SEC

2010 NCAA Football Preview: Tennessee Volunteers

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2009 Record: 7-6 (4-4 in SEC)
2009 Bowl: Chick-fil-A Bowl (lost to Virginia Tech 37-14)
Final 2009 AP Ranking: Not Ranked
Head Coach: Derek Dooley (First Year at Tennessee, 17-20 at Louisiana Tech)
Non-Conference Schedule: Tennessee-Martin (9/4), Oregon (9/11), UAB (9/25), at Memphis (11/6)

2009 Offensive Statistics
Scoring: 29.3 points per game (6th in SEC)
Rushing Yards/Game: 157 (9th in SEC)
Passing Yards/Game: 226 (3rd in SEC)
Total Yards/Game: 383 (6th in SEC)

2009 Defensive Statistics
Scoring: 22.2 points per game (6th in SEC)
Rushing Yards/Game: 149 (8th in SEC)
Passing Yards/Game: 169 (5th in SEC)
Total Yards/Game: 318 (5th in SEC)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: +0.23 per game (6th in SEC)
Penalties: 39 yards per game (2nd in SEC)

Returning Starters
Offense: 4
Defense: 6
Kicker/Punter: 1

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: WR Gerald Jones, Sr (0 for 1 for 0 yds)
Rushing: RB David Oku, Soph (23 carries for 94 yds, 2 TD, 4.0 ypc)
Receiving: WR Gerald Jones, Sr (46 rec, 680 yds, 4 TD, 3.8 rec/game)
Tackles: LB Herman Lathers, Soph (52)
Sacks: DE Chris Walker, Sr (4)
Interceptions: DE Chris Walker, Sr (2)

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
Athlon Sports: #47
Pre-Snap Read: #66
Sporting News: #56

2010 Pre-Season SEC East Prediction:
Athlon Sports: #4
Phil Steele: #4
Sports Illustrated: #5

Bowl Predictions:
Athlon Sports: Music City Bowl (vs. Georgia Tech)
Phil Steele: Music City Bowl (vs. Georgia Tech)

In case you missed it Tennessee has a new coach and he's the son of Georgia legend Vince Dooley. Derek was hired to right the ship at Tennessee after their last coach caused a ruckus on the way out of town and left the program in shambles. Dooley takes over after posting only a 17-20 record at Louisiana Tech in three seasons (with one winning season that resulted in a win at the Independence Bowl). The Volunteers lose a lot of starters from last years 7-6 team. They return no QBs, they lose their top two RBs who accounted for 88% of the teams rushing yardage and they return the least amount of Offensive Line starts in the SEC (and 117th nationally) with only 13 career starts. On the defensive side of the football they lose all-world Eric Berry, Dan Williams, Rico McCoy and Dennis Rogan. It's Tennessee so there is still talent here (Tauren Poole, Gerald Jones, Luke Stocker, and Chris Walker among others. The question is if there will be enough talent this year for the Volunteers to compete in the SEC. One good thing is a weak out of conference schedule. Although they play Oregon they also play three teams that any SEC team outside of Vandy should have an easy time with. We caught up with the Tennessee Blog Vols In the Fall to find out their take on the 2010 Volunteers.

What are the biggest strengths and most glaring weaknesses of the Vols this year?

The receiving corps looks to be the biggest strength right now.

“Wide Receiver U” seems to be making a comeback in Knoxville. Two seniors, Denarius Moore and Gerald Jones, will lead the Orange out wide, supported by heralded freshman Da’Rick Rogers, a five-star recruit stolen from Georgia Bulldog country. But perhaps the biggest star will be tight end Luke Stocker who had a huge year last season and looks headed for the NFL as a potential All-American.

The offensive line is the obvious answer for the weak side of the 2010 squad. The entire starting five offensive linemen of 2009 are going to be replaced by brand new starters. For a new coach with the running game as his paradigm, this must keep him up at night. And for two newly-acquired quarterbacks, it must keep them up as well.

Apart from the OL, overall team depth is the weakness that will probably have the biggest impact on the final W-L record. If injuries take a significant toll by the first of November, then the traditional light schedule that the Vols enjoy year in and year out may not prove light enough for a winning season to be a reality.

What team on the schedule do you want to beat the most?

That depends largely on your age. Nearly everybody 40 or younger will tell you Florida, for obvious reasons. They are the Vols’ biggest roadblock to winning the SEC East every season. But if you’re over 40, just the word “Alabama” lets hatred enter into your heart. The thought of the Crimson Tide coming to Neyland Stadium in October, ranked number one in the country, might create dread for some, but to ruin their season would be a gift from the gods.

Who is the best player on your team that nobody talks about?

I’m going to throw out the name Art Evans, a junior cornerback.

He was solid last season with the second-most solo tackles of the returning squad. You almost never hear his name mentioned, but he just quietly and consistently does his thing. With Eric Berry now in the NFL, Mr. Evans might just surprise a few people by becoming recognizable.

Who is the most impactful player on the team?

The word “impactful” gives me pause, because it generally is taken to relate to “big play”. That could be done of a number of people. I’ll go with special teams as the group of candidates for this one, which might be a scary thought to some because of our dreadful play last season.

Nobody is set to be a return man yet – that will be decided later this month if not during the first few games. So, in the spirit of giving you a name for the sake of this exercise, I think freshman placekicker Michael Palardy from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida might have the biggest impact on this rebuilding team. Last season, the Vols suffered significantly as PK Daniel Lincoln, who gained All-American honors earlier as a freshman, had a nightmare of a season due to injury and a seemingly lack of confidence. Tennessee has a very long tradition of producing great placekickers and punters, and Palardy might not only win both jobs, but also be a candidate for all-SEC at both positions. That might be saying a lot, but the left-footed specialist is perhaps the most heralded kicking recruit to grace Shields-Watkins Field in history – and that’s saying a lot.

What player(s) needs to step up this year in order for the team to reach its full capability?

The linebackers.

Last season, the injury bug hit so hard that our starting MLB, Nick Reveiz was lost for the season in October, and his replacement, Savion Frazier, met a similar fate on Halloween night, leaving Herman Lathers to clog the middle during November.

This season, the position looks loaded with talent and depth, something you can’t say about any other position. Thus, they have to be the rock upon which everybody leans for support, physical and moral. If they stay healthy and effective, it could be the difference between a winning and losing season.

Who is the top newcomer that can make an impact this year?

Matt Simms, junior quarterback who is a JUCO transfer.

Simms, son of former NFL star QB Phil Simms, looks to be the likely starter in September over another newcomer, freshman Tyler Bray from California. The jury is still out, though, because none of the QBs have excited the orange masses during spring or summer.

If the QBs flame out this season, then my alternate pick for top newcomer, besides Palardy whom I’ve already mentioned, is wide receiver Justin Hunter. Nicknames “bones” due to his tall, lanky frame, Hunter has been causing a few eyes to pop out during scrimmages. He is a multi-sport star from Virginia with Olympic aspirations in the long jump who missed nearly all of offseason football workouts while working with the USA Track and Field team. He won the USATF title this summer and placed sixth at the IAAF world championships before enrolling at UT just before the start of preseason camp.

Who is the one player on an opposing team that strikes the most fear in your heart?

Georgia wide-receiver A.J. Green. He’s scary good.

For non-conference opponents, it would be Oregon running back LaMichael James running behind his offensive line that returns all five of last season’s starters.

Gut feeling on the teams final record at the end of the regular season and what makes this a successful season for Derek Dooley in your eyes?

I haven’t made my official pick yet for my blog Vols in the Fall. But right now, I’m leaning toward a 5-7 record as the rebuilding begins under new head coach Derrick Dooley.

For most of the Vol faithful, which I fear are not going to be realistic enough to see that a losing season is where the money is, a ‘successful season’ would be 7-5 and a late-in-the-season bowl game. For me, a 6-6 record would be a success in 2010, even with the crappy bowl that would come along with such a tally.

Previous SEC Previews: 

Alabama Crimson Tide
Auburn Tigers 
Florida Gators 
Georgia Bulldogs 
Kentucky Wildcats
LSU Tigers 
Mississippi Rebels 
Mississippi State Bulldogs 
South Carolina Gamecocks 
Vanderbilt Commodores

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