Coach:Phillip Fulmer (147-45 in 16 seasons). | Staff In 2007:10-4 overall, 6-2 in the SEC (tied for first in SEC East). | Highlights Returning starters: Offense—7. Defense—6. Special teams—2. (Note: Returning P Britton Colquitt is suspended for the first five games of the season.) | Depth Chart Key losses: Offense—QB Erik Ainge, TE Chris Brown, T Eric Young. Defense—FS Jonathan Hefney, LB Ryan Karl, LB Jerod Mayo, E Xavier Mitchell, E Antonio Reynolds.
Final 2007 Rivals.com ranking: 14th | Complete Final 2007 Rankings
THE SCHEME: The Volunteers traditionally have run a pro-set attack with a West Coast feel and use multiple formations. New coordinator Dave Clawson – who had been coach at Division I-AA Richmond – has said he will incorporate some traits of the spread. Look for elements of the pro set, along with three-receiver sets and two-tight end sets.
STAR POWER: Senior tailback Arian Foster isn't as heralded or highly touted as some past Vols tailbacks. But he's a strong runner with good speed and earned All-SEC recognition in 2007, when he rushed for 1,193 yards. He needs 685 yards this season to become the Vols' leading career rusher.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Tight end Brandon Warren left Florida State, where he played as a freshman, and enrolled at Tennessee after attending junior college for a year. Whether he stayed in shape remains to be seen, and he still has to be cleared to play by the NCAA. But he could make a big contribution when/if he's declared eligible.
IT'S HIS TIME: Junior quarterback Jonathan Crompton played sparingly behind Erik Ainge the past two seasons, but now takes over the offense. Crompton had a solid performance in place of an injured Ainge in a 28-24 loss to LSU in 2006. Last season, though, he only attempted 12 passes. A strong runner, he has to show he can be an efficient passer, too.
STRONGEST AREA: The Vols led the nation by allowing just four sacks in 2007, and that was over 14 games. Four full-time starters return, headed by all-conference candidates Anthony Parker at guard and Ramon Foster at tackle. The one "new" starter is right guard Jacques McClendon, and he started six times last season after Chris Scott moved to left tackle when an injury sidelined Eric Young.
WEAKEST AREA: Crompton has attempted only 78 passes in his college career, and more than half have been incomplete. His inexperience is the main concern for an otherwise solid offense. He threw too many interceptions in the spring, but in previous seasons when Tennessee had a first-year starting quarterback, the Vols were effective in the running game. That should be the case again this season.
OVERVIEW: A new starting quarterback always is accompanied by a measure of apprehension, and it won't be any different in Knoxville. Crompton's ascension into the starting lineup will raise some questions, but few first-time starting quarterbacks step into a better situation. Crompton will have an experienced line in front of him, a 1,000-yard rusher behind him and three receivers who made more than 50 receptions last season. The Vols scored at least 30 points in eight games in '07 and project to be productive again. This season, though, they're likely to run more often with Foster heading a talented group of tailbacks. Crompton also is an accomplished runner, which is another advantage for a new starter.
That's the record for Phillip Fulmer's teams with a first-year starting quarterback, which the Vols will have this season. That includes a national championship in 1998 with Tee Martin as a first-year starter and an SEC East title in 2004 when Brent Schaeffer, Erik Ainge and Rick Clausen were first-year starters and shared time.
THE SCHEME: Over the years, Tennessee has been well-served by its 4-3 scheme. The Volunteers are determined to apply pressure and aren't hesitant to blitz. They figure to do that even more in '08. With exceptional talent and depth in the secondary, the Vols likely will go into their six-defensive back "Mustang Package" frequently and blitz from a lot of angles.
STAR POWER: Even though he was only a freshman last season, strong safety Eric Berry was hyped as an emerging star. He lived up to the hype, with five interceptions, nine pass breakups and 86 tackles to earn freshman All-America acclaim. With a season of experience, he should be better in '08.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Both of last season's starters at end are gone, so the Vols need help there. Gerald Williams may be able to provide it. Williams, who originally signed with Tennessee in 2005, last season starred at City College of San Francisco, where he posted 146 tackles and forced six fumbles in helping his team win a version of the junior college national championship.
IT'S HIS TIME: Senior Robert Ayers has the size, speed and ability of an All-SEC end. Now, he needs to show he can produce. The Vols have been waiting on him to live up to his vast potential. The time is now. As a reserve, he led Tennessee with four sacks and 12 tackles for loss last season. Coaches are counting on him to do more as a starter.
STRONGEST AREA: The secondary is talented and deep, and features a safety tandem that could be among the best in the country. Berry has gained star status at strong safety. Free safety Demetrice Morley - a productive player in 2005 and '06 – missed the 2007 season but is back after regaining his academic eligibility. The Vols have three players who started at least seven games at cornerback last season: Marsalous Johnson, Brent Vinson and DeAngelo Willingham. Those three plus Dennis Rogan will battle it out for starting jobs, and all four will see extensive time.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: The Vols were only so-so against the run and no better with their pass rush last season, so the line remains an area of concern. Adding to the stress is that both starters at end must be replaced. Ayers could surface as a dominant player, but the Vols are thin and mostly unproven up front.
OVERVIEW: That talented secondary should provide the Vols opportunity to be creative with their blitzes and coverages. Throwing on Tennessee won't be easy. That's the good news. The bad news is that Tennessee struggled against the run in '07, ranking just 70th in the country in rush defense. Both starting ends and two starting linebackers, including All-SEC performer Jerod Mayo, are gone. There are solid players such as Ayers and end Ben Martin ready to step up, but depth is thin up front. If the Vols avoid injuries, they could develop into a solid unit as the season progresses. If depth becomes an issue in the front seven, they could be in trouble.
Punter Britton Colquitt has been suspended for the first five games, which is the only concern for the kicking game. Sophomore Chad Cunningham will handle punting duties until Colquitt returns. Cunningham was erratic in the spring. Sophomore kicker Daniel Lincoln converted 21 of 29 field-goal attempts and earned All-SEC recognition last season. The return game will be excellent with Rogan, Gerald Jones and Lennon Creer bringing back kicks.
Few coaches can match Phillip Fulmer for consistency. Last season was the fourth 10-win season for the Vols this decade and they've won five SEC East titles in the past decade, yet he frequently catches heat from Vols fans wanting more. Fulmer supporters point out that the Vols won the SEC East last season, closed the season with a bowl victory and got better as the season progressed. His detractors rebut by mentioning blowout losses to Florida and Alabama by a combined 64 points last season. This season, Fulmer has four new offensive coaches, including Clawson, who had tremendous success as a head coach and offensive coordinator in Division I-AA. Any uncertainty that may come with so many new offensive coaches is balanced by the reliability of the defense led by John Chavis, who has held the defensive coordinator position since 1995. In that span, Tennessee has been among the SEC's top-three defenses eight times.
at South Carolina
Perhaps no team in America faces a more difficult first month than Tennessee. The Vols' September schedule includes games against UCLA, Florida and Auburn. Adding to the degree of difficulty is that two of those games – UCLA and Auburn – are on the road. That's a concern because the Vols were 3-4 in games away from Knoxville last season, and that included an overtime win at Kentucky. It's not out of the question to suggest the Vols could be 1-3 heading into October. Of course, they also could be 3-1 or 4-0 and headed for a big year. Trips to Georgia and South Carolina and a home game with Alabama loom in October and November, but the final three games are against Wyoming, Kentucky and Vanderbilt.
As has frequently been the case in recent seasons, there is quite a buzz around Knoxville. This time, though, the buzz is rife with questions. Curious fans are wondering what to expect from a new offensive coordinator and a new quarterback. The hope, of course, is that they will produce some new wrinkles to avenge last season's embarrassing losses to Florida and Alabama. Yet even with that uncertainty, there is a quiet confidence on Rocky Top that stems from finishing last season with six victories in the last seven games and pushing eventual national champion LSU to the limit in the SEC Championship Game. If the momentum from that finish carries over, the Volunteers could be in the thick of the SEC championship race again. But they're projected no better than third in the SEC East behind Florida and Georgia. That actually may play in the Volunteers' favor, though. Historically under Fulmer, Tennessee is most dangerous in those rare occasions when it's in an underdog role.