SportsRatings 2015 College Football Pre-season Top 128
|Tennessee Volunteers (SEC #3; East #2)|
|AP NR USA NR||Strength:#24 Success:#51 Overall:#33|
|Record: 7-6||Bowl: Beat Iowa 45-28 (TaxSlayer)
|Picks: AP #25 | USA #25 | Lindy's #17 | Athlon #22 | Steele #19 | ESPN #13
|Record: 9-3||Bowl odds: 99.7% Playoff odds: 9%|
Tennessee is a trendy pick this year, even making the top 25 in both polls. But that's how good they were last year. We're taking it farther than anyone else and putting Tennessee firmly in the top ten, despite some recent injuries (they were top five before that!).
8 ret. starters
|2014 Scoring Offense: #63 (raw) #31 (adjusted for opposition)|
|2015 Projected Scoring Offense: #12 (adjusted)
A solid dual-threat QB, the top rusher, and every receiver under the sun return to the Tennessee offense.
|2014 Passing Rank: #72 (raw) #52 (adjusted)||2014 Sacks Allowed (raw): #120|
|2015 Projected Passing Rank: #31 (adjusted)
||2015 Sacks Allowed (proj.): #116|
Justin Worley (1,579 yards, 12 TDs, 8 int) started most of the season before Joshua Dobbs (1,206 yards, 9:6) took over. Worley is gone but Dobbs is back and with every relevant receiver back, things look very good. Alton 'Pig' Howard led with 618 yards, and 8 others topped 100 yards and all of them return. QB protection was a huge problem last year (43) and it won't just go away, but the large majority of those were on Worley so while Dobbs may be hurried, he is less often sacked. With all the targets available we see solid improvement.
|Rushing||2014 Rushing Rank: #92 (raw) #59 (adjusted)||2015 Projected Rushing Rank: #38 (adj.)
Two of Tennessee's three main ground gainers are back: #1 Jalen Hurd (899 yards) and QB Joshua Dobbs who finished #2 with 469 net yards and 8 touchdowns. To replace #3 Marlin Lane (300 yards) they have Cincinnati grad transfer Ralph David Abernathy who had 518 yards in 2013. The offensive line returns seniors Mack Crowder and Kyler Kerbyson and sophomore Jashon Robertson, as well as a few part-time starters. They had senior Marcus Jackson back, too, until a bicep tear took him out early in fall camp. We see improvement here as well.
|2014 Adjusted Stats:||Rush Defense: #52 Pass Defense per-game: #20 Per-attempt: #29|
7.5 ret. starters
|'14 Scoring Defense: #38 (raw) #22 (adjusted)||'14 sacks: #27||'14 picks: #22|
|'15 Projected Scoring Defense: #19 (adjusted)
||'15 sacks: #14||'15 picks: #30|
Tennessee's pass rush should be healthy with the return of Derek Barnett (10 sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss) and Curt Maggitt (11 sacks). The Vols had two linebackers tie for top tackler honors at 101, and AJ Johnson is gone while Jalen Reeves-Maybin (9 tackles for loss) returns. Cameron Sutton (13 pass breakups) is among those back in the secondary, which is where we get the half-starter: safety LaDarrell McNeil is injured and might not return; we figure he's out for the year but list 7.5 starters because it's not official. The defense should be at least as good as it was last year.
- Kicking Game: Placekicker Aaron Medley (20 of 26 field goals) is back while punter Matt Darr (42.2 average) departs. They do bring in grad transfer Nathan Renfro (41.5 ave) from Maryland.
- Return Game: Corner Cameron Sutton averaged 11.3 yards per punt return last year and had one touchdown return. He's back along with Evan Berry (29.5 average on kickoffs). Transfer Ralph David Abernathy is a return specialist as well; he had a touchdown return in 2011.
- Turnovers projection: We project almost no difference in turnovers this year.
Coaching Hot Seat Ranking: #38 (WARM)
Butch Jones finally got Tennessee out of 5-7 hell, but it still wasn't quite up to par for the program (almost 9 wins per year). It's enough to take him off the hot seat, but with expectations high, who knows how many wins he needs to quell the negative voices. Last year's bowl win helped a lot, though.
Recruiting 2015 Recruiting Rank: #5 2014 Recruiting Rank: #1
Another accomplishment Jones can point to: incredible recruiting. He may not get the very best players but he gets the most 4-star talent of anyone around, and he's had back-to-back top five classes. This year's top recruit is DT Kahlil McKenzie from California, a rare consensus 5-star for the program. All together, there are 55 3-star and above players who have joined Tennessee in the last two years. That's a lot of young talent. And it may sound like oversigning, but Jones follow the rules, or the loopholes, take your pick. “If we can find a way to sign 35, we’ll sign 35,” he has said.
Tennessee started with a couple of underrated wins, beating 9-4 Utah State 38-7 and handling Arkansas State by 15. They ran into a full-strength Oklahoma team and were trounced 34-10, but played a lot better against Georgia on the road, falling 35-32. The Florida loss was even closer, 10-9. After a break against Chattanooga (45-10) it was back to losing, 34-3 to Ole Miss and 34-20 to Alabama, the latter with QB Dobbs after Worley was hurt against Mississippi. Then 3-5, a week later they finally got an SEC win over South Carolina in overtime, then blasted Kentucky 50-16. They fell to Missouri 29-21 but beat Vandy—barely—to reach bowl eligibility. Glad to finally be back at a bowl game after 3 seasons off, they blasted Iowa 45-28 in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
Last year's prediction: We know a pattern when we see one, so we projected a fourth consecutive 5-7 season from the Vols. Then they had to go and break the pattern! We only ranked them #62, but we got every game on the chart correct except for South Carolina (a win that we called a loss).
Tennessee 2015 schedule & forecast
Straight up: 10-2 Cume: 9-3 Bowl eligible: 99.7%
Unlike most Power Five teams, the tough part of Tennessee's schedule comes in the first half of the season. No, not Bowling Green and certainly not Western Carolina. But right in the middle, games 6 and 7, when they face Georgia and Alabama back-to-back.
Those look like the only losses on Tennessee's slate. There are other early challenges, though. The Vols host Oklahoma who beat them 34-10 last year. Florida in the Swamp is always tough. Arkansas is going to be very good this year.
But all of those should fall to Tennessee if the Vols are as improved as we think. And after the two probable losses, they take on an improved Kentucky on the road, along with South Carolina and Missouri, but none are the threat of the top SEC teams. They also face North Texas and Vanderbilt, which should be near-gimmes.
The problem happens if Tennessee gets big-headed at 5-0, maybe defeats Georgia to go 6-0, and then falls to Alabama. Will a first loss of the season leave them vulnerable to disappointment and letdown losses to teams later on? Tennessee is a good team, but a young team. What happens if things don't live up to the hype they're hearing this year?
And if they're really good, to win the SEC they might have to play Alabama twice—once on the road and once in Atlanta for the championship. Which is a better problem to have than being stuck at 5 wins.
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SportsRatings 2015 College Football Pre-season Top 128