Members of the Tennessee Volunteers celebrate after the game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

BEVO BEAT Football

The American-Statesman’s Top 25 countdown: No. 23 Tennessee

The Vols usually aren't in the SEC championship conversation, but if things break the right way for them in 2017 ...

Posted July 7th, 2017

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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?)

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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.

Wide receiver Cam Phillips #5 of the Virginia Tech Hokies is stripped by defensive lineman Kendal Vickers #39 of the Tennessee Volunteers in the second half at Bristol Motor Speedway on September 10, 2016 in Bristol, Tennessee. Tennessee defeated Virginia Tech 45-24. (Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images)

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)

Offense: None

Defense: RS Evan Berry (2nd team)

Michigan Wolverines head football coach Brady Hoke watches the action from the sidelines during the game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Michigan Stadium on November 1 , 2014 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Wolverines defeated the Hoosiers 34-10. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

TENNESSEE: FYI

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.

Tennessee's schedule

DATEOPPONENTLAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)
Sept. 4at Georgia Tech
Sept. 9Indiana State
Sept. 16at Florida*W, 38-28
Sept. 23UMass
Sept. 30Georgia*W, 34-31
Oct. 14South Carolina*L, 24-21
Oct. 21at Alabama*L, 49-10
Oct. 28at Kentucky*W, 49-36
Nov. 4Southern Miss
Nov. 11at Missouri*W, 63-37
Nov. 18LSU*
Nov. 25Vanderbilt*L, 45-34
* SEC game

The last 5 years

YEARW-L (CONF.)RANKINGBOWL GAME
TOTAL35-28 (15-25)3-0 in bowls
20125-7 (1-7)NR/NRNo bowl
20135-7 (2-6)NR/NRNo bowl
20147-6 (3-5)NR/NRW, TaxSlayer
20159-4 (5-3)25th/22ndW, Outback
20169-4 (4-4)9th/22ndW, 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.

BY CONFERENCE

1: Mountain West (25-Boise State); Pac-12 (24-Oregon); SEC (23-Tennessee)

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