Previewing the Vols

After going 39-13 to start the decade, Tennessee football fell on hard times with three losing seasons in six years. With a different head coach in each season, the Volunteers sported a record of 18-20 in 2008-10. But, with the exception of one position coach, the entire staff returns for 2011. Former seven-year NFL veteran Peter Sirmon is now the linebackers coach and is a hot name in recruiting.

Last season's record: 6-7

Returning starters: 13

Key losses: Lost three leading receivers in Gerald Jones (55 catches, 596 yards, 4 touchdowns), Denarius Moore (47-981-9) and tight end Luke Stocker (39-417-2). Also lost defensive leader/captain/linebacker Nick Reveiz, who le the team with 108 tackles.

Key returnees: Tailback Tauren Poole (204 carries, 1,085 yards, 11 touchdowns), quarterback Tyler Bray (1,849 passing yards, 18 TDs), safety Janzen Jackson (69 tackles, five interceptions).

Best game: versus Florida in Gainesville on Sept. 17 at 3:30 p.m. ET

Projected finish: 7-5

Outlook: A fast start with several wins and an even more productive finish could put the Volunteers in contention for the SEC Eastern Division title since the Western Division is likely to carry the weight of the conference. Tennessee may have the toughest October schedule in the country — Buffalo, Georgia, LSU, at Alabama and South Carolina — to navigate around. Freshmen that earned valuable playing time in 2010 should profit with a full year in a college weight room and with the experience under their belt as seven true freshmen played in every game with four earning All-SEC Freshman team honors.

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