Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our eighth annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff.
Last year’s CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 2, 7 and 17 on our 2016 list.
Today’s team: No. 23 Tennessee (Related coverage: How dare Tennessee hire Phillip Fulmer for only $100,000 a year?)
Best-case scenario: The Volunteers reach the conference championship game if they edge Florida and Georgia in the weaker SEC East. They still aren’t in Alabama’s class but could go to a decent bowl — most likely the Outback or Citrus — if they play for the SEC title.
Worst-case scenario: The season will be considered a failure if Tennessee finishes third in the East behind Florida and Georgia or — gasp! — fourth behind up-and-coming Kentucky. Expect the Vols to end up in a lower-tier bowl such as the Liberty or St. Petersburg if they finish in the middle of the pack.
The key game: Sept. 16, at Florida. It’s the SEC opener for both teams and the winner will have an early jump for the East title. Last year the Vols won a shootout in Knoxville, but the Gators are a different team when playing at The Swamp — 11-1 in Gainesville the past two years.
INSIDE THE VOLS
Coach: Butch Jones (fifth year, 30-21)
2016: 9-4, 4-4 in the SEC (beat Nebraska 38-24 in the Music City Bowl)
Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense
Goodbye: QB Joshua Dobbs (Steelers, 4th round), DL Derek Barnett (Eagles, 14th overall pick), DL Corey Vereen (Patriots, undrafted free agent), RB Alvin Kamara (Saints, 3rd), WR Josh Malone (Bengals, 4th), LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin (Lions, 4th), DB Cameron Sutton (Steelers, 3rd)
Spring cleaning: The Vols made a major move to their coaching staff when Larry Scott was promoted to offensive coordinator in January. He was the tight ends coach and special teams coordinator last season. … Tennessee had five mid-year enrollees at spring practice — DL Deandre Johnson, OL Riley Locklear, QB Will McBride, LB Shanon Reid and OL Trey Smith. Tennessee’s 2017 signing class ranked 17th nationally, led by Smith, a five-star tackle who stayed in state.
RETURNING STAT LEADERS
Passing: Quinten Dormady, 11-17-148, 0/0 (2nd)
Rushing: John Kelly, 98-630-5 (2nd)
Receiving: Jauan Jennings, 40-580-7 (2nd)
Tackles: DB Todd Kelly Jr., 71 (1st); DB Micah Abernathy, 69 (2nd); DB Rashaan Gaulden, 68 (3rd)
Sacks: DL Kendal Vickers, 2.5 (T-3rd)
RETURNING ALL-CONFERENCE PLAYERS (1)
Defense: RS Evan Berry (2nd team)
Dormandy’s time: With Joshua Dobbs now backing up Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, the Vols are confident that Quinten Dormady is the right man to succeed him. In April’s spring game, he completed all 10 of his passes for 105 yards. Dormady has thrown a combined 39 passes his first two seasons, completing 24.
Getting offensive: Jones is confident the offense will continue to prosper. Last year the Vols averaged 47.8 points over their last five games and scored 30 or more in nine of 13 games. Offensively, the Vols ranked second in the SEC in scoring and fifth in total yards. Their total of 473 points last season ranked second in the conference behind Alabama’s 582.
Hoke’s new job: Former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke has his work cut out as the team’s new defensive line coach. Barnett and Vereen combined for 20 of the Vols’ 31 sacks last fall.
|DATE||OPPONENT||LAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)|
|Sept. 4||at Georgia Tech|
|Sept. 9||Indiana State|
|Sept. 16||at Florida*||W, 38-28|
|Sept. 30||Georgia*||W, 34-31|
|Oct. 14||South Carolina*||L, 24-21|
|Oct. 21||at Alabama*||L, 49-10|
|Oct. 28||at Kentucky*||W, 49-36|
|Nov. 4||Southern Miss|
|Nov. 11||at Missouri*||W, 63-37|
|Nov. 25||Vanderbilt*||L, 45-34|
|* SEC game|
The last 5 years
|YEAR||W-L (CONF.)||RANKING||BOWL GAME|
|TOTAL||35-28 (15-25)||3-0 in bowls|
|2012||5-7 (1-7)||NR/NR||No bowl|
|2013||5-7 (2-6)||NR/NR||No bowl|
|2014||7-6 (3-5)||NR/NR||W, TaxSlayer|
|2015||9-4 (5-3)||25th/22nd||W, Outback|
|2016||9-4 (4-4)||9th/22nd||W, Music City|
Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final rankings.
2016 NATIONAL TEAM STAT RANKS
Scoring: 24th (36.4 ppg)
Points allowed: 68th (28.8 ppg)
Passing: 62nd (238.5 ypg)
Rushing: 37th (205.2 ypg)
Total off.: 40th (443.7 ypg)
Total def.: 95th (449.2 ypg)
OUR TOP 25 SO FAR
No. 25: Boise State
No. 24: Oregon
No. 23: Tennessee
No. 22: Coming Saturday. Want a hint? This school, which has had three head coaches in the last five years, hasn’t finished a season ranked since 2012.
1: Mountain West (25-Boise State); Pac-12 (24-Oregon); SEC (23-Tennessee)
News on Bevo Beat is free and unlimited. Access to the rest of Hookem.com is included with an Austin American-Statesman subscription in addition to Statesman.com and the ePaper edition. Subscribe today at statesman.com/subscribe.