Now that the Orange and White Game is over, it’s officially the offseason for the Tennessee Volunteers. And that means one thing: The hype train is about to take off.
It’s only April, but the Vols have already received a great deal of hype and praise from analysts, most notably from ESPN in this young offseason. ESPN’s Football Power Index already has Tennessee as the fifth most talented team in the country and has the Vols projected to win the SEC East and play LSU in the SEC Championship Game.
But the hype is only going to get more insane. If you can imagine that.
Barring some strange setback, the Vols are likely to be picked to win the SEC East by media members at the SEC Media Days in July. It would mark the first time the Vols have been picked as favorites to win the division since 2005 if it ends up being the case. And SEC media members won’t be the only ones picking the Vols to do great things.
As previously mentioned, ESPN is already starting to get the hype train going for the Vols this offseason. But they’re likely just the first of many media outlets to pick Tennessee to win the SEC East, and some of those sources may even predict the Vols to win the entire conference and represent the SEC in the College Football Playoffs this year.
In fact, the Vols stand a good chance of being a trendy dark horse pick to make it to the playoffs in 2016 by several media outlets and analysts because of all the experienced talent returning to the team.
But that’s not going to be the only praise the Vols get during the summer months.
The offseason is the time for lists and rankings. And the Vols have plenty of extremely talented players that will be making those rankings and lists.
Senior quarterback Josh Dobbs is the most experienced quarterback in the SEC heading into the 2016 season, and he is widely considered one of the top two quarterbacks in the conference along with Ole Miss’s Chad Kelly. Dobbs will be lauded repeatedly by media and fans alike this summer for both his prowess on the field and in the classroom.
But Dobbs won’t be the only Vol to receive attention this offseason.
Running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara will garner plenty of hype this summer. Especially since Hurd needs just 892 yards to become Tennessee’s all-time leading rusher. Defensive end Derek Barnett, cornerback Cam Sutton, and linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin are another handful of players who are likely to make pre-season All-SEC teams and be mentioned numerous times this offseason as players to watch.
Not to mention the hype that will lead up to the Battle at Bristol on September 10th. More updates and announcements on that are likely this summer, and don’t count out an unveiling of some new uniform design or update by Nike for the Vols to wear when they face Virginia Tech for that monumental event.
Butch Jones, however, doesn’t want his team listening to the inevitable praise and raised expectations this offseason.
“We don’t concern ourselves with hype and expectations,” Jones said after the Orange and White Game on Saturday. “I mean that’s what you want, that’s why you come to Tennessee. But it’s focusing on the process of being a football player and a better football team every single day.
“The minute you get caught up and worried about that, you’re going down the wrong path. We always talk about focusing on the climb and not the mountain. You focus on a mountain, you’re never going to get to the top. You have to focus on the climb every single day.”
Not focusing on the outside hype is a good stance to take as a football team, and it’s the appropriate one. Players and coaches can’t concern themselves too much with what the media and fans say or predict or they’ll distract themselves from their goals. But that doesn’t mean fans can’t enjoy all the hype that will be around the Vols this offseason.
It’s going to be a long offseason for Vol fans. For the first time in what feels like forever, the Vols are going to receive legitimate hype heading into a season. Last year, Tennessee started out the season ranked No. 23 in the pre-season AP Poll. This year, the Vols are expected to be a top 15 team when the polls come out.
The excitement for the 2016 season to start is already at a ridiculously high level. But as the summer months drag on, Vol fans will only grow more impatient. And hearing the media repeatedly praise their favorite team won’t help that craving either.
But buckle up, Vol fans. Because the hype has only begun for the 2016 Vols.