#20 Tennessee Football 2017 Preview


Tennessee Volunteers


Overall Rank: #20

#6 SEC

Tennessee began the 2016 season with a very fast start. They were 5-0 with wins over Florida and Georgia, but you could tell they were living on borrowed time. Injuries piled up on the defensive side of the ball as the season went along and the Volunteers ended up with a .500 record in conference play. The ultimate punch to the gut for Tennessee in 2016 was allowing 45 points and 608 yards in a 45-34 loss in Nashville to a Vanderbilt team that was not an offensive juggernaut last season. Thus, the question remains for head coach Butch Jones whether or not he can get this team to Atlanta to play in the SEC Championship game.
2016 Record: 9-4,4-4
2016 Bowl: Music City Bowl vs. Nebraska 38-24 W
Coach: Butch Jones (30-21 at Tennessee, 80-48 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Larry Scott
Defensive Coordinator: Bob Shoop
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: John Kelly, RB, 630 yards
Passing: Quinten Dormady, QB, 148 yards
Receiving: Jauan Jennings, WR, 580 yards
Tackles: Todd Kelly Jr., SS, 71
Sacks: Kendal Vickers, DT, 2.5
Interceptions: Todd Kelly Jr., 2, Micah Abernathy, 2
Other Key Returnees:  LT Brett Kendrick, C Jashon Robertson, C Coleman Thomas, TE Ethan Wolf, MLB Darrin Kirkland, NB Rashaan Gaulden, CB Emmanuel Moseley, K Aaron Medley, P Trevor Daniel, DE Jonathan Kongbo, FS Nigel Warrior, DT Khalil McKenzie, DT Shay Tuttle
Key Losses: DE Derek Barnett, RB Alvin Kamara, DB Cam Sutton, LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin, WR Josh Malone, QB Josh Dobbs
For new offensive coordinator Larry Scott, it will be like having a blank canvas heading into the 2017 season as plenty of positions are up for grabs. The quarterback battle between Quinten Dormady and Jarrett Guarantano will dictate just how much their spread attack will be adjusted to suit the skillsets of either one of these guys. Trey Smith will need to live up to his elite level recruiting hype at right guard to solidify the offensive line in 2017. Protecting the quarterback is going to be important as allowing just under two sacks per game is not good enough. Jauan Jennings and John Kelly are going to have to stay healthy at wide receiver and running back, respectively, since there is not a of experience behind them on the depth chart.
The loss of Derek Barnett heading into the 2017 season represents more than just replacing on-field performance. Barnett was the all-time sacks for the Volunteers with 32. Jonathan Kongbo is going to be expected to pick up the slack for Barnett but the jury is still out on him after a 11-tackle season in 2016. Talent is not an issue for Kongbo. It is a matter of how well he can handle the expectations of being the man on the Tennessee defensive line. Darrin Kirkland, if fully healthy, will keep the linebackers stabilized all year long. Todd Kelly Jr. and Nigel Warrior will need to create turnovers in the secondary to set up shorter fields for the offense, especially in the early part of the season. Aaron Medley and Trevor Daniel will be solid at kicker and punter once again in 2017. Evan Berry is the wildcard on special teams as he can break long returns if fully healthy.
The Bottom Line:
Georgia Tech kicks off a very brutal schedule for the Volunteers as the Yellow Jackets will be a tough out in Atlanta since they execute their triple-option offense very well on an annual basis. Florida awaits Tennessee on September 16th in Gainesville and, if the quarterback position is not settled, a 1-2 start is a realistic possibility. The schedule then balances out with three winnable home games, including one with Georgia. Alabama, Kentucky and LSU highlight the back half of the schedule along with trap games with Southern Miss and Vanderbilt. Look for another four-loss regular season as the questions at quarterback and the schedule will be too much to overcome for the Volunteers. As for Butch Jones, if he loses four games again he is probably going to pay the price and be out as head coach, especially if any of the four losses are to inferior teams. The only way Jones survives a four-loss regular season would be if the losses were very close in margin to quality teams like Alabama and LSU.
Projected Bowl: Music City Bowl
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 205.2 (37th in nation, 7th in conference)
Passing Offense: 238.5 (62, 5)
Total Offense: 443.7 (40, 5)
Scoring Offense: 36.4 (24, 2)
Rushing Defense: 218.5 (104, 11)
Pass Defense: 230.7 (72, 10)
Total Defense: 449.2 (95, 11)
Scoring Defense: 28.8 (68, 9)
Turnover Margin: -0.15 (78, 10)
Sacks: 2.31 (45, 5)
Sacks Allowed: 1.92 (52, 8)
Madness 2017 Recruit Rankings:
#19 Trey Smith
#94 Maleik Gray
#98 Eric Crosby
#107 Ty Chandler
#216 Jordan Murphy