This is probably premature but I plan on updating these every week this season. Might as well do a Pre-season version. Every SEC team ranked from worst to first.
14. South Carolina
There just isn't enough talent on this team to win many games this year. Regardless of whether Muschamp starts Perry Orth or Brandon MacIlwain, this team is going to struggle against most SEC opponents this annum. 13. Missouri
Missouri is one of many teams featuring a new Head Coach this year and although Barry Odom is already familiar with his team, the many shortcomings of the roster will keep Mizzou towards the bottom of the pecking order this year. Much will depend on the growth of Drew Lock as a passer. He wasn't very impressive as a freshman, but if he can start to show why he was rated a 4 star QB on most sites Mizzou could move up this list.
Can Kentucky put together the semblence of a passing game this year? If so they could move up this list. They still lack talent and depth at most positions but will feature an above-average rushing attack. Their biggest issue will be their inability to stop the opposing team's rushing attack and that's bad news for a team competing in the SEC.
Vanderbilt's defense should again be solid under Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Derek Mason. Most of their questions are on offense. Their offensive line is thin and any further injury at that position will make it very tough to remain competitive in the SEC. I really like the ceiling of Sophomore QB Kyle Shurmur. If he can take a step and you throw in RB Ralph Webb they could be bowl-bound this season.
I just don't think Auburn will improve much from the team they were last season. They could be huge movers on this list if Malzahn can find a dependable option at QB. There's talent all over the field, but that was the case last year as well. I'll have to see Auburn win some tough ones before I believe last year was just a fluke. 9. Mississippi State
Life post-Dak Prescott looks to be a step-back from the competitive teams MSU has fielded in recent years. They also field a less-than-stellar offensive line and I could see their running game struggle. The defense should prove capable but there are 3 phases in football and MSU has a lot to prove if they are going to live up to the standards and expectations the last few years have created.
Arkansas is having to replace some key starters from last year and that will be easier said than done. Will the younger Allen brother make an adequate replacement at QB? How about that retooled offensive line. Sam Pittman left his OL Coach position to take the same position at Georgia and that's not a guy who's easy to replace. Arkansas is another candidate to move up this list but the West will not be much easier this year than in years past.
7. Texas A&M
Maybe Trevor Knight shows some consistency his senior year that he never showed at Oklahoma. Maybe Chief gets that defense to play to his standards but I will have to see it to believe it. If the above scenarios both take place, A&M can be dangerous. Right now they're a middle-of-the pack team.
Florida lost a lot of pieces from the team that won the East last year but they should again be good on defense. Their biggest question marks are OL, QB, and RB. The OL should be at least moderately better than last year but the depth is perilously thin. This is a team that can ill-afford to suffer many injuries. 5. Georgia
Lots and lots of question marks for the Bulldogs this season but Kirby Smart has passed the Coaching Staff test with the addition of some proven coordinators and solid assistant coaches. It will be an achievement to equal their regular season win total last year of 10 games but if Jacob Eason comes along like many expect they could certainly get close.
4. Ole Miss
The Rebels will be returning the SEC's best passer but are having to reload at many key positions. The passing game should be solid but there are lingering questions at QB. The defense has potential to be solid but they will not be as talented as last year's.
I'm not giving Bama the number 1 spot until they prove they can replace key starters at QB and RB with no drop-off. They may very well prove to be the best team in the league but I'm not anointing them until I see it.
Our Vols return the second-most starters in the league and appear to have no holes. Biggest question is how much the passing game has improved but we can expect at least moderate improvement there. The Vols are the king of the East for now but must prove they can close out games in the fourth quarter.
LSU is my favorite to win the West this season. They return the most starters in the SEC, hired a top-notch defensive coordinator and have sickening depth on defense. Much like the Vols, LSU will have to show improvement in the passing game but have all the tools to do so. Brandon Harris will have to be better and I think he will be.
Cam Akers - Tennessee is in a good spot. Mid term guy.
Ty Chandler - Keeping things close to the vest. Tennessee is recruiting him hard.
Chase Hayden - Vol legacy who could play multiple positions. Announcing late summer.
Trey Sermon - Supremely talented running back with interest in Tennessee. Wants to take summer visits to his top schools then announce a decision.
KD Nixon - COMMITTED
Princeton Fant - Tennessee leads. Is thinking of announcing during his senior season.
Jeremiah Holloman - Tennessee led going into his Georgia visit, now it's UGA.
Tee Higgins - Tennessee will most likely keep this superstar playmaker at home. Tee will likely take this decision all the way to December when he will be a mid term enrollee.
Chase Rogers - COMMITTED
Tre McKitty - Loved his O&W game visit. Will return soon.
Matthew Dotson - Tennessee seems to have faded somewhat as his profile grows.
N'Kosi Perry - Miami commitment that just took a Tennessee visit proving he's considering the Vols still. Hard fight to get him out of South Florida. Larry Scott is on the case though so you never know.
Jack Sears - Very accurate passer from California who left Tennessee with it being one of his top schools.
CJ Lewis - 3 star QB who visited for the Spring Game but has yet to receive an offer.
TJ Moore - Very impressive 4 star prospect who is raw but athletic and can play tackle. He likes Tennessee a lot.
Trey Smith - A lot of schools want this kid so it will be a fight. Alabama and Clemson are Tennessee's main competition. He's one of the highest priorities in Tennessee's class. UPDATE: Trey is still pretty open but Tennessee is a big factor as he knows many of the players. Trey will be another mid term guy.
Tony Gray - mutual interest there nothing more to add. Georgia leads the crystal ball
Eric Crosby - COMMITTED
Rutger Reitmaier - Tennessee leads with teams like Duke chasing 4 star prospect and a key to this recruiting class. Is thinking of announcing around the middle of summer.
Emmanuel McNeil - Coaches love this kid.
Breyon Gaddy - 330 pound behemoth who will play nose at Tennessee. Athletic for his size. Was impressed by a recent visit to Tennessee. UNC people say we are in very good shape. EDIT: Breyon says the Vols lead. His brother Brandon is a package deal.
Marquez Bembry - COMMITTED
Jordan Williams - DE who will eventually grow into a DT. He's very high on Tennessee. Crystal ball reads 100% to Tennessee with 4 predictions. Has set a commitment date for September 24th.
Elijah Conliffe - SDE who's probably a tackle at the next level. Mutual interest.
Isaiah Buggs - JUCO DE many schools are after
Malik Herring - Very versatile DE coveted by many schools. Was recently on campus for a junior day.
Robert Beal - Another talented DE several big time schools are after. Has visited the Vols a handful of times. Vols trail many teams here.
Latrell Bumphus - Tennessee is in very good shape even as he adds offers from schools such as USC and reportedly Bama.
Tyree Johnson - DC player who has Tennessee in his top 3
Trey Lawson - Loves Coach Stripling. Really looking forward to visiting Tennessee. Another DE the plan is to put weight on and move to tackle.
Michael Allen - plays things close to the vest but Tennessee is in it as is Georgia and Wake Forest.
De'Morreal Burnam - COMMITTED IMO this is a guy Tennessee will eventually part ways with.
Solon Page III - COMMITTED
Justin Foster - A guy with a lot of options. Has been to UT multiple times. UPDATE: Foster now says Tennessee has an edge over Clemson because he wants to play linebacker and they've discussed playing him at end. Stanford is 3rd and he's waiting to see if he scores high enough to be admitted. Mid term guy.
Laquan Henderson - Says Tennessee leads
Chandler Wooten - Georgia linebacker. Tennessee was in good shape. Now it's unclear. Announces May 13th. UPDATE: I expect Wooten to chose the Vols on the 13th.
Santino Marchiol - Tennessee leads. He will take an April 30th trip to Ole Miss then has a special announcement planned for the following weekend.
Tyler Taylor - Says Tennessee is up at the top with a few other schools. Plans to return to Knoxville "probably" before summer.
Cheyenne Labruzza - COMMITTED but LSU still has the full court press on him. Gonna be a fight to hang on.
Lamont Wade - Tennessee has as good a shot at this 5 star as anyone in his top group. He has a special bond with Bob Shoop which may ultimately play in our favor.
Gentry Bonds - doesn't talk much and I haven't heard his reaction to visiting the spring game but I feel like we're in good shape to land this instate target.
Yusuf Corker - Tennessee is in real good shape and he's discussed doing something soon.
Jacobe Clement - Recently announced a top 5 of N.C. State, Wake Forest, Tennessee, North Carolina and Clemson.
TJ Carter - Talented instate CB who knows a lot of the instate guys and really could help recruiting from that standpoint.
Deangelo Gibbs - cousin to Nigel Warrior and nephew to Tennessee great Dale Carter, Gibbs has seen Tennessee many times. Most think it will come down to a UGA/Tennessee battle. Gibbs is also a mid-term guy.
Theo Jackson - From Overton in Nashville. Likes the Vols a great deal.
Maleik Gray - Vols are in great position with Maleik who probably ultimately plays linebacker here as well as his teammate WR Princeton Fant. Maleik may wait for his all-star game to decide.
Jacoby Stevens - Tennessee sits 3rd on his list behind UGA and LSU. Wants to play DB at the next level though some think he'll grow into a linebacker.
CJ Holmes - Tennessee moved to CJ's top group after attending the spring game. Probably a DB at the next level.
Kam White - Teammate of Cam Akers. The two want to play at the same college.
Here are the list of Rivals 100 members in the state of Tennessee alone. We are recruiting all of these
ATH Jacoby Stevens #30
ATH Maleik Gray #31
WR Tee Higgins #69
RB Cordarrian Richardson #88
Stevens was once committed to LSU, his childhood favorite, but decommitted once the buzz around Les Miles intensified. He now claims he's open to Tennessee and has a former teammate on the Tennessee team recruiting him in Jack Jones. Many schools in the mix here but you gotta like where Tennessee is early.
Makleik Gray seems to be favoring FSU currently with USC in second place but he's said some nice things about Tennessee and has been a frequent visitor on campus this past year. He mentioned to Rivals.com that he's discussed with some other Middle Tennessee players all playing for the same school at the next level.
Tee Higgins grew up loving the Vols but may have committed a little too early in the process as other schools have started recruiting him hard including Clemson where he just came off a visit from with a guy we'll mention later, Tee Martin's son Amari Rodgers. Tennessee will be in the thick of it til the end which will be much later down the road I predict.
We are in really good shape, if not the favorites, for top runningback Cordarrian Richardson. Richardson is an explosive running back and deserving of his top 100 rating. He claims a top 8 of Tennessee, LSU, Auburn, Oklahoma, Alabama, Michigan State,
Clemson and Florida State.
The rest of the 250 shakes out like this:
RB Ty Chandler #145
WR Amari Rodgers #180
LB Jacob Phillips #182
CB Gentry Bonds #207
WR Princeton Fant #216
There are many who would make the argument that Ty Chandler, and not Cordarrian Richardson is the top runningback in the state and I wouldn't argue with them. He's got prototypical runningback size at 5'11" 190 and is a bruising style runner for his High School. His father briefly played for Ole Miss and that's a school he is considering but Tennessee is also very much in the mix.
Amari Rodgers is a slot wide receiver and the son of Vol legend Tee Martin. He committed to his dad on a visit to USC while he was still the wide receiver coach but has since backed off that pledge. Tennessee was thought to be in the mix but many have suspected he would end up at his childhood favorite Clemson where, as mentioned above, he just came off a visit. He announced via Twitter that he would be doing a Bleacher Report commitment within a month and a half.
Jacob Phillips is out of
Nashville Magnet School in Nashville and formerly of Beech
High School in Hendersonville, Jalen Hurd's alma mater. Vols are in the thick
of things here.
I like where Tennessee is with Gentry Bonds after a recent
Princeton Fant, I expect to be a Vol.
Just outside of the Rivals 250, but still a 4 star instate prospect is offensive tackle Trey Smith. He's the 10th best prospect in the state of Tennessee and a Vols target. In addition to Tennessee he is listening to Alabama and Clemson.
Here are the rest of the top 100 guys we are in on. These guys are not neccesarily instate but are big targets for Tennessee in the class.
CB Lamont Wade #6
S Jeffery Okudah #9
CB William Poole III #14
WR Donovan Peoples-Jones #20
RB Cam Akers #21 (Bama commit)
S Deangelo GIbbs #45
LB Justin Foster #53
Lamont Wade is one of the top 10 players in the class and a guy which the "who's who" of college football are all pursuing. He is already very familiar with Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop having been recruited by him at Penn State. He's taken two very recent visits to Ohio State who some consider the team to beat. One thing to note is Ohio State already has two very good corner backs committed in this class.
Jeffery Okudah is one of the top safeties in the country and has been on Tennessee's campus and has come away impressed. Tough to get a kid out of Texas but he's one to watch.
William Poole III is a georgia prospect who Tennessee is after but so are the in-state Dawgs.
Donovon Peoples-Jones is one of the top wide receivers in the country and his offer list reflects that. Out of Detroit, he will be tough to keep away from Michigan but Tennessee made a recent list of his top schools.
Cam Akers is a Bama commit who is leaving the door cracked for Tennessee. Sources tell me that, if he were to decommit from Alabama, Tennessee would be the destination. He sees the opportunity for immediate playing time on Tennessee's roster and it doesn't help Bama that they have two other top running backs committed in his class.
Deangelo Gibbs, the nephew of Tennessee legend Dale Carter and cousin to Nigel Warrior, is one of the top prospects in the state of Georgia. He's been on Tennessee's campus multiple times and almost every time Warrior was on campus, so was Deangelo. It's hard to see him getting away from the Vols.
Justin Foster is one of the top linebacker prospects in the country and is a guy Tommy Thigpen is heavily involved with. The North Carolina product has been on campus several times and Tennesse is dogged in their pursuit of him.
10 years. You're probably getting sick of hearing it -- I know I am -- but that's how long it's been since Tennessee has beaten it's biggest rival in the Eastern division of the Southeastern Conference. They've had their chances. There have been many close games but Florida just seemed to have Tennessee's number. Well guess what? I don't believe in any of that shit.
Last year people said, "If Tennessee is going to beat Florida, this is the year." and it was true. There really is no valid excuse for losing to an abysmal football team whose coach was soon to be fired for being so awful especially with a 9 point lead in the 4th quarter. Butch Jones has since said that that game was the lowest point of his coaching career. I'm glad he feels that way.
Once again, one year later, pundits and talking heads are saying "If Tennessee is ever going to beat Florida, this is the year." Jim McElwain's offense may work out for Florida eventually but the talent level on that side of the ball is not good right now and probably will not improve enough for Florida to have any success this year in the SEC.
However, Florida's defense has had success this year having given up only 256 yard of offense per game including only 55.3 rushing yards average. Granted those numbers are somewhat skewed by an ECU game which saw ECU having much success through the air without the presence of Vernon Hargreaves III, who was nursing a knee injury, to the tune of 346 passing yards, but only accumulating -13 rushing yards for the game. But guess what, Florida hasn't seen an offense like ours, nor a rushing attack like ours which is ranked second in the SEC with 738 yards rushing.
On paper this is a game the Vols should win. Florida hasn't faced a defense like they will face Saturday and they only managed 14 points vs. a Kentucky defense which still is enduring growing pains. But as we all know and have seen, painfully at times, football is a game played between the hash marks and anything can happen on any given Saturday.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Florida will be without Jalen Tabor who is their second-best lockdown corner and Treon Harris who is their only other competent QB other than Will Grier. If something were to happen to Grier, the next in line is Josh Grady who flamed out at both QB and WR at Vanderbilt and could not beat out any of the lousy QBs Vandy fielded last season. Should Grier go down, their chances of winning this game drop to nearly zero.
So it's prediction time and I've given this game much thought in advance of predicting a score, I do not see a high scoring game and if I were a betting man I'd take the under at 48.5. Both defenses will make it hard on the offenses to score. It may be the homer in me though I try and take emotion out of the picture and make realistic guesses. I say that we win this game 20-10 with a modicum of confidence.
Should we lose though (and it wouldn't be that shocking) Vol Nation will be unbearable. Many will call for Butch's head. We will hear about the awful play-calling (strange that few complain about play-calling when it works.) and fans will demoan the hiring of Mike DeBord.
Win this one because you can, Butch. It's not only the most important game because it's the next game. It's the most important game because of 10 years of Vol fans' suffrage.
It's the home opener. Big for many reasons: a win will signal the Vols return back to national relevancy and set up an undefeated season heading into the Swamp to face a Florida team at it's weakest point in decades. A loss will have Vol fans restless and leave national pundits wondering if this is truly the Vols team that can threaten to win the East and is ready to be back on the national spotlight.
It's big for another reason too. The number of top-flight recruits hoping to take in such an overwhelming atmosphere is seemingly endless and Tennessee will have some of it's top targets in the 2016 class and many of it's top 2017 targets on hand to take in the affair.
I've compiled a list as best I can of everyone who will be in attendance. I'm sure there are more that will show up than are listed here. But this is the most accurate list you'll find. There are no scheduled official visits for this game so all visits are unofficial.
Many of Tennessee's current commits will be here as well but we'll just list the targets as those names will become repetitive throughout the year.
Here it is, folks! The day we've all been waiting for. I'll be chronicling who has sent in LOIs here so
we can keep track.
Darrin Kirkland Jr.
Faxed in LOI
It's setting up to be the best environment inside Neyland Stadium in years. A pivotal game that could be the difference in Tennessee making a bowl or sitting at home for a 4th consecutive year, the checkerboard Neyland movement which promises to paint the stadium like never before, and an all-star list of recruiting prospects who will take it all in. It will be big.
A win would mean we simply need to take care of business against Kentucky at home and Vandy on the road (assuming we beat UTC which is a safe assumption) in order to make a bowl and show the world how far this program has progressed in such a short time and how prepared it is to take the next step.
As I mentioned, it will be a big weekend for recruiting as several prospects Tennessee is chasing will be taking official visits along with several more who will be on unofficial visits. I've compiled a list of who will be there and will just mention briefly that while Ugo Amadi and Kyle Phillips initially planned to be in attendance, they have ultimately decided to attend the Ole Miss/Bama game instead. Here's the list.
It's a big opening weekend for the Tennessee football team and a big opportunity to get recruits on campus with a Sunday day game with no competition from it's rivals for airtime and a vacation from school the following day, being Labor Day. As you would expect, the list is long of both 2015 and 2016 prospects set to take it all in.
DE Andrew Butcher (commit)
ATH Joc Bruce (commit)
DE Dylan Jackson (commit)
S Jauan Jennings (commit)
OL Zach Stewart (commit)
RB Rocky Reid (commit)
S Stephen Griffin (commit)
OL Jack Jones (commit)
TE Kyle Oliver (commit)
ATH Vincent Perry
DE Kyle Phillips
DT Shy Tuttle
LB Roquan Smith
CB Ugo Amadi
OT Ryan Johnson (commit)
QB Austin Kendall (commit)
CB Donte Vaughn
CB Marquill Osborne
S Joejuan Williams
DT Malik Walker
RB BJ Emmons
CB Mecole Hardman
WR Dillon Mitchell
S Donte Vaughn
RB Moe Neal
RB Antonio Williams
OLB Tariqious Tisdale
Spring practice starts Friday and it's another important weekend for recruiting. Here is a list of who is expected in for Junior Day this weekend.
Junior Day March 8
LB Tyler Cooksey
LB Roquan Smith
QB Nick Tiano
QB Tommy Stevens
QB Cole Kotopka
QB Kelly Bryant
QB Joe Burrow
RB Bryce Love
WR Tyron Johnson
WR Van Jefferson
WR Alex Ofodile
WR Jalen McClesky
DT Elijah Taylor
DT Sterling Johnson
DT Tyrell Jacobs
DE Jalen Dalton
DE Russell Ude
DB Cam Ordway
DB Micah Abernathy
OL Venzel Boulware
OL Marquelll Harrell
OL Alex Givens
OL/DL Dylan Jackson (commit)
DE Andrew Butcher (commit)
OL Zach Stewart (commit)
OL Jack Jones (commit)
DL Briston Guidry
DL Malik Walker
TE Jake Hausmann
RB Kareem Walker