KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee will start the 2017 season with lower expectations than a season ago, the media at SEC Media Days forecasting the Vols to finish third in the East Division.
Tennessee returns 14 of 22 position starters, but the Vols must replace Athlon’s SEC Offensive Player of the Year Josh Dobbs at quarterback, and all-time sacks leader Derek Barnett.
Three-time defending league champ Alabama was picked to make it four in a row, while Georgia was the favorite in the SEC East Division followed by Florida.
Tennessee was also shut out of any players earning first-team All-SEC honors at SEC Media Day, and offensive lineman Jashon Robertson and return specialist Evan Berry were the Vols’ only second-team picks.
SECCountry.com picked Alabama to win the SEC also, but the website had Florida picked first in the SEC East Division and Georgia second, with Tennessee and Kentucky tied for third.
Vols coach Butch Jones said on Monday at the Wynfrey Hotel at SEC Media Days that Tennessee’s goals are to win the SEC East Division and league crown every season.
The Vols were picked to win the SEC East Division last season but finished second (by virtue of head-to-head wins over Kentucky and Georgia) instead.
Tennessee has not won the SEC since 1998, when Phillip Fulmer guided the program to a 13-0 season and the national championship.
UT’s most recent SEC East Division title came in 2007, when the Vols couldn’t hold a fourth quarter lead and fell to eventual national champion LSU 21-14.
Fulmer was fired less than a year after that game after changing offensive coordinators, beginning a nosedive for the program and a historic bottoming out under the direction of Lane Kiffin (2009) and Derek Dooley (2010-12).
Kiffin, in his one season, committed enough violations to get the program on probation through 2014, while Dooley went 2-14 against the SEC his final two seasons, leaving behind what Fulmer said was an “absolute total mess” for Jones.
Tennessee players report back on July 28 and practices begin on July 29 leading up to the Sept. 4 opener against Georgia Tech at Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.