Because I'm a fairly intense Vol fan, I thought it might be helpful if I provided some info on what to expect from the team this year. A lot of it will be re-caps of Phil Steele, but slightly more up to date. At the end, I'll go through the schedule and give my predictions of where you might see value on or against the Vols. I will include some of the fall camp chatter in the analysis. You may not like that because a lot of fall camp chatter is blowing sunshine up your ass, but Derek Dooley isn't that type of guy. He tells you what he thinks. And his demeanor has been night and day from last year to this year. Last year, you'd think from his interviews that Tennessee would be lucky to beat anybody (and given the UAB result, I can't blame him). This year, there's a lot more optimism. Very cautious optimism, but optimism nonetheless.
So, let's get started. I'll give an in-depth analysis at each position and a summary in bold at the end.
QB: Last year, the Vols had to replace Jonathan Crompton. JuCo Matt Simms took the starting job at the beginning of the year and proved a serviceable game manager and team leader but without the ability to make big throws and with a tendency to hold on to the ball too long, leading to sacks and fumbles. After two fumbles against South Carolina, Simms was replaced (despite being 11/13 passing) by true freshman Tyler Bray, who proceeded to throw a pick six on his first attempt. However, he led the team back and tied the game late in the 4th quarter before losing 31-17. He then lit up some bad defenses in Memphis, Ole Miss, Kentucky, and Vandy, before throwing for 4 TDs and 3 INTs in a 2OT loss to North Carolina. This year in the first two scrimmages, Bray has been under 50% completion, but has thrown 3 TDs to 1 INT. The coaches have indicated that he's playing well individually but hasn't totally synced up with the WRs. The talented Bray (So) has proven himself against mediocre teams, but hasn't yet faced a top defense. Expect good things, but also some growing pains.
RB/FB: Last year, as a first year starter, junior Tauren Poole ran for over 1,000 yards behind a poor offensive line, but he struggled with consistency. He went over 100 yards against the three best teams in the schedule (Oregon, LSU, Alabama) but was held below 50 against Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. There was no strong #2 option. This year, the Vols bring in freshmen Marlin Lane and Tom Smith. Lane is generating lots of buzz during camp as an extremely talented, tough, elusive back. Coach Dooley described Smith as a "hammer-knocker" who runs with power but hasn't learned how to run around people. If there were a pole in the middle of the field, he'd try to run over the pole. At fullback, true freshman Channing Fugate won the job last year over an incumbant senior and proved to be a beaststud. Expect more consistency from Tauren Poole (Sr) in his second year as a starter, with Lane (Fr) and Smith (Fr) taking some snaps to keep everybody fresh. Expect good things from Fugate (So) at FB.
WR/TE: Denarius Moore (WR) and Luke Stocker (TE) were both drafted off last year's team, and third-down specialist Gerald Jones (WR) also graduated. Track star Justin Hunter, as a deep threat, and Da'Rick Rogers put up solid numbers as freshman, but they weren't the focus of the defense. This year, they will be. Both were in the top 10 WRs of their freshman class, so they have the talent, but they'll have to grow up fast. Tight End Mychal Rivera is probably best known for a sister on the cast of GLEE, and transferred from Oregon due to lack of playing time. Behind them are true freshmen DeAnthony Arnett and Vincent Dallas at WR and Cam Clear at TE, in addition to junior Zach Rogers and sophomore Matt Milton at WR. Arnett is the most hyped, but none are proven. Expect some big plays from Hunter (So) and Rogers (So), but they may struggle with consistency as they try to get in sync with Bray in their first year as the go-to guys. Rivera (Sr) may be a weak spot at TE.
OL: Last year, the Vols replaced all five starters. The only player returning with starting experience was senior LG Jerod Shaw, who had started three games and was frankly not SEC material. Sophomore Dallas Thomas won the LT job and true freshman Ju'Wuan James the RT. Redshirt freshman Jer'Quari Schofield started at RG and junior Cody Pope at center. An injury ended Pope's career, and another knocked Schofield out for a month. Taking their places were true freshmen James Stone at C and Zach Fulton at RG, and both kept their job when the incumbents returned from injury. This year, four players return from the first choice line from last December. The team added five freshmen, one of whom (LG Marcus Jackson) immediately fought for a starting job, and Notre Dame transfer Alex Bullard, who will play immediately as a redshirt sophomore through a hardship waver after his father's passing. Bullard can play any position on the line, but it was reported today that he's beaten out Jackson and Schofield to start at LG. The offensive line will start four sophomores and a junior, but four of those five started 5+ games last year, and the other beat out last year's opening day starter. This unit was very poor last year and has nowhere to go but up, but its talented youngsters are now slightly more experienced talented youngsters.
I know that DoubleUp has a killer futures thread, but I thought I'd start one with my own thoughts and questions for this year. Have cash at 5dimes, Bodog, and Bet Islands, so will be comparing lines at these three locations. 5dimes, of course, is generally the best here.
So far, I have one play:
Ohio U. +1000 to win the MAC at Bet Islands
Honestly, I haven't even done my research on the MAC yet this year, but this is +500 on BoDog (although it's unbettable for some reason--the lines are up but the wagers are closed) and +495 on 5dimes. That big of a discrepancy on one of the teams I'd flagged for further research told me I should go ahead and take the line while I have it.
Their two biggest competitors in the East changed coaches this year, and one of them hired Steve Addazio. Additionally, Miami benefitted last year from a ton of close wins. By process of elimination alone, the Bobcats are a strong pick to make the championship game. But they also return five starters on the offensive line, and their MAC schedule is about as easy as they come.
Bet Islands doesn't have their divisional odds up yet for the MAC, but I'll do a little more research when those come out. A championship game loss is my kneejerk expectation for Ohio, but 10/1 is too tempting for a team that I expect to make the title game.
Will post more thoughts/plays over the weekend.