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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