Athlon Sports ranking of Tennessee Opponents

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As noted on our main page, Athlon's National College Football preview rates all 117 NCAA Div. 1 schools for the coming season, and UT's opponents hit both ends of the spectrum.

Miami (No. 2), Auburn (No. 5) and Georgia (No. 8 represent the high end, while Miss. State (No. 73), Duke (No. 78) , Marshall (No. 79) and Vandy (No. 80) represent the low end.

The upper 'tweeners are Florida (No. 20), Alabama (No. 21) and Fresno State (No. 35), while the lower 'tweeners are Kentucky (No. 59 and South Carolina (No. 64).

I find the idea of handicapping all of Div. 1 in preseason fascinating, but I beg to differ with Athlon on several picks.

Miami has to play at FSU, at Virginia Tech and at Pitt, and I think the Canes could lose one or two of those. I see Miami slipping to No. 8 this season.

Auburn, on paper, is clearly the best of the SEC West. However, the Tigers aren't balanced enough to go 11-1, so I can't see them finishing No. 5. I'd say No. 10 is more like it.

Georgia must replace most of its offense, including all five starters on the line, so I think No. 8 is a little high for the Bulldogs. I think No. 15 is more in line.

As for Florida, I think Athlon's way off base with its No. 20 pick. With a freshman running the offense and Zook running the show, I see a 7-5 season for the Gators. I can't see Florida finishing any higher than No. 37.

Alabama has some good players but not enough to rank No. 21. Mike Shula has no college coaching experience, and implementing a new system AFTER spring practice has concluded isn't exactly the ideal situation. I see Bama No. 33.

I agree with the pick of Fresno State at No. 35. The Bulldogs return an excellent QB and outstanding WRs, so they will be a pretty stiff opening test for UT.

I think Kentucky will be a little better than No. 58. I like Jared Lorenzen a lot, and Derek Abney is the most dangerous return man in football. UK has a very fine coaching staff, so I see the Big Blue being a surprise team ... say, No. 40 nationally.

I agree with Athlon's pick of South Carolina at No. 64. With just nine starters returning, the Gamecocks will have to show me they're not in a rebuilding mode.

I also like the picks of Mississippi State at No. 73 and Duke at No. 78. State is going to struggle, whether or not Kevin Fant is eligible by September. Duke returns 21 starters from a team that lost five games by five points or less in 2002, so the Blue Devils aren't quite the pansies they've been in previous years.

I think the pick of Marshall at No. 79 is overly pessimistic. Losing Byron Leftwich will hurt but the schedule is so weak that the Thundering Herd could beat everyone on the slate except UT and Kansas State. I see Marshall at No. 65.

As for Vandy at No. 80, I think that's about right. Jay Cutler and Kwane Doster give the 'Dores a couple of solid weapons on offense, and the ball-control option attack should help cover for some of the deficiencies on defense.

To recap, my rankings of UT's foes are as follows:

8. Miami
10. Auburn
15. Georgia
33. Alabama
35. Fresno
37. Florida
40. Kentucky
64. S. Carolina
65. Marshall
73. Miss. State
78. Duke
80. Vanderbilt

P.S. -- Athlon picks UT No. 24. I'd rate the Vols No. 17.

I'd love to see your picks. Anyone up to it? Give us your picks on VolAccess.

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