July 22, 2024

Rocky Topics: Is 15-0 plausible for the Vols?

The 2016-2017 season is bringing a lot of expectations for Tennessee. How big is too big?

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 10, 2015 - Tennessee Volunteers Head Coach Butch Jones leaves the locker room with the team during the game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Donald Page/Tennessee Athletics

Co-written by Nathan Odom

In the first edition of Rocky Topics for the 2016-2017 college football season, Robert Hughes and Nathan Odom argue if it’s too far-fetched to consider an undefeated season for the Vols.

Hughes: Tennessee has high hopes for the 2016 season. Justified hopes. The Vols return 17 starters on offense and defense from last season. The team is led by Preseason All-SEC selections Josh Dobbs, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Cam Sutton and Derek Barnett (and let’s not forget the G.O.A.T. Trevor Daniel) just to name a few. The Vols had the third-best rushing attack in the SEC last season, best in the SEC East. Josh Dobbs has proven his effectiveness with his legs, Alvin Kamara adds jaw-dropping explosiveness and Jalen Hurd is only getting faster.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Volunteers’ new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop brings an aggressive scheme to be run by some of the nation’s best athletes. From a talent standpoint, nobody in the East comes close to what Tennessee has. Nobody.

Odom: Tennessee’s personnel is there, but I’m more concerned with who lies on the schedule than who lines up on the depth chart. More specifically, Tennessee’s four-game stretch of death (Florida, @ Georgia, @ Texas A&M, Alabama) will be too tough for the Vols to come out unscathed. Tennessee matches up well against Florida and Georgia, but the Gators still have one of the SEC’s premier defenses and aren’t going to let an 11-game win streak disappear easily. Georgia will want revenge in Athens after the Vols derailed the Bulldogs’ 2015 campaign. Kirby Smart knows a thing or two about coaching in the SEC.

Then come the two most challenging games on the schedule, in my opinion. A&M has the skill players to give Tennessee’s secondary fits. That game is in College Station in front of what should be one of the rowdiest crowds the Vols have seen in the past few years. Then, if the Vols manage to get through all three of those, they have to beat an incredibly deep Alabama team who, despite losing a starting quarterback and Heisman-winner Derrick Henry, are ranked No. 1 to start the season.

Hughes: That particular stretch of games will certainly be tough. Winning any game in the SEC is challenging and those games will be no exception. In 2015, Tennessee lacked home-field advantage in games against Florida and Alabama and lost by a combined six points in them. Luckily for the Vols, the Gators and the Crimson Tide will have to travel to Knoxville to come away with a victory. Georgia lost its primary receiver, Malcolm Mitchell, as well as freak athlete and linebacker Leonard Floyd. Need I remind you that they still haven’t named a starting quarterback?

Next, A&M hasn’t been the same since Johnny Manziel went pro. Sure, they have playmakers in Christian Kirk and Myles Garrett, but the Aggies’ quarterback is a one-game wonder who was passed up on Oklahoma’s depth chart by a former walk-on. Don’t get me wrong, 15-0 is a lofty goal. It would take beating those four teams, not overlooking some of the cupcakes of the East and beating teams like Michigan, Ohio State, Clemson or even Florida State in the College Football Playoff. Beating Florida State for the crown? That’s got a familiar ring to it. I guess you could say it feels like ’98.

Odom: If Tennessee somehow manages to get through the regular season schedule at 12-0, the climb to college football glory gets much harder. After beating Vandy in Nashville to close out the season, the Vols will have to beat the best the SEC West has to offer in Atlanta — meaning they could see Alabama again, Leonard Fournette-led LSU or a team like Ole Miss who found its stride during the right time of the season. Tennessee beating Alabama once seems difficult, but twice? To win the SEC for the first time since 1998? Unlikely. LSU looks like a more-talented Tennessee team. Then, if Tennessee somehow gets to 13-0, the Big Boys show up.

You think LSU looks like a more-talented Tennessee? Look at Clemson. Clemson has more talent and a quarterback who can make plays throwing the ball downfield. The Vols have arguably not won a game strictly due to Butch Jones’ coaching ability, so why should we expect him to out-coach guys like Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh, or Jimbo Fisher? That’s asinine. Tennessee should win some big games this year. They just won’t win all of them.

Edited by David Bradford

Featured image by Donald Page, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

When Robert isn't writing stories for the greatest online news site of all time, he enjoys playing the tuba, hanging out with friends, and opening the "T" on Saturdays in Knoxville. You can follow him on Twitter-@tnytuba09