BIGGEST STRENGTH: The Vols have more bodies at every position on the field, so the depth, although it’s mostly either young or inexperienced, is a big improvement from last season. Coach Derek Dooley wanted more depth because it creates competition, which in turn makes individual players and the overall team better. Also, The handful of freshmen that played a year ago are back with a year of experience in the SEC under their belts.
BIGGEST WEAKNESS: It’s a stat that’s been thrown around plenty of times leading up to this season: freshmen and sophomores comprise more than 70 percent of the Vols’ roster. While the coaching staff is excited about the present and the future for the freshmen class and the immediate upgrades in size, speed and athleticism it’s brought so far, playing first-year guys in the SEC can be a recipe for disaster. How quickly some of the first- and second-year players adjust to game action could determine how UT enters a brutal October stretch.
BIGGEST FUTURE STAR: UT’s freshmen class created its share of buzz during the summer and into preseason camp, but linebacker Curt Maggitt made the most noise. From Dooley to Wilcox, seemingly every coach on UT’s staff at one point spoke excitedly about his ability, as well as fellow freshman A.J. Johnson. Though he’s still a freshman playing a demanding position, Maggitt could start in his first college game.
BIGGEST GAME: If UT is able to get past a tricky second-week game against Cincinnati, it sets up a potential early-season signature win at Florida on Sept. 17, which has won six straight in the series. The Gators, under first-year coach Will Muschamp, still will be getting their own house in order as they transition to coordinator Charlie Weis’ pro-style offense with spread-offense personnel left over from the Urban Meyer regime. If the Vols can steal a win in Gainesville, it could be an early-season boost heading into a brutal October slate.
BIGGEST FINISH: In wins-turned-losses against LSU and North Carolina last season, UT let a couple of potentially signature wins slip away in Dooley’s first year. While the Vols may have more talent and better depth, the Vols will be younger than last year, and the schedule doesn’t ease any with Alabama, LSU and Arkansas out of the SEC’s West Division. UT will likely be the underdog in six of its games, and if the Vols win one game they shouldn’t, a seven-win season would be a nice step in Dooley’s second season.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...