Starting from the top of a roughly-predicted preseason Top 25, this is the seventh team preview I have written so far and the first one in which I feel like the expectations are probably a bit too high for the team. Many people seem to be seeing the Tennessee Volunteers as both the strong favorites in the SEC East and serious playoff contenders. While I have no issues with the former, I just don't believe that they are yet ready to contend with the best of the best.
Sure, there is a whole lot going for them. Butch Jones is building this program the right way, and they return 18 starters from last year's good team. They have plenty of talent and a defense that could be very good. Contending at the highest levels, though, takes more depth - both of talent and of experience - than this team offers in my eyes. Very good team? I have no problem with that. Title threat? I'm selling that suggestion short.
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Key Additions and Departures
There really isn't too much to talk about here - not with 18 returning starters. They have some work to do in a few spots - they need a new offensive lineman and a new receiver on offense, for example. For the most part, though, the very young roster means that continuity is as high as any program in the country.
Perhaps the most notable and interesting change comes in the coaching staff. John Jancek was a very loyal Jones lieutenant, working with him both at Central Michigan and Cincinnati before serving as defensive coordinator at Tennessee. After the season, though, the decision was made for Jancek to move on. Taking over for him is Bob Shoop, who was DC at Penn State the last two years and at Vanderbilt with James Franklin the two years before that. It's a clear shift out of the comfort zone for Jones, but he had to feel that with a talented and deep defense that has a chance to really make some noise he needed to have the best, not necessarily the most loyal, man running the show. If Jones and Shoop can find quick chemistry then it's a pairing that could really be impressive.
Tennessee Volunteers Schedule Analysis
The Vols got lucky - they don't play LSU and Ole Miss. They do have to play Alabama, though - albeit at home. They also host Florida and play at Georgia. The rest of the schedule is pretty easy - the nonconference schedule is a total joke unless Virginia Tech is somehow miles ahead of where they seem to be, and their remaining conference games are all straightforward. In my mind, though, Alabama is much better than Tennessee, and I like both Florida and Georgia at least as much as I like Tennessee - the Gators just on merit, and the Bulldogs because of where the game is played. One loss is a given and a second is not hard to imagine at all. Ten wins certainly isn't a playoff team.
A loss to Florida or Georgia creates an uphill battle in the division, too. Even if they win the division then they likely have to play Alabama again in the SEC Championship Game, and I just hate that matchup for this team. The schedule is the biggest reason I am skeptical of the optimism surrounding this team.
2016-17 Tennessee Betting Odds and Trends
Bovada has this team at +1400 to win the national title, which makes them the eighth choice. Needless to say, I don't see any value there. They are tied with LSU as the second choice to win the SEC at +350, well behind Alabama at +175. They are the strong -125 favorite to win the SEC East. BetOnline has the season win total set at 10, with the "under" heavily favored at -160.
This was a solid team to bet on last year - they were 8-5 ATS. They were less useful to bet on the total - they went "over" seven times in 13 tries.
2016-17 Tennessee Predictions and College Football Picks
I like that the team is returning 18 starters - how can you not. I have issues, though. For example, Joshua Dodds is more of a running back who takes snaps than a versatile and useful quarterback at this point, and I am not confident he can take a big step forward. I also question whether the defense can take the big steps forward that people expect from pretty good to truly elite and able to stop teams like Alabama and Florida when the pressure is very high.
Like the majority of totals bettors, it seems, I am more confident being negative about this team than optimistic. I definitely don't see them as a title contender and would look elsewhere for value in the SEC East, too.
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