College Football Countdown | No. 68: Tennessee

Offensive lineman Marques Pair gave his written fasten to Lane Kiffin on Jun 29, 2009, and enrolled roughly a year after underneath Derek Dooley, who stepped in after Kiffin’s one-and-done army as Phil Fulmer’s replacement.

In August, Pair will start his second deteriorate underneath Butch Jones, definition a South Carolinian will have committed to one coach, sealed and played for a second, spent one diversion underneath a third – halt manager Jim Chaney in a 2012 culmination – and, in 2014, will tip his career for a fourth.

Consider Pair – and a few others, such as specialists Derrick Brodus and Matt Darr – a overpass that spans a entirety of Tennessee’s dim ages, a duration that began in 2008, Fulmer’s final season; continued during Kiffin’s laughably brief turn; extended by an hysterically ineffectual three-season run underneath Derek Dooley; and – this is a wish – finished final Nov with a 27-14 win opposite Kentucky, capping a program’s fourth losing deteriorate in as many tries.

Pair and his associate fifth-year seniors will shortly be left and forgotten, remembered if during all as a many underwhelming comparison category in a story of a program. The Volunteers are 33-41 given a start of a 2008 season; in comparison, a module mislaid 41 games from 1993-2006. Thought another way, Vanderbilt – yes, Vanderbilt – has some-more wins in a final 20 games than Tennessee has in a final 36 games.

The fifth-year seniors remain, yet their spots have already been filled: Tennessee has reeled in a outrageous liquid of talent given Jones’ arrival, piecing together a makings of a newfound and newly finished contender – section by brick, Jones would say.

Fourteen members of February’s recruiting category enrolled early; that’s a hair some-more than 14% of a Volunteers’ pre-fall roster. Another 18 will join a module before August; come a opener, roughly a third of Jones’ organisation will have sealed papers in 2014.

Fifty stream Volunteers have assimilated a module given Jones was hired on Dec. 7, 2012. Sixty-eight players are inside their fourth deteriorate of eligibility – loyal freshmen, redshirt freshmen, sophomores, redshirt sophomores or juniors. By a finish of open drills, 13 early enrollees assigned spots on a two-deep.

“It’s a existence of building a football module right now,” Jones told USA TODAY Sports in April. “We’re going to have to play some loyal freshmen on both sides of a ball, and as we know in a SEC, during those positions it’s unforgiving. But it’s also invigorating, being around an lavish volume of girl and building them.”


Jones’ story suggests that UT won’t strike a walk in year one, yet rather year two. That doesn’t worry me: we consider Jones gets a Vols into a postseason by holding caring of a diseased opponents and notching 3 wins in SEC play. Jones will lead a way; UT’s going to follow.

2013 RECAP:

In a nutshell: A training season, all things considered, yet consider: Tennessee was 6 turnovers and dual late-game defensive stops from reaching a postseason. First came Florida, a diversion a Volunteers gave divided amid a handful-plus of unforgivable turnovers – and usually UT’s missteps authorised a Gators to measure a season-high 31 points. Then came Georgia, a diversion UT handed divided with an inability to corral Aaron Murray with ticks left in a fourth entertain – and afterwards fumbled divided in overtime. Then there was Vanderbilt, a diversion a Volunteers led until a final minute. Win one and you’re bowling; win dual and we’re talking; win all 3 and a SEC looks during Tennessee’s 2014 chances in an wholly opposite light.

High point: A 23-21 win opposite then-No. 11 South Carolina on Oct. 19. Let Steve Spurrier know we can’t win a SEC East Division yet violence UT.

Low point: The tighten losses, of course, yet also a four-game widen of pristine misery: 45-10 to Alabama, 31-3 to Missouri, 55-23 to Auburn and 14-10 to Vanderbilt.

Tidbit: Tennessee was one of 3 programs to start 3 quarterbacks during a unchanging season, fasten Utah State, Nevada, Air Force, Hawaii, Temple, West Virginia, Western Kentucky, Connecticut and Central Michigan. Two of these 3 starters were freshmen, with any creation during slightest 23 pass attempts. Only 3 other SEC teams given 2007 have had dual freshmen make that many attempts: 2012 Kentucky, 2011 Florida and 2008 LSU.

Tidbit (800 edition): Tennessee’s season-opening win opposite Austin Peay was a 800th feat in module history, pulling a Volunteers into a many disdainful organisation in college football. Tennessee, that enters 2014 with 804 victories, joins 7 others in a 800-win club: Michigan (910), Texas (875), Notre Dame (874), Nebraska (865), Ohio State (849) and Alabama (838).

Tidbit (halftime edition): Jones enters 2014 with a 44-2 career record when heading during halftime. This enclosed a 5-0 symbol in his Tennessee debut. The dual losses: Louisville on Oct. 26, 2012, and Eastern Michigan on Nov. 16, 2007.

Tidbit (Alabama edition): There was a time, boys and girls, that Tennessee owned Alabama. It wasn’t even that prolonged ago, in fact: UT took 7 in a quarrel from 1995-2001, 10 of 12 from 1995-2006 and 11 of 14 from 1993-2006. It’s roughly as if something happened in 2007 … as if someone arrived and altered a instruction of a rivalry. Either way, it’s been ugly: Alabama has authorised a grand sum of 7 descent touchdowns in holding 7 in a quarrel by a total measure of 249-75.

Tidbit (SEC edition): If counting Missouri and Texas AM’s outlines as members of a Big 12, Tennessee (33-41) has a 13th-best altogether record in a SEC given a start of a 2008 season. The list in order: Alabama (72-9), LSU (61-18), Florida (56-23), South Carolina (56-23), Georgia (54-26), Missouri (53-26), Auburn (50-28), Texas AM (46-31), Arkansas (41-34), Mississippi State (40-36), Mississippi (39-37), Vanderbilt (35-41), Tennessee and Kentucky (29-44).


Worst four-year widen in Tennessee’s history

1. 2010-13
2. 2009-12
3. 2008-11
4. 1977-80
5. 1961-64


Offense: Tennessee’s quarterback foe has already suffered one casualty: Riley Ferguson left a module in May, robbing UT of not usually a projected starter in 2014 – Ferguson remained unequivocally many in a brew even after a indolent open – yet maybe a many gifted, potential-laden quarterback on a roster. But resources do sojourn during Jones’ disposal, including any of a 3 quarterbacks with during slightest one start a deteriorate ago: girl Justin Worley, a many tested of a bunch, and sophomores Joshua Dobbs and Nathan Peterman. At a many simple level, Ferguson’s depart ensures that Worley during slightest starts a opener – observant that conjunction Dobbs nor Peterman seems prepared for a rigors of SEC play. Worley gives Tennessee a tip grade of reliability; given a series of means ability players on a roster, going with trustworthiness is a Volunteers’ best choice.

Not that this indispensably inspires confidence: Worley is error-prone, if reduction so than a dual sophomores, and struggles pulling a round downfield – maybe as a outcome of an originality with UT’s scheme, so let’s see if that changes in 2014. Dobbs, meanwhile, flashed signs of augmenting pass-game certainty during open drills, expected putting him in position to step into a lineup should Worley struggle. I’d put Peterman in third; he seems several stairs divided from reclaiming a starting job. So even if Jones wants this to play out again in Aug – a correct move, I’d contend – we have an thought how this will end: Worley will start a opener and sojourn a starter until he slips, when Dobbs will step in as a Volunteers’ new starter. Tennessee needs to pointer dual top-end quarterbacks in this winter’s recruiting class.

Two keys for these quarterbacks: one, get a offense relocating during a faster clip, something high on coordinator Mike Bajakian’s to-do list, and two, get a youngsters involved. At slightest 6 or 7 ability players from February’s category will cause heavily into UT’s offense, with one in line for poignant touches in a using game. That’d be Jalen Hurd, a five-star awaiting who will share carries with comparison Marlin Lane (534 yards), a pivotal spoke in final year’s attack. Though still recuperating from a shoulder injury, Hurd showed adequate detonate and prophesy during a open to acquire a estimable purpose a using game; Lane will lead, comparison Devrin Young will lend a palm and another dual incoming freshmen competence contribute, yet Hurd could be a difference-making factor. At 221 pounds, Hurd is an upperclassman in a freshman’s body. Another rookie to watch: Derrell Scott won’t strike a margin until August, yet a actor with his speed could now carve out a change-of-pace purpose on a ground.

Another 4 of 5 newcomers will reason critical spots in a flitting game. One is JUCO send Von Pearson, who took advantage of Pig Howard’s (44 receptions for 388 yards) spring-drills deficiency to carve out a starting purpose in a slot. Come August, UT will be means to hurl out a unequivocally good one-two punch during a position: Pearson’s prolonged and lanky, Howard squatter and some-more elusive, and a latter could flex into mixed roles within Bajakian’s offense – and this doesn’t even discuss girl Johnathon Johnson (13 for 189), who’s going to see a margin in this rotation. It’ll be a same expel on a outside, merely a year some-more experienced: Marquez North (38 for 496), Jason Croom (18 for 269) and Josh Smith (12 for 182) are now sophomores, a small wiser and battle-tested, and five-star beginner Josh Malone has already settled his box for evident personification time. We’re not finished yet: UT will also play loyal freshmen parsimonious ends Daniel Helm and Ethan Wolf, a span that fit easily into this intrigue while sophomore A.J. Branisel and comparison Brendan Downs dealt with injuries.

Just to sum things adult … Tennessee’s starting offense – my best guess, during slightest – by class: comparison quarterback, comparison using back, girl far-reaching receiver, dual sophomore far-reaching receivers, comparison parsimonious end, girl left tackle, girl left guard, girl center, girl right ensure and loyal beginner right tackle. But this doesn’t tell a whole story. The second tier of a abyss chart: sophomore quarterback, loyal beginner using back, girl far-reaching receiver, sophomore far-reaching receiver, beginner far-reaching receiver, comparison left tackle, beginner left guard, beginner center, sophomore right guard, comparison right tackle. This is as immature a two-deep as you’ll see in a SEC.

Defense: Six starters along Tennessee’s front 7 contingency be replaced. This is new to Jones: “I’ve never been in a conditions where we fundamentally have to reinstate both your descent and defensive lines,” he pronounced in April. Help is on a approach in a bodies of 18 summer additions, many on a defensive side of a round and many – another four, in fact – set to minister along a defensive line. But it’s an early enrollee who could meant a difference: JUCO send Owen Williams assimilated UT in Jan and fast grabbed a tip mark during defensive tackle, giving a Volunteers a arrange of quick-impact actor indispensable to equivalent a detriment of Daniel McCullers and Daniel Hood. Though he needs to get into improved figure to hoop a every-down bucket of a SEC, Williams is a screw along a interior.

But let’s not dope ourselves into meditative this line is in good figure – or even normal shape, unfortunately. Sophomore Danny O’Brien, a projected starter alongside Williams, is totally unproven outward of a haven role. If possibly starter falters, this line will be put into a apocalyptic position: UT’s pot embody beginner Dimarya Mixon, girl Allen Carson and incoming freshmen Michael Sawyers, Derek Barnett and Jashon Robertson – and that’s not a good situation. Senior Jordan Williams (18 tackles) will start during a normal finish mark while sophomore Corey Vereen occupies a Volunteers’ hybrid rush-end role, with any holding down a installation in final year’s rotation. But can Vereen beef adult UT’s insignificant pass rush, a regard for a improved partial of a decade? I’m not optimistic, yet we have to acknowledge a talent. Look for loyal beginner Dewayne Hendrix to get a prolonged demeanour behind Jordan Williams; demeanour for a same from rookie Joe Henderson behind Vereen. All told, this is not a arrange of gifted line you’d wish to take into conflict opposite a SEC.

How a staff feels about a many newcomers to a second spin could establish possibly or not girl Curt Maggitt stays on a diseased side, where he’s many comfortable, or transitions down to join Vereen during rush end. For now, Maggitt will need to hang during linebacker until Jones and coordinator John Jancek take a prolonged demeanour during recruits Dillon Bates, Gavin Bryant and Jakob Johnson, a latter an under-the-radar gem with estimable jaunty potential. For during slightest a initial apportionment of this season, demeanour for Maggitt and clever side linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin to side comparison A.J. Johnson (106 tackles, 8.5 for loss), a sole returning starter along a front 7 and an easy all-conference pick. But if Bates’ support can reason up, we consider UT’s best contingent facilities a rookie, Reeves-Maybin and A.J. Johnson – given that would concede Jancek to use Maggitt in an edge-rush role. Either way, Maggitt does give UT some options in a pass rush.

All 4 starters and a infancy of a two-deep earnings in a secondary, where clever recruiting and considerable actor growth positions this organisation as a strength of a defense. Despite a informed cast, demeanour for poignant changes to a rotation. One: UT competence not start sophomore Devaun Swafford during clever safety, observant that Brian Randolph (75 tackles, 4 interceptions) will be behind for tumble camp, yet a Volunteers should feel some-more assured in their abyss during a position. Two: Justin Coleman (46 tackles) will pierce from cornerback to nickel back, a pierce that creates outrageous clarity given a liquid of talent on a outward and Coleman’s possess struggles in a starring role. Three: Emmanuel Moseley, a loyal freshman, enrolled early and grabbed an fluid reason of Coleman’s former mark during cornerback.

It’s protected to put Randolph, girl giveaway reserve LaDarrell McNeil (54 tackles) and sophomore cornerback Cam Sutton (39 tackles, 2 interceptions) into starting roles, with Sutton an up-and-coming defender to watch in a SEC. Though Moseley fared good during a spring, it’s too early to assume he’ll reason onto a pursuit by Aug – observant that another handful of means recruits join a overlay during a summer. Keep lane of a names: Evan Berry, Rashaan Gaulden, Todd Kelly, Cortez McDowell, D’Andre Payne and Elliot Berry. Payne, another early enrollee, should see a margin during nickel back. The rest will make a critical pull for tools in a rotation, during misfortune adding abyss and during best formulating a new, freshmen-heavy tip six. More so than any position on a roster, a destiny in a delegate is ridiculously splendid – and when given a makeup of this register as a whole, that’s unequivocally observant something.

Special teams: UT’s kicking diversion – during kicker, punter and kickoff dilettante – starts anew yet Michael Palardy, who rubbed all 3 duties as a senior. we suppose incoming beginner Aaron Medley will get a prolonged demeanour during kicker, yet it’s unequivocally formidable to plan how he’ll take to a college game. If not Medley, demeanour for sophomore George Bullock or comparison Derrick Brodus to take over a kicking game. At punter, UT could spin behind to Darr, who has some experience. What a Volunteers unequivocally need is a boomer on kickoffs, an item who would assistance residence final year’s deplorable coverage teams. The lapse diversion grows stronger and stronger with any flitting recruiting class.


Offensive line: Before great over a new-look descent front – all 5 starters contingency be transposed – concentration on one essential fact: UT’s descent line was one of a many unsatisfactory units in college football a year ago. So a decrease isn’t as vast as one competence have illusory one year ago; it’s going to be tough, it’s not going to be easy, it’s going to charge Jones, Bajakian and line manager Don Mahoney … yet it’s not as bad as it looks on paper. What could make things really good is a clever offseason from JUCO send Dontavius Blair, who arrived in Jan with measureless billing yet was incompetent to secure a starting pursuit during left tackle. Instead, a staff left Apr disposition toward comparison Jacob Gilliam.

That won’t last, in my opinion: UT usually needs to light a glow underneath a JUCO addition. Come August, a line should underline Blair and loyal beginner Coleman Thomas, another early enrollee, on a edges; girl Mack Crowder during center, where he played backup final fall; Kyler Kerbyson during right guard, relocating a girl inside from right tackle; and girl Marcus Jackson, a usually returning lineman with starting experience, during right guard. A plain entrance from Blair would go a prolonged approach toward solidifying this reworked descent line.

Again, it’s not a misfortune conditions in a world. Thomas and Blair are doubt marks, true, yet a interior of Jackson, Crowder and Kerbyson seems steady. Gilliam and Pair are excellent as tackle reserves, yet I’d worry how possibly would transport as starters in a SEC – not unequivocally well, is my guess. Sophomores Dylan Weisman and Austin Sanders got their feet soppy final fall, so they should be workable backups along a interior. Three factors: one, UT needs to stay healthy; two, UT needs to stay patient; and three, UT needs to continue aggressive this position on a trail. we prognosticate this year’s line rounding into form with any flitting week of a unchanging season.


Utah State: Tennessee can’t means to remove a opener – and we wish a fan bottom isn’t looking past Utah State, that could be an comprehensive savage in a Mountain West Conference. But notching a win opposite a Aggies and Arkansas State would leave UT with some respirating room before holding on Oklahoma, Georgia and Florida, with a Sooners and Bulldogs on a road. Beat USU and ASU, tip one of a subsequent 3 games … and UT is going to a postseason. But a Volunteers still need to take 3 of 4 from Florida, Mississippi, Kentucky and Vanderbilt.


In a nutshell: Butch Jones has spent a final 18 months adult to his elbows in petrify and mortar, laying a substructure for Tennessee’s lapse to SEC competitiveness by adding covering on covering of abyss to any position on a Volunteers’ roster. It’s been impressive: Tennessee is installed with immature talent on both sides of a ball, in a trenches and out, and can now spin a concentration to actor development, a subsequent theatre in Jones’ rebuilding project. But there’s a pivotal word there, and it deserves to be italicized: young. Tennessee is young, yet a doubt, and dangerously so during several pivotal positions – receiver, descent line, defensive line, delegate and special teams. Only a doctrinaire pessimist could omit UT’s altogether talent; it doesn’t take a pessimist to notice a Volunteers’ altogether youth, however.

But talent will finish this program’s run outward a postseason, hinging on 6 factors: one, possibly Worley can be a steady, arguable participation this offense needs underneath center; two, how good a freshmen grasp a offense during a ability positions; three, if a reworked descent line can stay healthy; four, if a front 7 can reason up, quite along a interior; five, how many of an impact a freshmen will have along a behind seven; and six, possibly or not UT can say some coherence in a kicking game. In general, it’s critical that Jones and his staff get a whole register – a third of that is new to a module – on a same page before late August. we trust in Jones’ ability to get this done. He’s finished zero given nearing to change my faith in a process.

This is a six-win group that will onslaught to land some-more than 7 wins, given a problem of a schedule. All told, UT will face possibly 9 or 10 play teams, depending on how good Vanderbilt takes to Derek Mason. The Volunteers take on Oklahoma, Georgia and South Carolina on a road; Florida, Alabama and Missouri come to Knoxville. The simple point: Don’t design any miracles. Do expect, however, a estimable grade of improvement, a stronger opening opposite all competition, a unbending clarity of purpose and outrageous strides during a march of a season. It’s a immature team, yet a intensity is off a charts.

Given what Tennessee has in palm and entrance in subsequent year’s class, all Jones needs to do is find a quarterback. The ability players are there. The line will usually get better. The invulnerability will urge as a youngsters benefit a stronger comfort spin in a system. The behind seven, for example, is packed with all-league potential. If UT can find a quarterback – and maybe it’s Dobbs – a Volunteers are one year divided from competing for a SEC East Division. For 2014, a Volunteers should be happy with a six-win lapse to a postseason.

Dream season: Tennessee nets 8 wins, losing to Oklahoma, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina.

Nightmare season: The Volunteers tumble behind to 4-8, finishing a diversion forward of Kentucky in a East.


Who’s No. 67? This team’s manager has led 4 of his 5 stops to during slightest one deteriorate of 8 or some-more wins.


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