Now that spring practice has officially started in the SEC, we figured we would take a page out of the Big Ten blog's book and look at each SEC program to determine the exact state of each by using recent performance, win-loss trends, coaching, and current and future personnel as indicators. Today, we're concluding things in the SEC East Division before checking out the West next week.
Up next: Tennessee Volunteers
2015 record: 9-4 (5-3 SEC)
Three-year record: 21-17
Coaching situation: Butch Jones is entering his fourth season as the Vols’ head coach. While he has just a 21-17 record at Tennessee, he’s seen his win total increase by two wins in each of his past two seasons. Tennessee won nine games in 2015, the most since 2007 (10). First-year offensive coordinator Mike DeBord helped put Tennessee inside the top half of the SEC in offense (422.3 ypg) and scoring (35.2) for the first time since 2012. After tight ends coach Mark Elder left to be Eastern Kentucky's head coach, the Vols hired Miami’s Larry Scott to replace him. The biggest move of all was the firing of defensive coordinator John Jancek and subsequent hiring of Penn State’s Bob Shoop, who has a tremendous track record and SEC experience. Shoop has coordinated defenses that have finished in the top 25 nationally in total defense in each of the past five years.
Roster situation: This is one of the SEC’s most experienced returning rosters. Senior quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who is one of the SEC’s top players under center, is back, along with rising-star running back Jalen Hurd, who has 2,187 yards and 17 touchdowns in two seasons. Backup running back Alvin Kamara (698 yards) could also start at plenty of other SEC programs. Four starters along the offensive line are back, as are three of Dobbs’ top four receiving targets. The defense returns just about everyone along its front seven, including All-SEC defensive end Derek Barnett, who has 20 sacks and 33 tackles for loss in two seasons. Getting linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and All-SEC cornerback Cameron Sutton back were huge wins for Jones and Shoop, and the secondary is stocked with a solid, athletic group of players.
Recruiting situation: After landing back-to-back No. 5 recruiting class, Jones signed the nation’s No. 14 class. That might sound like a downgrade, but this class still included 15 four-star prospects, including eight ESPN 300 members and the No. 1 junior college defensive end in Jonathan Kongbo. No. 1 athlete, Tyler Byrd will likely play cornerback early and No. 4 dual-threat quarterback Jarrett Guarantano will likely be groomed as Dobbs’ replacement. Considering the talent coming back, Jones and his coaches did a pretty good job bringing in such a solid class. Tennessee also didn't waist scholarships at the end for signing-day fillers.
Trajectory: Up -- at least when it comes to talent and on-field production. However, it’s unclear what sort of impact the Title IX lawsuit facing the university will have on the football program. There are also allegations that Jones told a former player that he "betrayed the team" by helping a woman who said she was sexually assaulted by two of his teammates. No one knows what will come of any of this, so it’s hard to get a direct read on the exact direction of the football program right now. When it comes to the on-field elements Jones has constructed, this team certainly appears to be trending up. The Vols went from blowing early leads at the beginning of the season to winning seven of their last eight games. With the experience coming back, this should be one of the SEC’s top teams in 2016.