It has been a long journey in the middle and bottom of the SEC since the last time the Tennessee Volunteers were in the national conversation. At least not like this.
No team in the SEC may have as much buzz and optimism than the Tennessee Volunteers as they try to make the SEC Championship Game for the first time in more than a decade and snap that dastardly losing streak to the Florida Gators.
After winning the final six games of the season last year, including an Outback Bowl victory, expectations began to run wild for the Volunteers. This would surely be the year Butch Jones turns things around and brings some championships back to Knoxville.
Asking one of Tennessee’s all-time great coaches, it certainly seems like the team is on its way back.
Former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer told David Paschall of the Times Free Press that Tennessee is starting to look like a top-10 team again:
“Absolutely it does,” Fulmer said. “I’ve had a chance to go over and watch practice a couple of times, actually two or three times, and they have all the tools to have a really, really good team. I think the progress has been steady and normal, and that last year we had a chance to jump it a little bit faster by beating Oklahoma or Florida, which were both really strange games. We’re sitting here now with a chance to win the East, and I don’t think there is a great team in the East other than maybe us.”
With the Volunteers returning quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd, the offense seems more than set for a stellar year. Especially after some early heartbreaks last year that the team recovered from. Tennessee might also have the best defensive player in the conference in Jalen Reeves-Maybin.
This is a talented team that should challenge for all the lofty expectations — SEC East title, defeating Florida, SEC championship and perhaps more — this year. The Volunteers have to perform on the field though. There have been lofty expectations for this program before in recent years that just have not come to fruition.
Many nationally, including Tennessee’s former coach, seem to be on board with this year’s team.