rates UT No. 10

The folks at project Tennessee to be one of the 10 best teams in America this fall. Even so, they rate three teams on the 2006 schedule to be better and predict a 9-3 record for the Vols.

In rating all 119 NCAA Div. 1-A teams, noted that the picks are based merely on how good the teams should be, not how they might rank at season's end.

Tennessee checks in at No. 10. Upcoming foes Florida, California and LSU are ranked Nos. 9, 8 and 7, respectively. SEC West powerhouse Auburn is No. 6 but the Vols and Tigers don't collide this fall.

Here's what has to say about the Big Orange:

10. Tennessee

Predicted Finish: 9-3 2005 Predicted Finish: 9-2 2005 Record: 5-6

Why Tennessee should be No. 1 ... There are few teams in America that can match the overall speed and athleticism of the 2006 Vols, but all the skills have to translate into better overall play and, of course, wins. The offense can't be any worse, and should be a force with new/old offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe taking back his offensive coordinator job. The running backs can fly, the receivers are even faster, and the line is bigger than more NFL front walls. If quarterback Erik Ainge is merely competent, and the defense can avoid falling off the map after losing six of the starters on the front seven, Tennessee will be back to being Tennessee.

Why Tennessee isn't No. 1 ... Did you watch Tennessee last year? It's asking a lot for all the top recruiting classes to pay off in a big way on defense with six of the starters on the front seven needing to be replaced including the entire linebacking corps. It might also be asking the world for Ainge to be night-and-day better.

Relative Strengths: running back, receiver Relative Weaknesses: linebacker, offensive line

In case you're wondering, picks Southern Cal No. 1, with Texas, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Miami rounding out the top five. Here's where the other SEC schools rank:

19. Georgia

24. Alabama

29. Arkansas

48. South Carolina

57. Ole Miss

68. Mississippi State

73. Kentucky

83. Vanderbilt

Based on the ratings, Tennessee's non-conference foes - other than Cal - are not an impressive bunch. Marshall is No. 82, Memphis No. 87 and Air Force No. 96.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories