SEC East: Tennessee

With a quarterback corps consisting of two freshmen and an LSU cast-off, Tennessee's 2004 football team was pegged for mediocrity. Instead, it won 10 games. With almost everybody back from that team, Tennessee's 2005 squad was pegged for greatness. Instead, it won five games.

Welcome to the enigma known as Big Orange football. When you think the Vols are going to be terrible, they overachieve. When you think they're going to be terrific, they underachieve.

That makes the 2006 season utterly confounding: Half of the fan base believes the team will be very good, while the other half believes it will be mediocre at best. The split decision is understandable. This is a Tennessee team with a goodly number of positives and a goodly number of negatives.

First the positives:

1. Tailback Arian Foster. He ran for 879 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2005, even though he started just five games. He might double that yardage total this fall.

2. The return of offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, who molded the most productive UT attacks ever in his previous stint with the program (1993-98).

3. A receiving corps that has lost weight and gained discipline after grossly underachieving last fall.

4. John Chavis coordinating the defense.

Now the negatives:

1. Can quarterback Erik Ainge regain his confidence after a disastrous 2005 season?

2. Can the new-look line give Ainge protection and give Foster running room?

3. Can the defense adequately replace six members of the 2005 front seven?

4. Can special teams be any worse?

The answers:

Ainge has regained most of his confidence but a couple of bad outings could spark a relapse.

The line might struggle early but it should be solid by midseason.

The front seven will be just fine.

The special teams can't be any worse, and they could be significantly better.

Bottom line: If the breaks fall UT's way, the Vols could be 10-2. If the breaks go against them, they could be 6-6.


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