IT's Take: Season predictions

Does Tennessee make it to a bowl game? Step Inside to see what the InsideTennessee reporters think will happen with the Big Orange this season.

Josh Woodward's thoughts

5-7, 6-6, 7-5, I’m not really sure, heck they could go 8-4. Will they slip up and beat somebody they aren’t supposed to like they did South Carolina last year? Probably, the young talent will show up. The staff is quietly optimistic about this team. I talked to some assistants that are giddy to get the young pups on the field. Sprinkle in a few key veterans and you have the makings for a fun team to watch.

Offensively the questions are at quarterback and offensive line; if they get average play out of these units they will have a winning record. The Vols are so talented at wide receiver, they can go six deep and not have much of a drop off. Again, average play from this unit and you have a winning record.

Defensively we will see much improvement, with the infusion of young talent. Guys like Derek Barnett, Chris Weatherd and Dillon Bates bring a new attitude to this defense. Then you get back Curt Maggitt from injury and it’s icing on the cake. I see the defense being the back bone of this season. This team will go as far as the defense can take them.

The schedule is tough, but I think this team can get to 7 wins. They beat Missouri, Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Toss up with South Carolina, tough task to beat Florida. Lose to Oklahoma, Georgia, Ole Miss and Alabama. So at the end of the season I see 7-5, which means a bowl game. So this next recruiting class of early enrollee’s gets some extra practice.

Danny Parker's thoughts

Haven't we been here before with Tennessee football?

Say...2010?

Talent influx around key veterans? An "expansion team" look that causes a stir of excitement and does just enough to muster some victories?

Out Cody Pope. In James Stone. Out Matt Simms. In Tyler Bray. Out Art Evans. In Marsalis Teague.

The 2013 version of the Ole Miss Rebels provided something of a blueprint as well. Ole Miss, starting at least five true freshmen at times, hammered Texas in Austin, got pounded by Alabama on the road to kickstart a three-game losing skid before rallying for four-game winning streak that included a victory over then-No. 6 LSU. Then, they didn't play up to snuff in back-to-back losses to Missouri and archrival Mississippi State.

The Rebs did get to a bowl, did win that contest and now have people like me thinking they could surprise several of the country's top-ranked this fall.

Consider 2014 to be SEC Roller-Coaster 2.0 with the Volunteers riding the rail in the front cart.

Not only will three true freshmen start the opener, Butch Jones says roughly two dozen more will contribute. Add to that the fact that Justin Coleman, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Devaun Swafford and Jordan Williams all moved positions and Tennessee's being the only FBS program replacing the starting lineup on both lines and you're flat rolling the dice to say this team can win seven-plus.

The Southeastern Conference is a place for men, not those transitioning after game planning for Liberty Technical Magnet School or Fort Laramie a year ago.

However, if there's one thing that all Tennessee fans should now know is that talent outweighs experience every single time. Twenty-three starts isn't going to push a cornerback from behind to help him tackle Trey Burton as the tight end streaks 80 yards for a touchdown. An NFL-bound-heavy offensive front opened up holes just wide enough to net 66 rushing yards in Gainesville last September.

See the point?

That ability should get Tennessee to a bowl game. No homerade on tap here. Sorry. The schedule is simply too daunting to envision beyond.

Utah State and Missouri will scare the heck out of Vols fans at Neyland, but both will be wins.

Tennessee could get absolutely throttled at least three times (can't stop downhill rushing attacks with no giants at defensive tackle), but it's likely to sneak up on a top 10 foe as these kids don't know they're supposed to get smoked by what's on paper. The fourth worst team on the schedule, Vanderbilt, will get a brunt of the fury generated by a hungry bunch and the Vols will pound the Commodores to get back to the postseason.

Win at Oklahoma after a one-point victory over the visiting Aggies? Stranger things have happened. Ask me again about the Norman trip in a couple weeks.

Another trait worth noting alongside the "roller-coaster" prediction is how the lineup will flip constantly with so many true freshmen and a pair of JUCOs clicking at different times throughout the season paired with how football is a game of injuries (tell your son to play something else).

Catching my breath, again, this looks to shake out to a 6-6 season with pinpoint times where the future of Tennessee football looks special.

As a bonus prediction, calling three straight wins in Nashville between the massacre of Vandy, a Music City Bowl win and another triumph at LP Field versus UAB to get 2015 off on the right foot.

Optimism...you're welcome.

Randy Moore's Thoughts

I get it: Tennessee is fielding a young football team this fall. But that doesn’t ensure a losing record … just as fielding a veteran team didn’t ensure a winning record last fall. Experience doesn’t win football games. Execution does. And I’m betting the youthful 2014 Vols will execute way better than the more mature but less talented 2013 Vols did.

Spring practice and fall camp convinced me that probably 20 of the top 30 players on this team are first-year Vols – either freshmen or JUCO transfers. That means a much-needed infusion of talent is poised to make a splash this fall. Of course, critics say, “You can’t win with freshmen.”

Really?

Marquez North was a freshman last fall, yet he led the Vols in receiving yards and basically won the South Carolina game with a spectacular fourth-quarter catch. Cam Sutton was a freshman last fall, yet he started every game at cornerback and led the Vols with 7 pass breakups.

Clearly, you can win with freshmen if they’re the right freshmen. I believe a bunch of current Vol rookies fit this category – running back Jalen Hurd; tight ends Ethan Wolf and Daniel Helm; guard Jashon Robertson; receiver Josh Malone; tackle Coleman Thomas; defensive ends Derek Barnett and Dewayne Hendrix; defensive tackle Dimarya Mixon; linebackers Dillon Bates and Elliott Berry; cornerbacks Emmanuel Moseley, D’Andre Payne, RaShaan Gaulden and Evan Berry; safety Todd Kelly Jr. I also envision major contributions from JUCOs Von Pearson, Owen Williams and Chris Weatherd.

Frankly, I’ll take young players with talent over old players with experience every day of the week. Here’s why:

Young players improve significantly as a season progresses; older players improve marginally, if at all. Young players perform better as they become more familiar with their assignments; older players already are familiar with their assignments. Young players are arrogant enough to think they’ll win every game; Tennessee’s older players are acutely aware they have never posted a winning record on The Hill.<

p> Will there be growing pains with 20-25 freshmen playing key roles this fall? Sure. They’ll drop some passes they should catch. But their speed will enable them to catch some balls last year’s wideout corps wouldn’t touch … and turn some five-yard catches into 15-yard gains. Freshman defenders will miss some tackles they shouldn’t, too. But their quickness will enable them to make some plays that last year’s lead-footed defenders couldn’t.

Obviously, Tennessee’s youth will be a problem early. Fortunately, Games 1 and 2 are in Neyland Stadium, where I see 102,455 literally “willing” the Vols to victory against Utah State and Arkansas State. Following lopsided road losses at Oklahoma and Georgia, I see the home-field advantage proving decisive Oct. 4 against Florida. After breezing past UT-Chattanooga, I see the Vols losing competitively at Ole Miss, then losing big to Alabama and losing close at South Carolina. After a perfectly timed open date, however, I envision Tennessee sweeping Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt to finish 7-5.


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