if Tyler Bryd and Marquez Callaway can contribute.

The offensive line has had 111 combined career starts, though consistency has been a major problem. Adding number one recruit Trey Smith into the mix should help.

DEFESNE

Last year, Bob Shoop’s defense was almost to Sal Sunseri levels of lousy by the end of the season. Yes the injury bug bit the Vols hard, but that does not make up for the excuses of poor tackling, bad alignments, and lack of true physicality.

On the defensive line, not only do the Vols have to replace all-time sack leader Derek Barnett, but the reliable Corey Vereen. Many see the defensive line as a real weakness this season, however I almost see it as a strength if things play out correctly. With the departure of Barnett I almost think the players on the line will now not look to him to always be there to make the play, so they will all have to step up and do that. Of course that will mean that Jonathan Kongbo, Kahlil McKenzie, and Shy Tuttle will have to live up to their potential.

At linebacker you have Darrin Kirkland Jr. who is injured again so we shall see when he can come back, plus Colton Jumper who has gotten plenty of vigor from the Vol faithful but has become a reliable linebacker.

In the secondary, again the potential is there with Todd Kelly Jr being the most reliable, but Nigel Warrior, Justin Martin, and Rashaan Gauldan will have to get more consistent. The addition of Louisville graduate transfer Shaq Wiggins will be key.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Punter Trevor Daniel just needs to keep doing awesome and that will be fine. Meanwhile, Aaron Medley needs to get better at long field goals in a hurry. Medley is 9 for 25 beyond 40 yards and 0 for 5 from 50 plus. If Evan Berry can stay healthy this season, the return game will be another big weapon for the Vols.

OVERVIEW

So many people just do not know what to think of the Tennessee Volunteers this season. The range of record guessing is between 9-3 to 5-7. So much really rides on how good Tennessee does at quarterback and on defense. If those are great the Vols will be just fine, if not, then Butch Jones may have to take his bricks elsewhere. As for me, the game against Florida in week 3 looms large. If Tennessee con go to the swamp and knock off the Gators at their place then something special might happen. Right now I see the Vols with another 9-4 season beating another middling Big Ten (or ACC team if it is the Belk Bowl) in a bowl game.

Enjoy the season everyone and GO VOLS!!!

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Shibley’s 2017 SEC Preview

Time to break down and rank my favorite conference team by team. A little different format this time as we go from last to first.

SEC East

#7 Missouri – The Tigers turned the corner at the end of the season as Drew Lock can really throw the football. The defense will be improved but still not good enough to get out of the basement of a very competitive (though average) division.

#6 Vanderbilt – Head Coach Derek Mason is keeping the Commodores competitive. As long as RB Ralph Webb keeps running at a high level the Commodores should be bowling again.

#5 South Carolina – In a contradiction to a standard Will Muschamp team, the Gamecocks should be great on offense with the emergence of Jake Bentley at quarterback. Meanwhile, the defense is a bit lacking in depth and speed.

#4 Kentucky – The Wildcats are sticking with Mark Stoops as coach and right now it seems to be paying off. The offense is great with talent at the skill positions. The big questions are again on defense. They need to get much better against the elite offenses in the conference.

#3 Tennessee – I will break down my beloved Vols a bit more in their own column, but for now there are just so many questions no one really knows what to think. Can Dormady or Guarantano sufficiently replace Joshua Dobbs at quarterback? Can the defense stop anybody? Talent alone will keep the Vols competitive, but they will need more to get to the top.

#2 Florida – Despite the fact that it seems like half the team is suspended for the opener against Michigan, the Gators are still going to make noise in the division. Most of the Muschamp recruited defense is in the NFL right now so head coach Jim McElwain will have to finally get the ball going on offense.

Champion: Georgia – Can the Bulldogs break through in year two under Kirby Smart? I think so. Jacob Eason has the potential to be a big star in this conference. Eason has two solid backs in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to carry some of the load. Plus, 10 starters return to a defense that ranked 16th nationally last season.

SEC West

#7 Ole Miss – When NCAA sanctions keep your team out of a bowl game, and your head coach was fired for making calls to hookers, it really does not matter how talented the team is, you just want to start playing games.

#6 Mississippi State – Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is back after leading the SEC in total offense last season. He might have to carry the load for the Bulldogs again as the defense needs to get better in a hurry.

#5 Arkansas – The Razorbacks will be a carbon copy of last year, the offense will be strong with QB Austin Allen leading the way, but the defense will struggle to help out. Another middling year for Bret Bielema.

#4 Texas A&M – So much of this team’s success rides on how mentally tough they are. The  Aggies always seem to start strong and then fade come November. It is a tough schedule for the Aggies this season. They have the talent to be successful, but how strong will they be between the ear holes if things start to go sideways again.

#3 LSU – Much of the Tigers success this season will depend on two things, the coach and the quarterback. The interim tag is off Ed Orgeron and now he must produce. Quarterback play has been the bain of the Tigers for a while now. It has to get better or else teams will just stack the box again to try and stop RB Derrius Gucie.

#2 Auburn – It all looks good on paper for the Tigers. An exciting QB in Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham, plus 17 other starters returning from a Sugar Bowl team. Now Auburn has to go out and prove it.

Champion: Alabama – This is almost too easy. Alabama was a second away from winning the National Championship last year with a true freshman quarterback. Now Jalen Hurts has a year under his belt, plus a literal parade of Parade All-Americans behind him in the backfield, plus WR Calvin Ridley is still there to throw to. Head coach Nick Saban just reloads every season and this year is no different.

SEC CHAMPION: Alabama

Georgia may have the potential, but Alabama is proven. Think of this as well, Alabama does have a very tough opener against Florida State, but Nick Saban just crushes every quality team Alabama opens against. After the opener it is not until October 7 when the Tide travel to Texas A&M that they have what I consider an opponent that might be a threat. The Crimson Tide dominate the SEC once again and quite possibly win another National Championship.

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Shibley’s 2017 Pac-12 Preview

This will be a fun conference to watch out west. It looks like a three team race at the top, but unlike the Big Ten, the teams below the top three are all pretty solid and may cause an upset or two.

North Division

Champion: Washington

The Huskies offense will keep on chugging along with QB Jake Browning and RB Myles Gaskin leading the way. That should hopeful make up for the void in the secondary as the Huskies lost three defensive backs to the NFL. However, Chris Petersen is a proven winner who did so much with less when he was the head coach of Boise State. Now the rebuild is complete and it is time to maintain it also helps that the Huskies would avoid playing USC until the Pac-12 Championship game.

Best of the Rest: Stanford

Want to talk about consistency? Look no further than the Stanford Cardinal. Head Coach David Shaw’s team won 10 games last season and it was considered by many to be a down year (I’d love for that to be a down year at Tennessee again). Yes, dynamic do everything Christian McCaffrey is gone but the Cardinal know how to fill the voids and just keep on winning.

Anyone Else?

Mike Leach has brought Washington State back from the dead. With QB Luke Falk chucking the ball all over the place, the Cougars can get off to a great start with five straight home games to open the season, concluding with USC coming to Pullman on a Friday night.

South Division

Champion: Southern California

It is really tough to ignore the nine game win streak that USC closed the 2016 season with climaxing with the thrilling win over Penn State in the Rose Bowl. Sam Darnold is the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy and everything looks dandy for the Trojans. A few things to consider: While Darnold is awesome, the Trojans still have to replace three starters on the offensive line, plus the majority of the receptions from last season. It will also be very tough to replace All-American CB Adoree’ Jackson.

Best of the Rest: Utah

The Utes are always near the top of the division thanks to a consistently solid defense. The offense needs to be able to make more big plays if the Utes are to get all the way to the top. With all the talent USC has, plus the Utes have to travel to Los Angeles to play USC, I do not seeing them getting any higher. At least this season.

Anyone Else: 

Josh Rosen is back from injury to lead UCLA again. Of course this is a make of break year for the Bruins and head coach Jim Mora after the bottom fell out after Rosen went down last season. The first game against Texas A&M is crucial to alleviate some of the pressure.

Colorado is the defending division champions. While many believed they overachieved last season, it is not like this program is going back to the division basement any time soon.

PAC-12 CHAMPION: Washington

One of the biggest factors against USC this season is that they play 12 straight games without a bye to start the season. That does not give the Trojans much room for error is injuries start to pile up. Meanwhile, Washington will have that offense rolling long enough for the defense to catch up and the Huskies will be going full-bore by the end of the season.

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Shibley’s 2017 Big XII Preview

If you like offense, then this is the conference for you. Get ready for some insanity. Despite the Big XII adding a championship game this season even thought they still only have ten teams, I do not think it will make much difference as these team will all beat each other up all season.

Champion: Kansas State

The teams getting the most hype as champions in this conference either have a first year coach (Oklahoma) or I do not trust to close (Oklahoma State) so this season I am going with consistency.

Bill Snyder is turning 78 and has been a model of consistency at Kansas State. Last season the Wildcats had an extremely young team getting a combined 135 starts from underclassmen and went 9-4 with a couple of 4th quarter letdowns against West Virginia and Oklahoma State. This season just seems right for the Wildcats. While they will definitely not go undefeated this season, they have an experienced team, a do it all senior quarterback, and a coach who has been there before. Add in the fact that Snyder underwent treatment for throat cancer in the offseason plus rumors that this will be his last season, I am going with the storybook ending.

Best of the Rest: Oklahoma and Oklahoma State

It seems a little strange having the Bedlam Game in early November instead of the end of the season, but that’s what we have. Both teams have dynamic and explosive offenses led by star quarterbacks, Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph. They will put up plenty of points, but I have doubts for both teams and it revolves around their head coaches. Lincoln Riley got the job in Norman after long time coach Bob Stoops suddenly retired this summer, so while he has been with the program for a few years as offensive coordinator, this is his first season as head coach. Meanwhile, Mike Gundy is a bundle of energy that his team and fans feed off of. The problem is, Oklahoma State has always found a way to lose a game or two that they really should not and I think that will cost them again this season.

Anyone Else?

TCU is going to have a nasty defense (at least by Big XII standards) so the Horned Frogs will definitely be a tough out, especially if quarterback can cut down on the interceptions and the wide receivers stop dropping the ball.

West Virginia has a marquee quarterback in Florida transfer Will Grier, however the Mountaineers are desperately thin on defense, especially on the line and in the secondary.

Texas has a new high profile young head coach in Tom Herman plus a solid quarterback in Shane Buechele. The Longhorns might still be a year or two away from true contention.

With all the offense, lack of defense, and the fact that the championship game will be a rematch from the regular season, who knows what may happen in the Big XII.

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Shibley’s 2017 Big Ten Preview

You take one look at the top 25 rankings and you might think the Big Ten has it all. Four teams in the top 10/11 in both polls and three of them believed to be playoff contenders. It does look very pretty at the top, however things turn very quickly as there are no other  Big Ten teams ranks in the preseason polls. At least to start the season it seems those may be the only teams to care about in the Big Ten.

East Division

Champion: Ohio State

I am pretty sure Urban Mayer is not going to take that 31-0 drubbing at the hands of Clemson in last year’s playoff lying down. J.T. Barrett is back under center and his experience is valuable. The Buckeyes do have to try and get some sort of results in the vertical passing game to keep defenses from stacking the box. No offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson will try and solve that problem.

Meanwhile, the Ohio State defensive line may be one of the best ever. All four starters return, plus there is not much drop-off in going about eight deep on the line. Meanwhile the linebackers are no slouches either. All that dominance in the front seven will give the secondary time to jell.

Best of the Rest: Penn State

This is close but because the Nittany Lions have to travel to the Horseshoe in Columbus I give the edge to Ohio State in the division. Be that as it may, I loved watching the Penn state offense and their flair for the dramatic last season. QB Trace McSorley and RB Saquon Barkley are fun to watch. All that drama that played out last season gave the Nittany Lions confidence and it should carry over to this season.

Anyone else?

Oh yeah, Michigan is still out there. While the Wolverines only return four starters on offense and one on defense, Jim Harbaugh is building a sustainable powerhouse in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines might be a tad down this season but they will be in the hunt. Plus they get Ohio State in the Big House to close out the season so anything can happen.

If you ignore Rutgers, maybe you won’t smell the stench coming from Piscataway.

West Division

Champion: Wisconsin 

The Badgers have never been flashy, but they never really have been to be successful. Wisconsin allowed Penn State to come back and beat them and that is the only reason the Badgers are not the defending Big Ten champions. This year’s team is another blue-collar take care of business team. They are experienced at all levels with 17 retuning starters including the heart of a defense that was 7th overall in the nation last season. Plus when you do not have to play Penn State or Ohio State in the regular season, you can breathe a little easier.

Best of the Rest: Northwestern

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has built the Wildcats into a steady winner. They have talent and experience with 16 starters returning, plus they have become used to winning. However, the Wildcats have to travel to Madison to play at Wisconsin to end September and that will probably keep Northwestern out of championship contention.

Anything else?

Not really. Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota are all kind of just there. None of them are bad, but not really that good either. Maybe one of them can pull an upset of one of the top teams, but do not expect much more. Meanwhile, just do not look at Purdue and Illinois. They are not good.

BIG TEN CHAMPION: OHIO STATE

Usually when I have doubted Urban Mayer it comes back to bite me. I did so in 2006 when he was at Florida against Ohio State and I did so in 2014 against Alabama. I am not making that mistake this season. The Buckeyes want revenge and will not stop until they try and claim the National Championship.

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