Four stops down, two stops to go. Our SEC East tour started in Gainesville with the Florida Gators, then headed up to Athens to pay a visit to the Georgia Bulldogs, followed by a trip over to Lexington and the Kentucky Wildcats, then to the westernmost reaches of the division to check on Mizzou. Now, it’s over to the Volunteer State, where we’ll stop by Rocky Top and a Tennessee team looking to get back to relevance before wrapping up at Vanderbilt tomorrow. The Vols visit Williams-Brice Stadium on November 1.
Last Year: 5-7 (2-6 SEC)
Head Coach: Butch Jones (2nd season)
Why they’ll win the SEC East
It’s all about the pieces coming back, and as far as their receiving corps goes, the Vols’ top three receivers all return for the 2014 season. Croom, Howard and North combined for 100 catches, 1,153 yards and five touchdowns last year. While Croom and Howard battled injuries last year, they look to return to full health in 2014 and be ready to contribute–and that position is set to get a huge boost with highly touted JUCO transfer Von Pearson and top five freshman Josh Malone, the best player in the state as a senior in high school, in the rotation. Lane, Neal’s #2 at running back before Neal graduated and signed with the Packers, is poised to have a breakout season as the #1 rusher, and should have top-5 RB Jalen Hurd backing him up.
Why they won’t win the SEC East
The weak links: the entire front four of the defense and the entire offensive line, all either lost to graduation or drafted (Antonio Richardson). That’s a lot to lose. There’s also the question of Justin Worley and whether or not he’s able to shake off a rough 2013 in which he was benched after three games (only to return to the lineup after his replacement, Nathan Peterman, was hurt), then suffered an injury that had him out for the final few weeks of the season. He certainly has the talent around him to do well, but with so much turnover on the offensive and defensive lines, unless both groups can gel quickly, and Worley can shake off last year’s memories and show the promise he’s displayed at times, it will be another long season at Rocky Top.