Athlon Ranks Vols 7th in Preseason College Football Poll
(utsports.com) KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee is ranked No. 7 in the nation in the Athlon Sports 2016 Preseason College Football Top 25, as announced on Monday by Athlon Sports.
Athlon has also picked UT to win the SEC East. Six SEC teams (Alabama, Tennessee, LSU, Ole Miss, Georgia and Florida) are listed in Athlon’s Preseason Top 25.
Head coach Butch Jones led Tennessee to a 9-4 record in 2015, finishing the year with six-straight wins and the Vols’ second-straight bowl victory in a 45-6 win over then-No. 13 Northwestern in the 30th anniversary Outback Bowl. The rout marked Tennessee’s largest-ever margin of victory in a bowl game.
Jones led the Vols to consecutive bowls for the first time since 2009 and 2010 and UT’s first nine-win season since going 10-4 in 2007.
The 2015 Vols racked up 5,490 yards of total offense last season — an average of 422.3 yards per contest. Tennessee averaged 35.2 points per game in 2015 and held opponents to 20.0 points per game. UT capped an incredible season on the ground, rushing for the second-most yards in program history (2,908). Only the 1951 National Champion Vols rushed for more yards (3,068) in a single season.
One of the most youthful teams in the country over the past two seasons, Tennessee will trade in that youth for experience in 2016. According to Phil Steele, with 17 returning starters on offense and defense, the Vols are one of just four Power 5 programs with 17 or more returning starters heading into the 2016 season. Only LSU (18) and Louisville (18) boast more returning starters, while Florida State also returns 17 starters. The Vols return nine starters on offense and eight starters on defense.
The Vols return a very talented team in 2016 with a pair of All-Americans in kick returner Evan Berry and cornerback/punt returner Cameron Sutton. Senior quarterback Joshua Dobbs is 14-5 over his 19 career starts and looks to build off of a standout junior campaign. Jalen Hurd, who was the Outback Bowl MVP, is one of the best running backs in the nation and, with 2,187 career rushing yards, is just 891 yards shy of Travis Henry’s UT record of 3,078 from 1997-2000. Sutton, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and defensive end Derek Barnett lead a strong, veteran UT defense that has been one of the country’s most-improved over the last four years.
Tennessee opens its 2016 season on Sept. 3 against Appalachian State at Neyland Stadium. The Vols will take part in the inaugural Pilot Flying J Battle at Bristol against Virginia Tech on Sept. 10 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Athlon Sports 2016 Preseason College Football Top 25
2. Florida State
3. Ohio State
8. Notre Dame
10. Ole Miss
13. Michigan State
22. North Carolina
25. Oklahoma State