Auburn Football Opponent Preview: Tennessee

The Tennessee Vols are back on Auburn's football schedule with the Tigers traveling to Knoxville for the first meeting with UT in four seasons.

Butch Jones, who has had success as a college head coach at Cincinnati and before that at Central Michigan, has the assignment of trying to return Tennessee to its historical place in college football's hierarchy as one of the power programs. Jones and his Volunteers will play host to the Auburn Tigers on Nov. 9th at Neyland Stadium.

Jones, who brings a 50-27 record to his new job, faces the task of picking up the pieces left over from the Derek Dooley Era, which UT fans are trying to put in the rearview mirror as quickly as possible.

Butch Jones coached the Cincinnati Bearcats last season.

Last year the Vols finished the season with just four overall victories and one win in the SEC. It was a second consecutive year in which Tennessee won just a single conference game.

The major culprit in the disappointing record was a defense that was the SEC's worst, trumping an offense that averaged 36.7 points and 475.9 yards per game with quarterback Tyler Bray plus wide receivers Cordarelle Patterson and Justin Hunter leading the way. Unfortunately for Jones, he must replace those players.

Whoever takes over the job at QB will have little or no college game experience. Junior Justin Worley, who has played just briefly and has 134 passing yards to his credit, is expected to battle redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman for the starting spot.

The Vols have featured many star running backs over the years and it would really help the QB for somebody to emerge as a standout at the position. Senior Rajion Neal rushed for 708 yards last year to lead the team while Marlin Lane added 658. Both should be solid players this year.

The most solid thing about the UT offense is the four returning starters on the line of scrimmage led by senior tackle Ju-Waun James, senior center James Stone and junior tackle Antonio Richardson. Overall, the Vols return offensive linemen who have started 123 college games.

The wide receiver group has major rebuilding to do. The top returner in yards gained, junior Vincent Dallas, made nine catches for 149 yards in 2012 with one touchdown.

Defensively, the Vols return eight starters from a team that allowed an average of 471.4 yards per game.

Tennessee has the potential to put a senior group on the front four with 6-6, 377 Daniel McCullers and 6-2, 299 likely starters at tackle in the new 4-3 front. Jacques Smith, who is 6-2, 244, and 6-3, 257 Corey Miller could end up starting at the end positions. UT struggled with its pass rush last year so freshman Corey Vereen is a possibility to help in that area.

The secondary really struggled in 2012. Free safety Brian Robinson could bolster the group if he makes a full recovery from a knee injury that sidelined him last year.

There is plenty of experience returning in the linebacker corps and there is experience in the kicking game with the return of Michael Palardy, who made 9-12 field goals last season while averaging 43.1 yards per punt.

Auburn leads the series vs. Tennessee 27-21-3 and has won the last five matchups. UT's last victory over Auburn was 24-0 in 1999. The last time the Tigers and Vols met was 2009 with Auburn taking a 26-22 decision in Knoxville. Top Offensive Player:

Antonio Richardson, a 6-6, 332 junior tackle, should be one of the top players in the SEC, regardless of position. His future should include playing football on Sundays.

Top Defensive Player:

Linebacker A.J. Johnson was busy last season, probably too much so, as he was personally credited with 138 tackles, the most of any player in the SEC. The big linebacker (6-2, 240) will be a junior this fall.

Schedule Tough Stretch:

Tennessee has to travel across the country for game three at Oregon. After getting what should be breather the following week vs. South Alabama, UT will take on visiting Georgia and South Carolina before traveling to Alabama.

Newcomer to Watch:

The Vols have high hopes that talented freshman wide receiver Marquez North from Charlotte, N.C., will be a big-play threat this fall.

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