|TideSports College Football Preview|
After back-to-back wins over rival Florida and Georgia, Tennessee was in the driver’s seat to win the SEC East in 2016, as had been predicted by the media before the season.
The Volunteers sat at 5-0 and looked well on their way to posing a challenge to Alabama before their season fell apart with three straight losses to Texas A&M, Alabama and South Carolina.
Tennessee managed to right the ship after that, winning three of its final four games, but a loss to Vanderbilt marred the run. Tennessee won nine games for the second consecutive season.
“We’re very proud of the fact that it’s very, very difficult to win in the Southeastern Conference, and we’re one of only three programs that have won nine games two years in a row,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said this summer at SEC Media Days. “We’ve been very fortunate to have three straight bowl victories, first time in 20 years in our great program’s history and tradition.”
Jones will be entering his fifth season and is looking to improve upon a 14-18 conference record.
The Vols return seven starts on defense and seven on offense. Senior defensive back Todd Kelly Jr. projects to be the leader on his side of the ball. Junior running back John Kelly will be the main offensive weapon returning.
Tennessee will be looking for a new offensive leader, with quarterback Joshua Dobbs off to the National Football League. Junior Quinten Dormady and redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano battled through the preseason for the chance to replace Dobbs.
“I’m really, really excited about the quarterbacks that we have in our program, and I think the competition at that position is really elevated the level of play of everyone else around them,” Jones said.
Tennessee opens the season on Monday, Sept. 4, against Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
Sept. 4; Georgia Tech*
Sept. 9; Indiana State
Sept. 16; at Florida
Sept. 23; UMass
Sept. 30; Georgia
Oct. 14; South Carolina
Oct. 21; at Alabama
Oct. 28; at Kentucky
Nov. 4; Southern Miss
Nov. 11; at Missouri
Nov. 18; LSU
Nov. 25; Vanderbilt
2016 Record: 9-4 (4-4 Conf./T-2nd in SEC East)
All-time SEC championships: 13
Bowl appearances: 52 (28-24)
Sept. 1; Appalachian State; W 20-13
Sept. 10; Virginia Tech; W 45-24*
Sept. 17; Ohio; W 28-19
Sept. 24; Florida; W 38-28
Oct. 1; at Georgia; W 34-31
Oct. 8; at Texas A&M; L 38-45
Oct. 15; Alabama; L 10-49
Oct. 29; at South Carolina; L 21-24
Nov. 5; Tennessee Tech; W 55-0
Nov. 12; Kentucky W; 49-36
Nov. 19; Missouri; W 63-37
Nov. 26; at Vanderbilt; L 34-45
Dec. 30; vs Nebraska; W 38-24+
* Bristol, Tenn.
+ Music City Bowl
Starters Returning: 17
Starters Lost: 8