After six straight seasons of disappointment, the Tennessee Volunteers are ready for prime time again. Or are they?
It will not take long for the country to find out if the Volunteers are going to be a threat or fall by the wayside as they have done since 2008. Butch Jones is trying to rebuild the Tennessee image into what it once was: double-digit wins, championships and NFL-ready players coming out of Knoxville in droves.
Tennessee must solve the quarterback and offensive line mysteries quickly. True freshmen may have to step up in key positions, but Jones has recruited some serious talent that is ready to play immediately. These youngsters might lay the foundation to put Tennessee back on the map.
After two tune-up games against inferior opponents, Tennessee travels to Norman, OK to take on the Oklahoma Sooners, fresh off their Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. The Volunteers can set the tone for a great season and silence Bob Stoops, one of the SEC’s biggest critics, by handing the Sooners a loss on their home field.
The line of scrimmage will be the turning point in this game, as Tennessee will face an experienced defensive line that has switched to a three-man front. These players stood up to the ultra-physical Crimson Tide offensive line, so the young Volunteers will have their hands full from the start. A win there would give them supreme confidence in the next two games against Georgia and Florida.
The Bulldogs’ secondary may be suspect, but the defensive line is not, as the Bulldogs tallied 33 sacks to place second in the conference in 2013. Florida did not have as many sacks, but it placed second in the conference in rushing defense. Most of the starters on both of these defensive units return, which could be a concern for Tennessee’s game plan. Quarterback sacks and a throttled running game are two things that Tennessee can ill afford at this juncture.
If the Volunteers emerge unscathed or with just one loss after this trifecta of big opponents, the second year of the Jones era could be a fruitful one.