Despite playing a rigorous SEC schedule and losing number 1 wide receiver Da’Rick Rodgers to an indefinite suspension, the Vols are poised to make a push for a big time bowl game. Tennessee starts the season as the 32nd highest ranked team, but they should find themselves in the 10-16 range if they play to their potential.
Tennessee’s offense will be able to compete with the best in the country, led by junior quarterback Tyler Bray. The 6’6 gunslinger passed for 1983 yard and 17 touchdowns in just 7 games. With Bray at helm, the Vols went 5-2, without him, a measly 1-4 with a win over Middle Tennessee State. Don’t be surprised if Bray is the second quarterback taken off the board in next year’s draft after USC’s Matt Barkley.
Credit: TNJN/Ozburn, Ben
However, the Vols took a blow when Coach Derek Dooley announced that star wide receiver Da’Rick Rodgers would be suspended indefinitely. Rodgers led the Vols in receiving last year and was in position to have a breakout year due to his blistering speed and Bray’s NFL arm. This will give other receivers a chance to step up and make an impact, and Tennessee certainly has a deep enough receiving core to make it happen. Senior tight end Mychal Rivera is a very reliable target. Junior receiver Justin Hunter and junior college transfer Cordarelle Patterson will give opposing defenses fits with their big play ability.
At running back, the tandem of Marlin Lane and Rajion Neal will be difficult to handle for even the best SEC defenses. At 5’11, 205 lbs, Lane is a power back and could put some opposing players on their backs. Neal provides an X-factor out of the backfield, as he has tremendous speed and soft hands (4th on the team in receptions last year).
As for defense, it’s never easy to stop the likes of Georgia, LSU, and Alabama, but Tennessee will be much improved defensively from last year. The 2012 Vols defense will return a lot of familiar faces, and those players will only get better with more experience. The main weakness is on the defensive line, which does not have a lot of depth or skill. On the contrary, the linebacking group is very strong and should be able to make up for the weak line.
At the end of the day, Tennessee is going to put up a lot of points this year if Tyler Bray can stay healthy. If the defense is able to truly improve and find ways to disrupt opposing offenses, the Vols will find themselves in a position to make a difference in the college football world. Look for Tennessee to finish 8-4 and take down one of the SEC powers along the way.