Will Tennessee return to national prominence next year? ESPN’s Mark Schlabach thinks so and has the Vols ranked at No. 23 in his Way-Too-Early Top 25. Schlabach has seven SEC teams in his rankings – Georgia (No. 8), Alabama (No. 10), Ole Miss (No. 11), Auburn (No. 14), LSU (No. 17), Arkansas (No. 21) and Tennessee (No. 23).
The Vols are scheduled to play three teams in his poll next season with homes games against Georgia and Arkansas and a road contest at Alabama.
“Quarterback Joshua Dobbs looks like the answer under center, and four starting offensive linemen are coming back, along with tailback Jalen Hurd, who ran for 899 yards as a freshman,” Schlabach wrote. “Tennessee’s schedule is also favorable, with only four true road games: at Florida, Alabama, Kentucky and Missouri.
“There aren’t a lot of reasons not to be excited about Tennessee’s future, but at some point, it has to translate into victories over teams they’re not expected to beat. The 45-28 victory over Iowa in the Taxslayer Bowl was a nice start, but it’s going to take more than back-to-back wins over South Carolina to make a move in the SEC East.”
Tennessee also ranks 24th in FoxSports.com’s early Top-25.
“Josh Dobbs showed he’s a dangerous dual-threat quarterback equipped to run Butch Jones’ offense,” Stewart Mandel wrote on FoxSports.com. “Jones has dramatically upgraded the skill talent, highlighted by RB Jalen Hurd and WR Marquez North. DE Derek Barnett will be a likely preseason All-American. The Vols will benefit from having played so many true freshmen.”
With loads of returning talent, another top-5 class on the way and some momentum after winning four of their last five games of the season, it should come as no surprise that the Vols are already receiving some preseason hype. Tennessee returns 10 starters on offense and brings back eight defensive starters. There’s no doubt that Butch Jones has Tennessee’s overall talent level on the rise – next season the Vols should combine their young talent with at least some experience.
What do you think? Are the Vols worthy of top-25 consideration headed into next season?