It's been a few years since the Tennessee Volunteers had several players who were poised for big statistical seasons, but this fall, the stars are back. Here are the stats projections for 10 of the Big Orange's top players.
With as many as six first-round draft picks in the next two NFL drafts, the Vols have legitimate star power that hasn't been seen since before the 2007 SEC East crown.
These projections are neither the worst nor best-case scenario. They're realistic. Keep that in mind when you see that I don't have Justin Hunter catching 20 touchdowns on 1,800 yards.
Passing Yards: 3,200 yards
Touchdowns: 31 TDs
Interceptions: 11 INTs
Completion Percentage: 59.1%
I know at least one local sports personality thinks Tyler Bray is going to have a historic 2012 season.
Brent Dougherty from Nashville's popular radio show 3HL is on the record with a prediction that Tennessee's junior quarterback will have a 4,000/40 season. As in 4,000 passing yards and 40 touchdowns.
Hey, some people not only bleed orange but see everything in a shade of orange, and there's nothing wrong with that. I think Bray is going to have a dynamite year, but I doubt it's going to be the best in Volunteer history, which a 4,000/40 season would be.
Rushing Yards: 1,050 yards
Receiving Yards: 350 yards
Total Touchdowns: 14 TDs
With a very young and inexperienced squad of running backs, Marlin Lane will see the vast majority of the carries this fall. His backup is a running back turned wide receiver turned running back, if that helps paint the picture.
The Vols need a huge improvement from their running game in 2012 if they have hopes of ending their two-year losing record streak. An extremely deep, talented and now veteran group of offensive linemen can only help Lane's stats.
My projections, though, are tempered by the fact that Lane has yet to find his pre-knee injury self from high school.
Receiving Yards: 850 yards
Receptions: 40 catches
TDs: 7 TDs
This trio of wide receivers might not only be the best in the SEC, but it might be the best in the country. A lot of it depends on Tyler Bray's ability to utilize all the tools effectively and Hunter's progression from his ACL injury last September.
Indeed, all the reports are good, but I have reservations about how quickly Hunter will be able to locate his breakaway speed.
Receiving Yards: 1,100 yards
Receptions: 60 catches
TDs: 10 TDs
I believe Bray will do a great job of spreading the ball around and maximizing his receivers' potential, but I think it'll be Rogers who stands out.
Receiving Yards: 700
TDs: 4 TDs
Two-time JUCO All-American Patterson is more than capable of stepping right into the lineup.
Tackles: 90 tackles
Tackles for a Loss: 10 TFL
Sacks: 2 sacks
Coming off an impressive freshman year that led to All-SEC Freshman honors, Johnson should make another step in his progression as a Vol. His size and bulk are well-suited for an inside linebacker in the 3-4 defense.
Tackles: 60 tackles
Tackles for a Loss: 9 TFL
Sacks: 5 sacks
After a strong start to the 2011 season, Smith's production dropped off when the Volunteers started to meet their conference. Now a junior, Smith should realize his full potential as a natural pass-rusher in the 3-4.
Tackles: 70 tackles
Tackles for a Loss: 11 TFL
Sacks: 3 sacks
Maggitt's great speed will be on full showcase this fall whenever Tennessee opts to use four linebackers. Also named an All-SEC Freshman, Maggitt's explosiveness should result in a nice combination of tackles and sacks.
Tackles: 55 tackles
Passes Defended: 12 PD
Interceptions: 6 INTs
I'm extremely excited to watch Prentiss Waggner in 2012 back at cornerback. His consistency and production has been overlooked in three years as a Vol, but an outstanding senior will ensure that's not the case this year.
Waggner is Tennessee's version of Cal Ripken, too, never missing a game and starting 25 straight since his freshman year.
Tackles: 65 tackles
Passes Defended: 7 PD
Interceptions: 2 INTs
Besides quarterback, safety might be the most difficult position to take over as a freshman, but Randolph made it look easy. A virtual afterthought from the 2011 recruiting class, no Volunteer improved as much as Randolph did over the course of last season.
That bodes well for his stats in 2012.