After recording four seasons of at least 10 victories from 2000-07, Tennessee has failed to win more than seven games in each of the last five years. The Volunteers were slowed by having three head coaches in three years, and Derek Dooley’s decision to switch to a 3-4 defensive scheme backfired drastically in 2012.
Tennessee must replace three standout offensive players, but this team should have a chance to get bowl eligible in 2013. The defense can’t be any worse than it was last year, and the offense can afford to lean on its offensive line and rushing attack until Justin Worley, Joshua Dobbs or Nathan Peterman is ready at quarterback.
The schedule isn’t very forgiving, as Tennessee must play five potential top-10 teams in Oregon, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama.
With very little margin for error on the schedule, a 6-6 record would be a good debut for Butch Jones in Knoxville.
What will Tennessee's record at the end of the 2013 regular season? Athlon’s panel of experts debates:
Tennessee's 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions
8/31 Austin Peay
9/14 at Oregon
9/21 at Florida
9/28 South Alabama
10/19 South Carolina
10/26 at Alabama
11/2 at Missouri
11/30 at Kentucky
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Butch Jones has brought some much-needed energy into the Tennessee program, and the Volunteers are on the right track with one of the nation’s top recruiting classes for 2014. However, 2013 will be a struggle. Tennessee didn’t get any favors from the SEC on its schedule, which features crossover games against preseason national title favorite Alabama, along with an Auburn team that should show big improvement from last year’s dismal record.
I’m picking Tennessee to finish 6-6, but I could easily see this team finishing 5-7. With the departure of quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson, the offense needs to lean heavily on one of the nation’s best offensive lines and a solid one-two punch at running back with Marlin Lane and Rajion Neal. The defense was awful last year but should be better with a switch back to a 4-3 scheme.
Matchups in non-conference play against Austin Peay, Western Kentucky and South Alabama and the SEC finale against Kentucky should be victories. However, games against Missouri, Auburn and Vanderbilt will decide whether or not Tennessee will go bowling. It won’t be easy, but I think the Volunteers find a way to get to 6-6 and return to the postseason in 2013.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Good thing Tennessee opens with Austin Peay and Western Kentucky because it’s going to get ugly in a hurry. Tough to find many teams with tougher back-to-back road trips than Eugene then Gainesville and then a three-game stretch like Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama. If Tennessee isn’t completely demoralized by November, the Volunteers can steal some wins late in the schedule. Butch Jones is a positive guy, so that should serve Tennessee well. Missouri’s beatable but too close to that stretch against SEC powers. The return to Auburn is a good chance to salvage something. Tennessee’s young players should have their bearings by then. Vanderbilt at home would be a good rah-rah game that could define the season. I could see that going either way. Tennessee’s going to have to find a bedrock for its team, and it won’t be defense or the passing game. If the Volunteers become a ball control team behind that offensive line, I’d feel a lot better about the Vols stringing together some wins at the end of the year.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The offensive line is arguably the best in the nation, and fans can bet that Butch Jones will lean heavily on this group. This is mostly due to little experience elsewhere on the offense, especially the quarterback position. However, this is the one position Jones can impact the most with his offensive design and play-calling. The defense can only be better and has some intriguing pieces returning to all three levels of the unit, in particular, up the middle at tackle, linebacker and safety. The early schedule is extremely daunting with five top-15 teams in the first eight games. The goal will be to make it to November no worse than 3-5 with a shot at four swing games to end the season. This team will be either be much improved from playing so many quality opponents — or it will be battered and bruised.
Josh Ward, (@Josh_Ward), Mr. SEC
Tennessee’s main objective is to reach a bowl game. The Vols haven’t been to one since 2010 and have failed to reach the postseason three of the past five years. A key opponent for Tennessee is Vanderbilt, which beat the Vols last season and is trying to become a bigger player for in-state recruits.
SEC Logo (@SEC_Logo)
Let’s compare Tennessee to its other favorite SEC comrade, Alabama. In the seasons prior to Nick Saban strolling into Tuscaloosa, Mike Shula managed a (10-23) record. In the last 3 season's Dooley managed (15-21), sound familiar? Sorry Vols, I will never mention his name again. Saban lost to Louisiana–Monroe AT HOME and still managed a bowl win his first season. To me that’s a pretty big goal for a Vols team returning 13 starters (5 offense, 8 defense), new QB, new coach, and new system. They will move back to the 4-3 on defense after spending 2012 in the 3-4. Stat to chew on, Tennessee had the worst Red Zone Defense in the SEC last year; opponents came away with points 91.5% of the time. The season rides on 3 factors: Justin Worley, Justin Worley, and Defense. Did I mention Justin Worley?
Better days are ahead for Tennessee football with Butch Jones at the helm, but these Volunteers, and the fan base for that matter, better get ready for some growing pains. The trip to Oregon will be an early learning experience and the October slate is just brutal even with two of those games at home. Six wins is a reasonable benchmark for this season, but to get there Tennessee will have to get at least three in conference play. The Volunteers' bowl hopes will most likely rest on how they fare in November, meaning that Nov. 9 home game against Auburn is pretty much a must-win situation.
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