Vols

By Zach Harmuth

The Volunteers won four of their final five games in 2014, and went to the TaxSlayer Bowl where they beat Iowa convincingly, ending the season on a high note. This season things might end even higher.

That 7-6 (3-5 in the SEC) team will not just remain the same, but improve, not losing any players to the draft and bringing in a top recruiting class. The 2015 season has lots of Vols faithful very excited for the coming season.

Others have noticed too. The Sporting News’ preseason Top 25 ranks Tennessee at No. 22. ESPN reporter Mark Schlabach released his Way-Too-Early Top 25 this week, and Tennessee comes in at No. 20.

“The Volunteers have been taking baby steps to relevancy under coach Butch Jones, going 12-13 in his first two seasons,” Schlabach wrote. “Now, it’s time for Tennessee’s recruiting success and potential to start translating into victories.” In The Sporting News’ preseason Top 25, Tennessee is ranked No. 22.

“There may not be more hype, more expectation, for another team in the SEC,” The Sporting News wrote. ESPN Insider Phil Steele also predicts Tennessee will be No. 24 in the first Associated Press Top 25.

“There’s excitement brewing in Tennessee as the Volunteers are on the rise,” Steele wrote. “They will be picked by some to win their division and for good reason, as after returning only 10 starters in 2014, coach Butch Jones’ team has 18 back this season.”

Butch Jones recruiting has paid off, finally, as many thought it would. This will be his third year coaching, and the first team made up mostly by players he recruited, rather than leftover classes form former coach Derek Dooley’s three disappointing years and less than excellent recruiting.

The Vols haven’t had a 10 win season since 2007. And Dooley got three years to prove himself, going 5-7 in his last two. This is Jones third season, and he has gone 5-7 but produced a winning season last year. Tennessee coaches rarely have gotten more than three years lately to prove themselves winners.

This year might be do or die for Jones.

Fortunately for him and for Vols fans, the things Jones is doing to develop the talent he recruits, and the team he has constructed now that he has had time to let his recruits develop, are catching attention from all the right people, as evidenced in the preseason hype.

Last year the team was still very young, but returning 18 starters will pay off.

Returning starters in the SEC:

Tennessee 18

Vanderbilt 18

Ole Miss 16

3 tied at 15

Some of those key returning starters are junior quarterback Joshua Dobbs, sophomore running back Jalen Hurd and four members of the offensive line. Dobbs and Hurd will be emerging leaders and stars this year for the Vols.

And now for the second year in a row, Jones is bringing in a top-five recruitment class. That can only mean good things and happy surprises, as the veteran players mesh with the new recruits who are potential stars..

So if you add the developing talent with Jones obvious talent for recruiting, you have a team that could win the SEC this year.

ESPN’s Football Power Index projects Tennessee with the third-best chance to win the SEC.

According to preseason FPI projections:

Georgia 23%

LSU 15%

Tennessee 14%

Alabama 14%

What it all comes down to is this: This Tennessee team might be in its best position to win since a southern boy named Peyton Manning stood behind center.

Or so the sports world would have us believe. Lets hope that behind the hype there really is a potential powerhouse coming together in Knoxville this summer.

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