Ten Things I Hate About U.T. – Why the Vols Won’t Win the SEC East
There was a lot of love for the Tennessee Volunteers this week at SEC Media Days. I could share anecdotal tales of media members who are high on the Vols and Tennessee fans who are just plain high, but the media’s poll for the SEC East division is most telling:
- Georgia: 1498 Points
- Tennessee: 1231 Points
- Missouri: 1196 Points
- South Carolina: 830 Points
- Florida: 768 Points
- Kentucky: 534 Points
- Vanderbilt 243 Points
Tennessee is awfully high on that list. Across both divisions, Tennessee is one of just four teams to receive either 1200 total points or 30 or more divisional first place votes. The other teams on that list: Alabama, Auburn and Georgia. Tennessee seems just a little out of place in that conversation. Last year, Alabama, Auburn and Georgia combined to win 18 conference games last year—an average of six per squad. Tennessee won three. Alabama, Auburn and Georgia won an average of ten games apiece in 2014. Tennessee won seven.
But Tennessee didn’t just have one “down” year in 2014. In fact, 2014 was an “up” year for UT. The Vols don’t stack up to the Crimson Tide, the Tigers/War Eagles or the Bulldogs as a group over the last five years. Since 2010, Alabama, Auburn and Georgia have averaged 5.8 conference wins per season per team. Tennessee has not won more than three conference games in a season over that same time period. Alabama, Auburn and Georgia have averaged 9.9 total wins per season per team. Tennessee has not won more than seven games in a single season over that time frame.
But I suppose both the hype and the lofty projection are merited given the Vols’ recent history of turning a 7-6 campaign in 2009 into another winning season (also 7-6) in just a matter of five years. Of note: It only took the Vols four head coaches (Lane Kiffin in 2009, Derek Dooley from 2010-2012, Jim Chaney as an interim in 2012, Butch Jones in 2013 and 2014) to complete that full 7-6-to-7-6 rebuilding project.
If you can’t tell, I’m not buying Tennessee this year—at least not as a division winner. The Vols may continue to show improvement, but this is not a program that’s going to win the East in 2015. Here are ten things (not necessarily in order) I hate about this UT return to prominence.
- This team is talented, but Tennessee is always talented. Using a trailing 4-year period of recruiting class rankings (per 247Sports), this year’s squad has an average national recruiting class ranking (the average of 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015) of 13.75. That’s perfectly fine, but it trails Georgia (8.75) and Florida (9.25) by the same measure. So if your argument is that Tennessee is more talented than other teams, think again. The Vols also trail Oklahoma and Alabama, two non-divisional opponents, in this regard.
- Further, this isn’t even the most talented team (as measured by 4-year trailing class rankings) in recent Tennessee history. The 2012 squad had an average 4-year ranking of 12.75. The 2010 team had an average ranking of 13.5. Those teams won five and six games respectively.
- Truth be told, Tennessee has consistently found ways to underperform talent regardless of coaching staff. Georgia fans like to talk about Mark Richt failing to turn talent into victories, but each of Tennessee’s last seven recruiting classes have ranked in the Top 25 and the average ranking over that period is 12.28. Over that time period Tennessee boasts a 35-40 overall record. The Volunteers are 14-34 in SEC play over that time period.
- Tennessee was 3-5 in conference play last year. Sure a 0.375 winning percentage is a bump up from a 0.250 winning percentage in conference play the year before, but South Carolina and Vanderbilt (two wins in 2014) regressed more than Tennessee improved.
- As a whole, Tennessee went 4-6 vs. Power-5 opposition in 2014. That .400 winning percentage was an increase over a 0.222 but sub-500 is hard for me to get too excited about, especially when…
- The four Power-5 teams Tennessee defeated combined to win 11 games vs. other Power-5 opponents. What does this mean? It means that wins over teams like Kentucky (2-7 vs. Power 5) and Vanderbilt (0-8 vs. Power 5) should be taken with a grain of salt.
- His name is Josh Dobbs, not Josh God. I’m excited that Tennessee has found its “guy” at quarterback, but let’s not forget that in Dobbs’ final regular season game (which coincidentally accounts for 16.67% of his game appearances in 2014) he posted a 73.6 QB rating vs. Vanderbilt. Yes he racked up 91 rushing yards but he needed 21 carries to get there. On 41 combined pass attempts and rush attempts, Dobbs registered 183 yards. This happened against a Vanderbilt defense that allowed 37 points to Temple, 41 to Ole Miss, 48 to South Carolina, 44 to Georgia, 34 to Florida and 51 to Mississippi State. Over Tennessee’s last three games, Dobbs averaged fewer than 199 yards of production (both passing and rushing) per game. Dobbs finished eighth in the conference in passer rating behind such notables as Hutson Mason, Bo Wallace, Dylan Thompson and Kyle Allen.
- This team lost to Florida last year. Only one good team lost to Florida last year and that was Georgia damnit!
- Tennessee last went to the SEC Championship Game in 2007. Since that time, the seven SEC East Champs have averaged 10.6 wins in regular season play. Only one team (South Carolina in 2010) posted fewer than 10 wins before advancing to the SECCG. So 10 wins is a nice baseline of what will be expected of a division champ. I’m not sure how Tennessee goes from 6-6 in the regular season last year to 10-2 this year with a schedule that features Oklahoma (#16 per Phil Steele’s Preseason Consensus), Arkansas (#18), Georgia (#6) and South Carolina (#33) at home and Florida (#30), Alabama (#2) and Missouri (#24) on the road. You can’t convince me Tennessee will be 5-2 or better against those opponents even if the Vols run the table against everyone else.
- Optimism runs high in Tennessee. I get that and I appreciate it. In 2013, a Volunteer fan almost convinced me that Tennessee could win the SEC East. This didn’t happen during the lull of summer heat or after SEC Media Days. This happened on Sunday, October 6—the day after Tennessee lost to Georgia and fell to 0-2 in the SEC, 3-3 overall and 0-3 vs. Power 5 opponents. Tennessee followed up that 3-3 start with a 2-4 finish. Tennessee still hasn’t posted consecutive winning seasons since 2006 and 2007. I graduated from high school in 2006. Now I’m damn-near 28 with a wife, a kid and a guy who cuts the grass for me.
Remember this Tennessee fans: if 7-6 is the standard for “marked improvement,” on a wins/loss basis, your team hasn’t gone anywhere since the “glory days” of 7-6 under Lane Kiffin in 2009. Ten regular-season wins is completely out of the question this year.
So, don’t measure the success of the season by wins and losses. And don’t expect a division title. Everybody chill out. #IceCubeByIceCube
Tennessee can and will get better with stability in the coaching staff. There are too many resources and too much history in Knoxville for improvement not to happen. But unfair expectations (SECCG or Bust!) make Butch Jones’s job awfully difficult. Six or more wins is fine this year. Eight is fantastic. Post back-to-back winning seasons and hoping for division contention starts to make a little more sense.
That’s all I got/
That’s all I got/