This post continues our series checking in on next season's opponents. Our goal is to have gathered useful information about each character from Carolina's villains gallery prior to the beginning of the season. We've previously talked about the East Carolina Pirates, the Georgia Bulldogs, the Navy Midshipmen, the Vanderbilt Commodores, the Auburn Tigers, the Kentucky Wildcats, and the Mississippi St. Bulldogs. Today, we're talking about the Tennessee Volunteers.
In Derek Dooley's first year in Knoxville, it was far from the good old days for Tennessee. Although talented at some positions, Tennessee fielded one of the country's youngest, most depth-shallow teams, and the results were predictable. Although the Vols made it to a bowl by beating the lesser competition, they finished the season with a losing record and were uncompetitive in many of their games against good opponents. Granted, Vols fans would be a lot happier if Tennessee had actually won its games against LSU and UNC, both of which it apparently won as the buzzer expired with a Vols lead, the games only to both be resumed and lost by UT due to penalties and official clock mismanagement, respectively. Even with wins in those games, though, this still wouldn't have been a vintage season for a program that measures success with championships as opposed to bowl berths.
Significant Personnel Losses
Considering the number of true freshman that Dooley was forced to throw to the wolves last year, one would think that Tennessee would return a lot of starters this season, but that's actually not the case. UT returns only 13 starters, bad for 96th nationally. Among the key offensive losses are star WR Denarius Moore, WR Gerald Jones, and talented TE Luke Stocker. UT also loses some key players from the defensive line and LB corps, such as DE Gerald Williams and LB Nick Reveiz. Despite these losses, Tennessee will overall be more experienced this year, which is good news for a team for which depth was perhaps the most significant issue last year.
Continue reading after the jump.
Tennessee should field an improved offense this year. Although there are key losses in the receiving corps, the Vols return a promising young QB in Tyler Bray and a proven RB in Tauren Poole. Perhaps most importantly, the Vols will no longer be completely green on the offensive line. Last year, the line was Tennessee's Achilles Heel, with the big guys frequently giving up lots and lots of sacks and never consistently providing enough holes for Poole and his backups. (Most of you will remember the success Devin Taylor, Cliff Matthews, and the Carolina defensive front had against this crew last year, which was unfortunately negated by astoundingly bad play from our secondary.) There will still be growing pains this year, with a likely four sophomore starters, but at least those sophomores will all be a year more experienced. The losses at receiver will be easier to stomach if players like Da'Rick Rogers can continue to develop into reliable threats.
Defense is looking more questionable for the Vols. Although pass-rushing DT Malik Jackson is back, Tennessee is inexperienced at LB and defensive line and lacks the star power that have so often characterized the Vols at these positions. The secondary could be one of the conference's best, led by potential All-SEC performers Janzen Jackson and Prentiss Waggner. However, if the Vols aren't able to slow down the formidable rushing attacks they'll see from many of their SEC opponents next year, the secondary play may be for naught. That's looking more likely than not.
Regardless of whether or not Tennessee is anywhere near their old form when we play them this year, this game will be significant. It's Tennessee. We're 5-22-2 all-time against this opponent, with only a single win ever occurring in Knoxville. And a win against UT is still a win against an SEC blue blood. That should be enough motivation for a program hungry for recognition, shouldn't it? Moreover, with the likelihood that we'll be locked in an close race for the SEC Eastern Division crown by this point in the year, we'll hopefully be beyond any potential trap-game mentality.
Although I expect Tennessee to be improved this year, we should again have the advantage. Tennessee will struggle to slow down Marcus Lattimore, just as it did last year despite Lattimore not being 100%. The Vols will also likely continue to have problems with our pass rush. That should be enough for seven-point Carolina victory.