Tennessee Volunteers Football: The Big Orange Crystal Ball for 2012

Paul TuckerCorrespondent IFebruary 11, 2012

Derek Dooley and Tennessee are looking forward to a great season in 2012.
Derek Dooley and Tennessee are looking forward to a great season in 2012.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

After a rough 5-7 finish to 2011, the Tennessee Volunteers are looking to rebound in 2012.

Thanks to a solid top-25 recruiting class, it might not be so bleak of a fall season in Knoxville.

Derek Dooley scraped and put together a class that met the needs of his roster, but the reasons Volunteers should be looking forward to the future go beyond the addition of recruits.

As we all know, the SEC West has been the greatest division in any conference over the past few years.

With the last three national championships going to that division, it is tough competition, but the SEC East will be an up-in-the-air division in 2012.

There is no clear frontrunner going into the season for the SEC East crown.

The case could be made for Georgia to be the favorite going into the season, but offseason losses, especially on the offensive line, could set the Bulldogs back a few steps in their dreams for conference glory.

South Carolina is in a similar situation as they are losing key members of the defense, so it might take some effort from Steve Spurrier and his staff to return to full strength.

Newcomer Missouri is the wild card of this year as we do not know much about them and how they will fit in. I would suggest that there will be some surprising performances in the year, but nothing to merit a trip to Atlanta.

Then there is Vanderbilt.

While Vanderbilt does have some strong players returning, let’s not let them get their hopes up.

And Kentucky.

Sorry, Vols fans, but they did win last year. That being said, they are still Kentucky and I’m calling 2011 a fluke.

Now we come to Tennessee.

As stated previously, Dooley lured in a nice class of freshmen, many of whom will see playing time in their first year, but the biggest question mark for 2012 has to be the defense.

Sal Sunseri, the new defensive coordinator, will be working hard at his new position.

It has also been speculated that a 3-4 scheme might be in Tennessee’s future.

The offense returns some definite talent with the likes of Tyler Bray, a healthy Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rodgers, but also the inception of new talent like wide receivers like Drae Bowles and Alton Howard.

By no means do the Volunteers get a pass for this season.

Despite these positives, the Vols will have to fight for every inch, literally and figuratively, but if they do they might find themselves coming out of the winning end of more games than they have in some time.