Feldman, Athlon put Vols in Top 10

Preseason college football publications are about to hit the shelves, and early indications are that Tennessee will have a prominent spot in the projected Top 25s of those publications.

Athlon released its Top 25 yesterday, putting the Vols at No. 7 overall. 

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports has the Vols at No. 8. His explanation follows.

The Vols enter 2016 with a lot of momentum. They won seven of their last eight including a 45-6 thrashing of Northwestern in the Outback Bowl, and that one defeat was a close one in Tuscaloosa. I know there’s still a lot of skepticism of this program. Here’s why I’m buying a top-10 year and an SEC East title.

— Josh Dobbs is an experienced, good quarterback who can beat teams with his feet;

— They have an excellent 1-2 running back punch in Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara to go with an improving O-line and some big, athletic receivers;

— On defense, they have talent at all three levels with sophomore middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland, a budding star and leaders in defensive end Derek Barnett, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and cornerback Cam Sutton;

— Better still, new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop is as good as there is, and he knows the SEC pretty well from his time at Vandy.

The non-conference slate is interesting: Tennessee gets an underrated Appalachian State team in the opener and then Virginia Tech at Bristol. I think the Vols will handle those, but we’ll find out much more about them in a four-week stretch: against Florida, at Georgia, at Texas A&M and then against Alabama. I think they split those four. If they win three out of the four, they’ll still be in the national title race. To me, this is a very good team, that could have a great year if Dobbs can take the next step as a passer and if the D-line blossoms around Barnett.