HOOVER, AL (WBRC) - Could it happen? Could the deep and talented Tennessee football team turn the SEC championship game into a sea of orange? Vols coach Butch Jones and his three players who visited SEC Media Days on Tuesday certainly think so. Tennessee, a team that hasn't beaten Alabama in nine years is poised to make a run at the SEC championship - heck, even one national media organization has picked the Vols to win the national title. The Tennessee nation hasn't been this excited since a kid named Peyton led the UT marching band at Legion Field back in the mid-nineties!
So then, why the excitement in Knoxville? As Coach Butch Jones said Tuesday at SEC Media Days in Hoover, "In terms of our football program, over the last 18 games, we're 13-5. And the amazing thing, when you look at it of being 13-5 over the last 18 games, is those five losses have come by a combined total of 25 points. So what are we doing to take the next step as a football program? And we talk about learning how to finish games, learning how to close games out. We talked about clutch plays, making critical plays at critical moments of the game, and we showed everyone examples.
You look at all of the great players. Why are they great players? Because they make a play when it matters the most to lead their team to victory, so we really talked about that."
And the Vol's secret weapon? Quarterback Josh Dobbs is getting Heisman buzz even before his senior season begins. What does Josh think of the hype? Said the Vols' signal caller on Tuesday, "We have the highest expectations for ourselves. We hold ourselves to high standard when we perform on the field, when we practice, and when we work out. We look at the little details and the things you might not want to do and we do those things in order to become great. We hold the highest standards of ourselves to be great this upcoming season each and every time we step on the field. We are excited and we are pushing each other every day. There is always constant competition even with the littlest things so it is good to see that healthy competition across the team and guys are realizing that this is going to be an exciting year and we will be ready to compete once September first comes."
And the head coach on his quarterback? "I can't say enough about Joshua Dobbs. And I think, when you look at the definition of a student-athlete, it starts with Josh Dobbs. When you look at engineering, you look at his curriculum. You look at the time demands that's placed on him from an academic workload and then being the starting quarterback at the University of Tennessee, we always talk about the quarterback at the University of Tennessee, that's a global position, and he's done a great job. But you look at community service, you look at the giving of his time. And his game has continued to progress. I still remember, we were talking about it on the plane ride here, as a true freshman and his freshman year we played the University of Florida, and he didn't even make the travel squad. And I believe two games later he's a starting quarterback playing against Auburn. And, you know, the speed differential was monumental. You could see that. And I thought, you know, the way he competed, it really showed his competitive character and just his growth and his development over time, and, as we all know, you can't put a price tag on experience, that's invaluable. So, to have him leading our offense and being a captain and leading our football program is very comforting as a head coach."
This Tennessee football team will be deep and its players strong and fast. Jones has reeled in top-5 recruiting classes over the last two years, and while the team has only eleven seniors, it has playmakers on offense leadership on defense what with senior defensive back Cameron Sutton and senior linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin. In fact Maybin is well aware that the swagger is back, saying Tuesday, "The swagger never left. We might have lost a couple games and losing seasons but as long as I've been there I've never seen guys fold and shy away from anything and attack full speed during the season. We lost some games back-to-back but we always bounce back. That's what Tennessee is, the way we bounce back and keep pushing."
"But wait", you say, "The Vols have really stunk it up the last several years" and you would be spot on! The Vols' record over the last eight seasons:
The key numbers" "2015" and "9-4". Butch Jones has seen improvement each season since taking the reins in 2013, and he doesn't plan on resting on a 9-4 mark. Tennessee fans indeed have lofty expectations and the head coach welcomes them, saying Tuesday, "You want those expectations. I think it's a compliment to everyone in our program of how far we've come. It's not where you start, it's where you finish. But I think it is a compliment in how we've grown and developed this football program."
Is Tennessee football back? While doubters insist they will believe it when they see it, that sky-high feeling in Rocky Top has Vols fans dreaming of their team reaching the promised land. Will the Vols players make good on their promise? Stay tuned!