Smokey will have em treed if: The Vols get solid leadership and execution from quarterback Tyler Bray, and the offensive line gives him time to make plays. UT has several playmakers on the edges as DaRick Rogers and Justin Hunter can be two of the most dangerous weapons in the SEC, and Tauren Poole rushed for over 1,000 yards last year. Speaking of the offensive line, they are young, but talented as they return three starters from last year, and the other two players are sophomores. The defense got an unexpected boost as Free Safety Janzen Jackson returned to the team to strengthen and already potent cast of hitters and ball hawks. They might be the best secondary in the SEC.
The Orange and White will be Black and Blue if: The defensive line does not get better in a hurry. With only one starter returning, not to mention only one starting linebacker back from last year, it is a good thing the secondary is really good since they might be making a lot of plays. Tyler Bray better avoid a sophomore slump, since he will be key to putting up points to keep Tennessee in some games, as well as giving the depleted defense time to rest.
Schedule: (insert laugh track here) Get this, the Vols removed North Carolina, so their non-conference schedule now features: Montana, Cincinnati, Buffalo and Middle Tennessee. Gone are the days when the Vols used to play Notre Dame, UCLA and Miami. Gee, I sure hope they get through that gauntlet In contrast, the Vols October schedule will see, on four consecutive Saturdays, Georgia, LSU, Alabama and South Carolina. With visits to Florida and Arkansas before and after October, the schedule is going to be very rough on the Big Orange. In defense of this year's out of conference schedule, UT will play Oregon (2013), then a home and home series with Oklahoma (2014-15), Nebraska (2016-17) and Ohio Sate (2018-19), but for now, it's a trip to Cupcake City.
Intangibles: After the Lane Kiffin mess, the Vols are in year two of a major rebuilding phase. For Tennessee, there is only one way to go but up, which means nobody expects them to do much this year. When nobody gives your football team a chance, that is a huge psychological advantage. Another plus is they have only two seniors on the two deep roster, so this is a good year to get some experience in, and then look out in 2012.
Coach Scooter's Prediction: 4th in the SEC East
2011 will not go down in Tennessee football history as one of the great teams they have ever put on Shields-Watkins Field, but they will be fun to watch with all the young players that will play hard. Tyler Bray could follow in the footsteps of the great Tennessee quarterbacks of the past, but his immaturity (See Music City Bowl Throat Slash followed by Music City Bowl Tear Fest) has to be corrected if he is going to be a leader the team will rally around. The secondary is going to be something special, and the hope is the rest of the defense can follow their lead. As much as I tried to touch on the positives, I do not see the Vols winning an SEC game until November, when Kentucky and Vanderbilt arrive on the schedule. Since those two teams always play UT hard, it is possible they finally lose to Kentucky, after, what is it now, 450 years? And never count out Vandy since they always play UT hard. Don't be surprised if they end up 0-8 in the SEC this year. As crazy as that sounds, you tell me which game is a guaranteed SEC victory.
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