Vols headed for 10 wins

Oddsmakers must believe California has the emotional edge against Tennessee in Saturday's season opener.

How else do you explain the Bears being a touchdown favorite?

Last season, the Bears were smacked 35-18 in last season's opener at Neyland Stadium and they want to prove they're a worthy opponent against an SEC team.

Tennessee wanted to erase the taste of a 5-6 disaster. The Vols were so dominant, they went to the bench in the third quarter after building a 35-0 lead.

Now, Cal has revenge – or as coach Jeff Tedford likes to say, redemption -- on its mind.

But Tennessee is still smarting from last season. The Vols might not have the same chip on the shoulder from a losing season, but they lost to Penn State in the Outback Bowl, and that left a bitter taste in the mouth's of a team that had molded together a nice rebound season.

So while Cal has been pointing to this game since the end of last season, don't discount UT's motivation.

``Considering the outcome last year, they're going to be gunning for us,'' said UT offensive lineman Eric Young. ``So definitely we've got to be ready to play early.''

Linebacker Ryan Karl knows the Vols will get Cal's best shot. But he's prepared to shoot right back.

``When you end the season on a losing note,'' Karl said, ``you have a bitter taste in your mouth until you get another chance. You want to prove you're better than that.''

Defensive end Xavier Mitchell said one goal is to pressure Cal quarterback Nate Longshore, who was 11 of 20 for 85 yards last season against Tennessee and benched before his team scored a point.

``Coming into a stadium like ours, I bet you it was overwhelming for him just a little bit,'' Mitchell said. ``But we'll be at their house and he'll be a little more comfortable. We'll try to get him rattled just like we did when he was here.''

Will you remind him of what happened when he played at Neyland Stadium last season?

Mitchell laughs: ``Hey, when we get back there in the backfield, that will be enough reminder for him.''

Can UT get in the backfield against Cal? Can they get in the backfield against anybody?

That's one of the main questions surrounding this season.

Several other questions: Will the run game be improved? Will the run defense be improved? Which wide receivers will step up? Will the Vols finally hold serve at home?

Here are our fearless predictions for this season:

Mitchell, who led linemen with four sacks last season, will double that total. Rico McCoy will be second in sacks. Wes Brown will be second among defensive linemen. And the Vols will go from 17 sacks to 32.

The run defense, which allowed 146.7 rushing yards per game last season, will improve that mark to 115. Florida and Arkansas will have the most rushing yards.

Jonathan Hefney will become the second Vol to lead the team in interceptions three seasons. Hefney will record seven, which will put him second on UT's all-time list behind Tim Priest. Eric Berry will get at least three picks. The team will get 22.

Jerod Mayo will lead the team with over 100 tackles. He had 83 last year. Hefney, who was second in tackles last year, will be second again.

Hefney will average 12 yards on punt returns. He also will score three touchdowns two different ways.

The Vols will go from 117 in the nation in kick returns to about 60, with an average runback of almost 20 yards.

UT's defense will go from allowing 327.5 total yards to per game to just under 300 and the scoring defense will improve from 19.5 to 18.0. Two teams will score at least 30 points. Four will have 10 or fewer.

Arian Foster will lead the team in rushing with over 1,000 yards and score a team-high 10 touchdowns. LaMarcus Coker will be second with over 600 yards. The team will average over 150 rushing yards.

Erik Ainge will complete 60 percent of his passes for 2,800 yards and 18 touchdowns – each down from last year when he had more skilled receivers.

Chris Brown will lead the team with over 50 catches. The tight ends will combine for over 70 catches. Austin Rogers will lead wide receivers with over 40 catches. Denarius Moore will lead true freshmen in receptions.

Britton Colquitt's average will dip from 44.9 to 43.0 because he'll be faced with more pooch punts due to better field position.

Daniel Lincoln will make 14 of 22 field-goal attempts and lead the team with 80 points.

UT's offense will go from averaging 372.5 total yards to 360 and drop from averaging 27.8 points to 26. UT will score more than 30 points in only four games compared to seven last year. They will be held under 20 three times.

Ten true freshmen will play: Eric Berry, Denarius Moore, Lennon Creer, Chris Donald, Chris Walker, Gerald Jones, Ben Martin, Dennis Rogan, Art Evans and Brent Vinson.

The Vols will go 10-3 this season, win the East Division with a 7-1 SEC record and play LSU in the SEC Championship game. LSU will win and UT will head to Orlando for the Capital One Bowl. The opponent: Ohio State.


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