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Friday, October 24, 2014

Know your foe: Week 13, Tennessee

The Volunteers are replacing their entire offensive and defensive lines.

2013 Record: 5-7 (2-6)

Series History: 2-0 (MIZZ)

Last Meeting: Missouri won 31-3 (2013)

Player to Watch: Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley

2014 Projection: 4-8 (2-6)

Tennessee holds a unique distinction among all Southeastern Conference schools: the Volunteers are the only squad to have not defeated the Missouri Tigers in conference play.

The Tigers own the all-time series record against the Vols (2-0), with the first meeting between the two coming in 2012, when Missouri narrowly escaped Knoxville with a 51-48 victory, but only after four overtime periods.

Unfortunately for Tennessee fans, this special designation for the Volunteers looks like it will hold at least one more season.

Tennessee fans would like to think that their team is oh-so-close to reaching the Rocky Top of the SEC, but the Vols are dangerously close to hitting rock bottom.

In 2013, the Volunteers capped off their third straight 5-7 season, narrowly missing out on bowl eligibility. However, the road to a winning season in 2014 will be much harder for Butch Jones’ group.

Tennessee coach Butch Jones landed a top-five recruiting class last year, but by mid-season, that recruiting accomplishment might start to feel like more of a moral victory. The Volunteers were one of the SEC’s worst in both scoring offense (23.8 points per game) and scoring defense (29.0 ppg), and Jones brings back only nine total starters from last year’s team.

Tennessee is replacing its entire offensive and defensive lines. To put that into perspective, that is 273 starts’ worth of experience in the trenches that the Volunteers will have to go without in 2014.

Tennessee has the third-toughest schedule in the country, with road trips to Oklahoma, Georgia, Ole Miss and South Carolina.

“We have to focus on the moment,” Jones said at SEC Media Days in July. “One play at a time, one day at a time, one purpose, one mindset.”

The Vols will have to find a way to fill holes at wide receiver, running back, linebacker and every major special teams position. Jones said at SEC Media Days in July that he was replacing his entire kicking game.

The team does get starting quarterback Justin Worley back, but he played poorly last year. Worley threw for 1,239 yards through 12 games, along with 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Jones has still not named a starting quarterback for this season.

Whoever the quarterback is, he likely will not get any substantial help downfield from his wideouts. Only two notable receivers return to Knoxville this August: sophomores Marquez North and Jason Croom. While still young, the two combined for a meager 765 yards as the team’s leading pass catchers in 2013.

Jones said at media days that it is only a matter of time until the Volunteer program is nationally prominent again. That time likely isn’t this season.

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