Tennessee head football coach Derek Dooley is on a very hot seat in Knoxville. He knows it, we know it, and his players know it. Everyone is ready to kick him out the door, because almost every expert sees another mediocre season coming for the Vols.
It is too early to count Dooley out right now though. The Volunteers have all of the ingredients needed for a bounceback season.
Here are four reasons why Tennessee could be a lot better than you think in 2012:
1. QB Tyler Bray may be the SEC’s best quarterback.
Bray threw for 17 touchdowns and six interceptions last season. Remember, he missed five games. If he had played all twelve games last season, Bray was on pace to throw for 29 touchdowns. Think about it. Who is better than Bray in the SEC? Florida, LSU, Mississippi State, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Auburn are all in flux at the quarterback position or are breaking in new signal callers. Aaron Murray and Tyler Wilson are great quarterbacks and so is Alabama’s A. J. McCarron, but Bray may have the highest ceiling out of the four. Bray is already being discussed as a first round pick for the 2013 NFL Draft.
Hunter was in for a monster season before he went down very early in the Vols’ game against Florida with a severe knee injury. Hunter’s teammate Da’Rick Rogers went on to have a very successful season with Hunter on the sideline. Imagine how great the Tennessee offense will be if Bray stays healthy, Hunter bounces back strong, and Rogers continues to beat man to man coverage with regularity. Hunter is more talented than Rogers, but both are capable of being No. 1 receivers. Not many teams have two No. 1 wideouts in college football.
3. The Vols schedule is easier than you might think.
It’s not unreasonable for Tennessee fans to believe that the Vols could be 4-0 going into the Georgia game on October 29. The Vols begin with a winnable game against N. C. State in the Chic Fil A opener and then play Georgia State. In week three, Tennessee takes on Florida–a team they have not beaten since before former Gators head coach Urban Meyer was on the sideline in Gainesville. That game is in Knoxville and will be a battle of two teams still looking for an identity nationally. In week four, Tennessee hosts Akron. Three of Tennessee’s next four games are on the road (with a bye week sandwiched inbetween), but Georgia, Mississippi State, and South Carolina aren’t Alabama and LSU. Tennessee isn’t likely to beat Alabama, but that is a great rivalry and this projects to be the best team Tennessee has had on offense in quite a while. Remember, Alabama is going to have a very young secondary. The final four games are all very winnable: Troy, Missouri, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky. This team could win eight or nine games if everything falls the right way.
4. It’s just time.
Tennessee is 23-27 over the last four years. From 1989 to 2004, Tennessee won eight games or more every single season. At some point, the Vols are going to be back. This year with a polished pocket passer, two talented receivers, and an improving defense could be the season where Tennessee sneaks back towards the top of the SEC.