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Around The SEC: Arkansas and Tennessee – Darkhorses or Favorites?

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When you review the contenders versus the pretenders in both SEC divisions, the east has a much smaller field to choose from. With Georgia as the preseason favorite, this then leaves Tennessee, Missouri and South Carolina as the outside possibilities with Florida definitely being the wildcard. Let’s examine Rocky Top first.

The Vols have been down so long, it looks like up to me, borrowing a line from yesteryear. Tennessee opens the season 9/5 in Nashville versus Bowling Green, the favorite to win the MAC eastern division. The game kicks off at 3 p.m. CST. This one should not be a problem, but the next one definitely will be when the Vols host Oklahoma at 5 p.m. on September 12th. The Sooners wore Tennessee out last year and with their stable of running backs, this year may not be much different.

The Vols have an experienced quarterback in Joshua Dobbs and talented runners in Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. There is a veteran-skilled defense with several newcomers, Kyle Phillips Nashville defensive end and freshman phenom Darrin Kirkland, Jr. at MLB turning heads. Coach Butch Jones has to be concerned about his offensive line and depth overall remains an issue.

Bleacher Report forecasts the Vols going 9-3 with losses to Oklahoma, Georgia and Alabama. This assumes, however, that they’ll defeat Florida on the road plus Missouri and Kentucky and edge Arkansas at home along with South Carolina. It all of this goes accordingly, the Vols will have second spot in the east all but locked up. I’m not as bold, thinking the Vols are more of an 8-4 or possibly 7-5 squad.

Turning west, the Hogs have a much more difficult task especially after FoxSports reported on a possible season-ending injury to star running back Jonathan Williams. (Williams led the rushing yardage against the Rebs last season with 81.) Going into fall practice their greatest need was to have the wideouts show the most improvement. One newcomer, 6-3 JUCO transfer Dominique Reed, could help immediately. Like Tennessee the Hogs have an experienced
quarter back in Brandon Allen. Allen has a tremendous tight end group to throw to including all SEC performer Hunter Henry.

Arkansas’ schedule is much more stressful than Tennessee’s with a trip to Knoxville set for October 3rd. Ironically, this game could spell the season success for both teams (or lack of.) The Hogs have road trips scheduled to Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU in addition to Tennessee and then must host Auburn and Missouri at home with an Arlington contest with A&M. Under the best of conditions, this would be a nightmarish agenda. Coach Bret Bielema may need smoke and mirrors to penetrate the top three in the west. As of right now I don’t see it and if any more key injuries occur, last place in the west will become a greater possibility than first.


Steve Vassallo

Steve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor. Steve writes on Ole Miss athletics, Oxford business, politics and other subjects. He is an Ole Miss grad and former radio announcer for the basketball team. Currently, Steve is a highly successful leader in the real estate business who lives in Oxford with his wife Rosie. You can contact Steve at sovassallo@gmail.com or call him at 985-852-7745.

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