It’s time for preseason college football polls to start surfacing, and Athlon got the ball rolling by releasing their preseason top 25 poll. Six SEC schools were ranked inside the top 20 of Athlon’s poll, and the Vols were one of those teams.
According to Athlon, Tennessee is the No. 19 team in the nation heading into the 2017 season. The Vols were the first SEC team to make the list, and they were followed by Florida (16), Georgia (15), LSU (11), Auburn (9), and Alabama (1).
Athlon cites the Vols’ disappointing 2016 season but states that despite that “Butch Jones has still pieced together back-to-back nine-win seasons.” The piece goes on to say that for the Vols to live up to their potential in 2017 they must overcome a front-loaded schedule and answer questions brought on by a slew of new additions to their coaching staff.
The description also mentions the Vols’ ongoing quarterback battle and states that junior running back John Kelly is “due for a breakout year.” It also points out the Vols have questions about depth at multiple positions, and replacing key contributors such as Derek Barnett and Cam Sutton on defense alone will be hard to do. But the article does state that “considering all of the injuries this team dealt with on defense, the playing time by backups and new starters should improve the overall depth for this unit in 2017.”
Athlon’s description of Tennessee ends with an analysis of a few Vols who have yet to live up to their billing as recruits. “Former top recruits Jonathan Kongbo, Shy Tuttle, Kahlil McKenzie and Kyle Phillips need to deliver on their potential,” states the article. Both Tuttle and McKenzie missed the majority of the 2017 season due to injury, while both Kongbo and Phillips switched positions last season. But the Vols need those players to step up this season, especially with the departures of Derek Barnett, Corey Vereen, and LaTroy Lewis.
The Vols have many questions to answer both on their roster and coaching staff this season. The potential for success is there, but right now that’s all it is: potential. A lot of the Vols’ talent is unproven and untested.
Athlon’s preseason poll isn’t completely indicative of how the preseason AP poll will look, but if the Vols land inside the top 20 of that poll it will mark the first time Tennessee has been ranked in the preseason top 20 in two consecutive years since 2007 and 2008. The Vols were ranked No. 15 and No. 18 respectively in those seasons. It would also mark the third consecutive season Tennessee begins a season inside the top 25, and that hasn’t happened since the Vols were ranked in the preseason AP poll for 19 consecutive seasons from 1990 to 2008.