When is a 5-7 overall record and a 1-7 last-place mark in the SEC a reason for optimism? When you have a whopping 20 starters returning the following season.
Indeed, the 2012 Tennessee Volunteers do have 20 starters back if you include both kickers. That is tied for the second-most in the nation. Thus, many expect the Vols to take a big jump in Coach Derek Dooley’s third season in Knoxville. However, perhaps those expectations should be toned down a bit. UT’s only quality win a season ago was over Cincinnati. The other four wins didn’t exactly come against a murderers’ row: Montana, Buffalo, Middle Tennessee and Vanderbilt (in overtime). Tennessee was blown out by the likes of LSU, Alabama and Arkansas – no shame there – and really its only close loss was at lousy Kentucky in the regular-season finale.
Get $60 in FREE Member Picks
Can Dooley lead UT to its first eight-win season since a 10-win club in 2007? That was also the last time Tennessee won the East Division and played in the SEC Championship Game.
Everyone knows Dooley wasn’t the Vols’ first choice back in 2010 to replace Lane Kiffin. But Dooley has proven he is a very good recruiter, if not quite on Kiffin’s scale (not many are). Dooley's first two recruiting classes included the SEC's leading receiver in 2011 and a first-team All-SEC selection in Da'Rick Rogers, six freshman All-Americans and eight players who were named freshman All-SEC over the last two seasons. Six new assistant coaches will make their debuts this year. The most important might be Defensive Coordinator Sal Sunseri and Running Backs Coach Jay Graham.
Tennessee, behind big-armed quarterback Tyler Bray, looked like it might have one of the nation’s best offenses a year ago in starting 3-1 as the Vols scored 40-plus points in three of those four games. But then the full SEC schedule hit and things went south. Tennessee had no rushing game whatsoever, finishing No. 116 in the nation at 90.1 yards per game. Thus, that made it hard for UT to score, averaging just 20.3 points per game, No. 106 in the nation.
Things really changed when receiver Justin Hunter suffered a season-ending injury in the Florida game. Hunter averaged 151 yards receiving and one TD for the first two games of the 2011 season and could be Bray’s top target in 2012. Bray was tearing things up through the first four games, throwing for 1,328 yards (breaking Peyton Manning’s school record through first four games) and 14 TDs (also breaking Manning’s record), but he injured his hand in Week 5 and didn’t return until the penultimate game of the regular season vs. Vanderbilt. The Vols were 1-4 without him, and if you throw out a 24-0 win over Middle Tennessee they scored 23 points total without Bray in the lineup.
Bray, Hunter and Rogers (67 catches, 1,048 yards, 9 TDs) lead 10 returning offensive starters. The only loss was running back Tauren Poole. The Vols plan to take a committee approach at tailback. The Vols enter the season featuring an offensive line with 99 combined starts. One key newcomer figures to be the arrival of No. 1-ranked junior college prospect Cordarrelle Patterson, a receiver. If he’s as good as he was at that level, the Vols might have one of the best WR trios in the nation.
Eight starters are back on defense and the heart of that unit is Freshman All-American linebackers A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt, who ranked first and second, respectively, among SEC freshman tackle leaders per game in 2011 as UT was the only team in the FBS with three freshmen (true or redshirt) among its top five tackle leaders. Senior linebacker Herman Lathers is back from an ankle injury that cost him all of 2011. The line welcomes two Juco transfers and that group should have good depth now. New Coordinator Sunseri, a former Alabama linebackers coach, would like to run more 3-4 this fall. Prentiss Waggner is a rising star safety who’ll lead a veteran group of defensive backs.
2012 Tennessee Volunteers Football Schedule Analysis
A 4-0 start is entirely possible as Tennessee doesn’t play a true road game in that stretch. The Vols open with a rising NC State team in Atlanta, but UT is already a seven-point favorite for that game on 5Dimes. A Week 2 win over Georgia State is assured and then Florida visits. The Gators beat UT, 33-23, in Gainesville a year ago, but Florida has major questions at all the skill positions heading into 2012. I’ll take the experienced Bray vs. whichever young QB the Gators throw out there, although UF is an early 3.5-point favorite.
The Vols then get a breather the following week vs. Akron before things get much tougher the following four games: at Georgia, at Mississippi State, vs. Alabama and at South Carolina. A four-game losing streak looks highly possible. Then the Vols get Troy at home before finishing vs. Missouri, at Vanderbilt and home to Kentucky. So a four-game winning streak there is also possible.
2012 Tennessee Volunteers BCS Championship and Futures Odds
At 5Dimes, Tennessee’s “over/under” wins total is 6.5, with the over a -260 favorite. The Vols are +17500 to win the BCS Championship and +5500 to play in the game. UT is +5500 to win the SEC and +1050 to win the East Division. Bray is +13000 to win the Heisman.
2012 Tennessee Volunteers Football Predictions
Dooley appears to have this program back on the right track, but if things don’t break well the Vols might not have a better record this season than last. The key likely is that opener, as if UT wins that it is at worst 3-1 heading into that killer four-game stretch. I think the Vols do win seven games on the nose, so go over there. But all those other props are a waste of money.
Doc’s Sports is offering $60 worth of member’s picks absolutely free – no obligation, no sales people – you don’t even have to enter credit card information. You can use this $60 credit any way you please for any handicapper and any sport on Doc’s Sports Advisory Board list of expert sports handicappers. Click here for more details and take advantage of this free $60 picks credit today.