You’d think an 11-2 season and top 10 finish after starting the year unranked would have voters think twice before doubting Tennessee Football under Josh Heupel. However, the number of All-SEC selections from Rocky Top by media members tells a different story.
It looks like the Vols will have to be overachievers once again. UT was in the bottom four of the league in terms of All-SEC representation. The Vols had four members, technically tied for seventh with the Arkansas Razorbacks, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Missouri Tigers and Kentucky Wildcats.
However, when you factor in first team, second team and third team, Tennessee Football scored lower than anybody else with four members, as three of theirs were third team. One was Joe Milton III, and he was tied with MSU quarterback Will Rogers, so he was basically half a third teamer.
Milton was joined by Cooper Mays, Javontez Spraggins and Bru McCoy. Only McCoy made anything beyond third team. He made second team. Half the league had first-team All-SEC members, and the other half didn’t. Rocky Top was in the other half.
The Georgia Bulldogs and Alabama Crimson Tide led the way with 16 each. Georgia had a conference-leading 11 first teamers, including six on defense alone. There’s a reason they were picked once again to win the SEC Championship.
Taking this into account, while the Vols are picked second in the East, it’s a distant second. The Florida Gators, Ole Miss Rebels and Vanderbilt Commodores were the only teams with worse All-SEC representation. Vandy didn’t have anybody.
Now, to be fair, South Carolina was skewed with special teams players, but General Neyland’s game maxims will tell you that’s still an important part of the game. Vol fans are the last people who can use that against them.
As a result, it looks like the Vols will have to earn their All-SEC recognition this year once again. Hey, Jalin Hyatt came out of nowhere to do just that last year. However, what does this say about expectations for Heupel’s third team?
Well, despite their high ranking in the East alone, the Vols seem to be in the same tier as South Carolina, Florida, the Missouri Tigers and Kentucky Wildcats, all of whom are jockeying for that one spot behind the Georgia Bulldogs. Simply put, they could finish second or sixth.
So what about the Vols who were left out? Sure, you could question their defense as a whole, but having no defensive All-SEC players is weird, especially with somebody like Omari Thomas on the team.
Newcomers could also have represented UT. BYU Cougars transfer linebacker Keenan Pili and Oregon Ducks transfer receiver Dont’e Thornton are both expected to make big impacts this year.
If Thornton doesn’t make an impact, it will be because he couldn’t beat out Squirrel White in the slot. In that case, White should’ve been All-SEC, as he’s one of the biggest rising stars in the league. Dylan Sampson could’ve been another one. Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright both have potential like Sampson.
What about Jacob Warren, a staple at tight end, or Gerald Mincey, who is tasked with replacing Darnell Wright at right tackle? Jaylen McCollough, despite the off-field questions, is one of the most experienced players in the league and should be a force at safety.
Simply put, Tennessee Football has a lot of All-SEC caliber potential. However, once again, the Vols will have to prove it on the field, as they aren’t getting any preseason respect in that regard.