#48 Tennessee Football 2014 Preview

Tennessee Volunteers

Overall Rank: #48
#11 SEC

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A great recruiting class by second year coach Butch Jones has given Tennessee very high hopes for the future. And Coach Jones’ first year with the Volunteers went pretty well. They won their fourth game on October 19th over a very good South Carolina squad and only needed two more to reach a bowl game. However, Tennessee did not even come close to beating Alabama, Missouri or Auburn in their next three games and they went into the last two weeks of the year needing two wins over Vanderbilt and Kentucky. A disappointing offensive showing against the Commodores put an end to any bowl dreams, but at least they finished the year with a road win over the Wildcats. This year a bowl berth would be a step in the right direction while that recruiting class spends some time growing up.

2013 Record: 5-7, 2-6
2013 Bowl: None
Coach: Butch Jones (5-7 at Tennessee, 55-34 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Bajakian
Defensive Coordinator: John Jancek

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Marlin Lane, RB, 534 yards
Passing: Justin Worley, QB, 1,239 yards
Receiving: Marquez North, WR, 496 yards
Tackles: A.J. Johnson, LB, 106
Sacks: Jordan Williams, DE, 1.5
Interceptions: Brian Randolph, S, 4

Other Key Returnees: QB Jushua Dobbs, WR Pig Howard, S LaDarrell McNeil, CB Justin Coleman

Key Losses: RB Rajion Neal, LB Dontavis Sapp, DE Corey Miller, OL James Stone, OL Antonio Richardson, OL Ja’Waun James, K/P Michael Palardy

This is a team that has yet to develop a true identity on either side of the ball. They are not particularly good at anything yet. But that could change this time around with the return of a lot of talent in the defensive back seven. A.J. Johnson leads the linebacker corps after totaling a team high 106 tackles a year ago. The return of Curt Maggitt from injury is absolutely huge. Maggitt is a quality pass rushing linebacker who can make big plays on a team that desperately needs big plays. In 2013 strong safety Brian Randolph was the one making plays, leading the team with four interceptions and tallying 75 tackles. Free safety LaDarrell McNeil will again join Randolph in the starting lineup. Justin Coleman is an experienced cornerback and Cameron Sutton had a great freshman campaign. He defended a team high nine passes and recovered a couple fumbles, while picking off two passes. On the other side of the ball, Tennessee does have plenty of talent at wide receiver. After a drama filled off-season, Alton “Pig” Howard appears ready to be back on the team after catching 44 passes for 388 yards and three touchdowns in 2013. Also back are Marquez North, Jason Croom and Johnathon Johnson. North is a big, physical receiver who is ready for a breakout season. But the passing numbers will not be very impressive without a quarterback. Justin Worley will start again, but more by default than for any other reason. He started seven games last season, throwing for 1,239 yards and ten touchdowns. Joshua Dobbs, who earned four starts in 2013, is another option, but failed to impress in the spring.

The passing game had its moments last year in large part due to the effective running game. If Tennessee was good at one thing, it was running the ball, although they still ranked 9th in the SEC in rushing offense. But that could quickly change now that Rajion Neal is gone. He rushed for 1,124 yards and a dozen touchdowns in 2013. Marlin Lane and freshman Jalen Hurd will attempt to pick up the slack. The loss of all five starting offensive linemen will certainly force the ground game to take a step back for a while. Speaking of line play, the Volunteers do not return any defensive linemen starters either. In the SEC especially, line play is terribly important and this team does not have it. Defensive ends Corey Vereen and Jordan Williams are decent, but few newcomers who were around in the spring looked like they were ready to make an impact on the lines right away.

The Bottom Line:
Tennessee has some talent on the lines and there should be enough youngsters around who can at least be serviceable. Depth behind those guys seems unlikely at this point though. For this season, it will keep the Volunteers from seriously competing with the best of the best in the SEC. The goal will be to develop that young talent and find a way to scrape out six wins. If Worley can open up the offense and find some of those talented receivers on a regular basis, Tennessee will do enough to earn their first bowl bid since 2010.

Projected Bowl: Birmingham Bowl

2013 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 188.4 (44th in nation, 9th in conference)
Passing Offense: 164.9 (109, 13)
Total Offense: 353.3 (102, 12)
Scoring Offense: 23.8 (94, 11)
Rushing Defense: 207.3 (100, 13)
Pass Defense: 211.1 (27, 7)
Total Defense: 418.4 (83, 11)
Scoring Defense: 29.0 (78, 10)
Turnover Margin: 0.1 (54, 6)
Sacks: 1.50 (99, 14)
Sacks Allowed: 1.25 (21, 2)

Madness 2015 NFL Draft Rankings:
#83 A.J. Johnson

Madness 2014 Recruit Rankings:
#37 Josh Malone
#52 Jalen Hurd
#71 Dillon Bates
#111 Todd Kelly
#151 Dewayne Hendrix
#172 Daniel Helm


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