9-4 nice, SEC East ti­tle pre­ferred

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - BOB HOLT

HOOVER, Ala. — It’s been 10 years and four head coaches — if you count in­terim Jim Chaney — since Ten­nessee won its last SEC East ti­tle.

The drought looked like it would end last sea­son when the Vol­un­teers started 5- 0 with vic­to­ries over divi­sion ri­vals Florida and Ge­or­gia.

Butch Jones was on his way to be­ing the first Ten­nessee coach to take his team to At­lanta since Phillip Ful­mer in 2007.

In­stead Ten­nessee faded to a 9-4 fin­ish, in­clud­ing losses to South Carolina and Van­der­bilt, as Florida won the divi­sion for the 12th time since 1992.

The Vols capped the sea­son with a 38-24 vic­tory over Ne­braska in the Mu­sic City Bowl.

It was the Vols’ third con­sec­u­tive bowl vic­tory — a first since Pey­ton Man­ning led them to three in a row from 1994-1996 — and al­lowed Ten­nessee to join Alabama and Florida as the only SEC teams to win at least nine games each of the past two sea­sons.

But de­spite the Vols’ im­prove­ment from a 16-21 record in Derek Doo­ley’s three sea­sons, in­clud­ing for­mer Arkansas of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Chaney one-game stint as the in­terim coach in 2012, Ten­nessee’s play­ers at SEC me­dia days found them­selves be­ing asked about Jones be­ing on the hot seat.

“When I got here, we were 5-7 and I was red­shirted,” fifth-year se­nior de­fen­sive tackle Ken­dal Vick­ers said of Doo­ley’s last sea­son. “Things were bad.”

Things at Ten­nessee def­i­nitely have been bet­ter un­der Jones, who has a 30-21 record.

“He’s changed this pro­gram so much,” Vick­ers said. “He’s done ev­ery­thing he’s pos­si­bly been able to do to change the cul­ture at Ten­nessee.

“So yeah, I think that is [ hot seat talk] a lit­tle bit dis­re­spect­ful, but we don’t worry about that in the locker room.”

Fifth-year se­nior guard Jashon Robert­son said the Vols don’t fo­cus on neg­a­tive talk about how the pro­gram hasn’t im­proved enough un­der Jones to win the East.

“We aren’t re­ally pay­ing much at­ten­tion to the out­side noise, but as far as Coach Jones goes, he re­ally ap­pre­ci­ates all of the things we’re do­ing day in and day out,” Robert­son said. “We feel the same way about him.”

Ten­nessee was picked to win the East last sea­son, but Jones said he doesn’t con­sider the Vols’ 4-4 SEC record a dis­ap­point­ment.

“This is a re­sults-ori­ented busi­ness and we fell short of our goals,” Jones said. “But I don’t like to use the term ‘dis­ap­point­ment,’ be­cause when you look at it, it’s hard to win in this con­fer­ence.

“We have to learn from the things that went wrong that we could have done bet­ter. But I’m still proud of the way our team re­sponded.”

Ten­nessee isn’t a pop­u­lar choice to win the East this sea­son af­ter los­ing quar­ter­back Joshua Dobbs, who had 35 ca­reer starts.

Dobbs’ 9,360 yards of to­tal of­fense rank third on the Vols all-time list be­hind Man­ning’s 11,020 and Casey Clausen’s 9,577.

“Josh did a great job for us,” Robert­son said. “He stood in there and took some shots and threw some strikes and made a lot of plays.

“But we have two great quar­ter­backs right now bat­tling it out, and re­gard­less of who it is, we’ll pro­tect him.”

Ju­nior Quin­ten Dor­mady, who com­pleted 11 of 17 passes for 148 yards last sea­son, and red­shirt fresh­man Jar­rett Guar­an­tano are com­pet­ing

to re­place Dobbs.

“I think the com­pe­ti­tion at that po­si­tion has re­ally el­e­vated the level of play of ev­ery­one else around them,” Jones said. “We will not name a start­ing quar­ter­back un­til the time is right. I can’t tell you when that is. That will be de­cided ob­vi­ously on the field when we start train­ing camp.”

Jones didn’t rule out the pos­si­bil­ity of play­ing two quar­ter­backs, at least early in the sea­son.

“I’ve been in sys­tems where we’ve been able to do that, and re­ally Quin­ten and Jar­rett’s skill sets are very sim­i­lar to each other,” Jones said.

Robert­son said it doesn’t make any dif­fer­ence to him as an of­fen­sive line­man who starts at quar­ter­back.

“My job isn’t to pick be­tween the guys,” Robert­son said. “My job is to block for them.”

Robert­son is among 14 returning starters on of­fense and de­fense for the Vols, who are ranked in some pre­sea­son Top 25 polls.

“There’s so much more out there to be ac­com­plished, and we’ve only started,” Jones said.

Jones said a key to build­ing a suc­cess­ful pro­gram is win­ning con­sis­tently.

“We want more and we ex­pect more,” he said. “I know our fans want more. That’s the great thing coach­ing at Ten­nessee are those ex­pec­ta­tions.”

Ten­nessee av­er­aged 100,968 fans per game at Ney­land Sta­dium last sea­son to rank sev­enth na­tion­ally in at­ten­dance.

“Of course fans are go­ing to be dis­ap­pointed some­times,” Robert­son said. “But just be­cause your mother is dis­ap­pointed in you, does that mean she doesn’t love you?

“It’s easy to point out the neg­a­tives as far as fans go, but let’s think about what they do. They fill a sta­dium that has over 100,000 seats. Week in and week out, they’re show­ing sup­port.”

AP/BUTCH DILL

Coach Butch Jones is 30-21 in his four sea­sons at Ten­nessee and led the Vol­un­teers to their third con­sec­u­tive bowl vic­tory last sea­son, but ques­tions about his job se­cu­rity were a topic of dis­cus­sion dur­ing the first day of SEC foot­ball me­dia days Mon­day in Hoover, Ala.

AP/BUTCH DILL

Ten­nessee of­fen­sive line­man Jashon Robert­son (right) said Mon­day at SEC foot­ball me­dia days it’s not his job to de­cide who the Vol­un­teers’ start­ing quar­ter­back will be when the sea­son opens. “My job is to block for them,” he said.

AP/BUTCH DILL

Ten­nessee de­fen­sive line­man Ken­dal Vick­ers told re­porters Mon­day at SEC foot­ball me­dia days he is a big be­liever in Vol­un­teers Coach Butch Jones and no sup­porter of those who think his job is in jeop­ardy. “So, yeah, I think that is a lit­tle dis­re­spect­ful,” Vicker said.

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