As Tennessee’s third head coach in as many years, Derek Dooley took on the job with his eyes wide open. He knew what a major rebuilding project he was facing, and he wasn’t expecting any miracles right out of the gate.
Well, there wasn’t one this season, and he probably thought it was a bad dream back in October when the Vols (6-6) lost all four games and were treading water just to stay afloat. It’s about that time that Dooley made a switch at quarterback, inserting true freshman Tyler Bray into the starting lineup, and the likes of Alabama and LSU were replaced on the schedule by Memphis and Vanderbilt.
It all added up to a four-game winning streak to end the season and a bowl trip that wasn’t secured until the final weekend of the regular season when the Vols beat Kentucky for the 26th straight time.
Tennessee was brimming with first-year starters everywhere you looked this season, and that was especially apparent on offense. Most of the people blocking for Bray were freshmen, and a lot of the people he was throwing to were also freshmen.
Offensive MVP: Receiver Denarius Moore. Bray would get some votes here, too, with his 12 touchdown passes in his four starts, but Moore was there all season long for the Vols and made one big play after another. He averaged 21.2 yards per catch, which was tops among the national leaders, and caught nine touchdown passes.
Defensive MVP: Linebacker Nick Reveiz. He was the heart and soul of the entire team with his leadership and the way he approached every practice and every game. Reveiz was also plenty productive on the field. He led the Vols with 94 total tackles after working his way back from a serious knee injury the year before.
Turning point: Tennessee lost a 38-24 game at South Carolina on the final weekend in October, but in the process, found its quarterback. Bray came off the bench to throw two touchdown passes that day and has been the Vols’ quarterback ever since.
What’s next: As fate would have it, Tennessee faces North Carolina in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl in Nashville. Just prior to this season, Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton bought his way out of that two-game series, which was supposed to begin next season, because he didn't want to load the schedule up so early in Dooley's tenure. With the Vols being so young, it’s a huge plus for them just to be able to practice a few extra weeks.