Forget just making it into the top 10, the Vols have been placed in the top eight of a couple polls that came out on Monday.
Tennessee checks in at No. 7 overall in Athlon’s preseason Top 25. Here’s what it had to say about the Vols:
“The Volunteers have made steady improvement under coach Butch Jones, and the pieces are in place to challenge for the SEC title. Tennessee returns 18 starters, including quarterback Joshua Dobbs and end Derek Barnett.”
Fox Sport’s Bruce Feldman – who has been outspoken about how impressed he is with the potential of the 2016 UT team – was largely in agreement with Athlon’s preseason poll, putting the Vols at No. 8 in the post-spring poll he released on Monday.
“The Vols enter 2016 with a lot of momentum,” he said. “They won seven of their last eight including a 45-6 thrashing of Northwestern in the Outback Bowl, and that one defeat was a close one in Tuscaloosa. I know there’s still a lot of skepticism of this program. Here’s why I’m buying a top-10 year and an SEC East title.
— Josh Dobbs is an experienced, good quarterback who can beat teams with his feet;
— They have an excellent 1-2 running back punch in Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara to go with an improving O-line and some big, athletic receivers;
— On defense, they have talent at all three levels with sophomore middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland, a budding star and leaders in defensive end Derek Barnett, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and cornerback Cam Sutton;
— Better still, new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop is as good as there is, and he knows the SEC pretty well from his time at Vandy.”
Tennessee has been projected at No. 10 in the preseason AP Poll by college football pundit Phil Steele, who has predicted every AP Preseason Top 10 team over the past two years. UT finished No. 23 in the final AP Poll last season and returns 17 starting position players and several key pieces on special teams as well.