5 Reasons Why the Tennessee Volunteers Will Be 2012 SEC Champions
For the first time since 1998, the Tennessee Volunteers are going to be SEC Champions...but not 'til next year!
I don't feel like I'm breaking any news by informing you that the 2011 season won't end in a conference title for the Vols, although I do think it will be better than many analysts are predicting.
However, I do feel like projecting the 2012 Tennessee squad to be crowned SEC Champs is a bit more out there, but I've got five solid reasons that back me up.
From three coaches in three years to an SEC Championship. Bring it on.
Tyler Bray's Arm
But it seems the same people believe that Aaron Murray of the Georgia Bulldogs will be the top signal caller in the SEC for 2011. Bray and Murray are both sophomores, Murray a red shirt.
If both of the above predictions turn out to be true (or pretty close), then that indicates that Bray's stock will rise a ton throughout the 2011 season and into 2012, which I totally agree with.
He has got a rocket for an arm, occasionally throwing into windows that he shouldn't have tried to test, but that's the stuff you learn as a freshman.
With a season and a half of experience at starting quarterback under his belt, I expect to see Bray throw for over 3,500 yards and 30 touchdowns as a junior in 2012.
Wide Receiver U
Of course, if Tyler Bray is to live up to my lofty 2012 predictions, he'll be helping the wide receiving corp rack up a ton of stats, too. It's a good thing that the Tennessee Volunteers are once again Wide Receiver U.
Back in the days of Peerless Price, Marcus Nash and Cedrick Wilson, Tennessee fans were used to seeing consistent passing attacks, capable of carving up any college secondary.
That stream slowed a bit with an intermittent blip like Donte Stallworth or Robert Meachem on the radar screen, but it's back now. Derek Dooley is a polished recruiter of his former playing position.
Incoming 4-star freshman DeAnthony Arnett joins an already formidable wide receiving group that includes 5-star Da-Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter, future SEC receiving yards champion in my opinion.
Matt Milton could easily join that tandem in 2011.
Jason Croom, 2012 wide receiver recruit is close to picking Tennessee as his new home, just in time to contribute to an SEC title run. That foursome will be the best in the SEC if not the country.
Rogers and Hunter will lead this corp in 2012. Rogers is the stronger, more blue-collar receiver while Hunter can stretch the field ala Randy Moss. Watch for two 1,000 receivers.
If these two are as good as I think they will be, 2012 will be the finale of their careers.
Best Offensive Line in the Country
When the Tennessee Volunteers were at their height, the ball and the lead was all the offensive line needed in the fourth quarter to salt a win away.
In 1998, when the Vols were making a bid for the first BCS National Championship, it was five consecutive runs by Travis Henry behind the powerful offensive line against Arkansas that kept their miracle alive.
As much as I love the passing game, when the game is on the line, I know as well as anyone that it's the running game that gets the job done. With three of the five starting offensive linemen from 2010 returning as true sophomores, this is a unit that is both talented and well-acquainted with each other.
It's only going to get better for the 2012 season.
Awkward-snapping, left-handed center James Stone will be a junior, as will tackle JaWuan James and both guards Zach Fulton and JerQuari Schofield. Center/guard transfer Alex Bullard will also be a junior in 2012.
Antonio Richardson, an incoming freshman and highest rated Tennessee high school player, will likely be the starting right tackle in 2012, a steady increase in his responsibilities.
On the offensive line, nothing matters more than teamwork and experience. Second to those things is physical and mental skill. No line in the country will have the same level of these attributes as the Vols' offensive line in 2012.
The Growth of Janzen Jackson
I've talked a lot about the offense so far, but in order to win the SEC Championship, you have to play SEC-caliber defense, which is the best in the country.
It's vital that safety Janzen Jackson put the issues of his personal life behind him if he wants to reach his full potential and captain the Tennessee Volunteers' defense to a 2012 conference title. I think he will.
He is the only player still on the teal out of the three that were arrested in reference to the Pilot robbery in November of 2009. He missed the 2011 spring semester, including team functions, due to personal reasons.
Now he's back, but still has work to do according to Derek Dooley. Still, I'm confident that the months off from school and football will be good for Jackson, who has the talent and intelligence to be an NFL star one day.
Jackson will use 2011 to get back on his feet and get back into the groove that led to his being named to many preseason All-SEC teams in years past.
For Jackson, it's a maturity issue. He'll need to listen to the great coaches and mentors around him to realize his full potential.
Hidden Gems on the Defensive Line
Folks, Nick Fairley was a Rivals 3-star junior college transfer when he committed to the Auburn Tigers in 2009. He was the best player on the field in the 2011 National Championship.
There are several defensive ends and tackles on the Tennessee Volunteers' roster that could easily grow into the kind of force that Fairley was.
Defensive end Jacques Smith is a budding star, revealing his incredible athleticism and finishing ability during his freshman year in 2010. He'll be a junior during the 2012 campaign, ready to lead the defensive line.
Newcomers Trevarris Salusberry (right out of Gainesville), 330 pound Allan Carson and junior college transfer Maurice Couch will all provide some much needed skill and depth at the defensive tackle position.
Daniel Hood will be a second-year starter at tackle by 2012, with every reason in the world to bust it for Derek Dooley.
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