We’re still a few months from SEC Media Days in July, but the strong feeling is Tennessee will be the prohibitive favorite to win the East Division when the media votes on the division winners. The Vols return 17 starters off a team that finished the 2015 season on a five-game winning streak, including a blowout of a 10-win Northwestern team in the Outback Bowl.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones was asked about the high expectations for the 2016 season on the SEC coaches’ spring teleconference Wednesday. Jones did say he understood the expectations being as high as they are, but cautioned that there is work to be done.
“This year’s football team has not done anything; they have not accomplished anything,” Jones said. “So, to me, that’s all noise. You have have to prove yourself every single day in the weight room, on the practice field and in conditioning.”
He said the summer conditioning program is especially vital this season.
“That’s really where you build your leadership and accountability to one another,” Jones said. “We must get much, much stronger as a football team. We must get more explosive as a football team. We’re still going to have to rely on some young players playing, so this is going to be a big summer for us.”
Tennessee has not won the division outright since 2004 and have not played in the SEC championship game since ’07, when the Vols tied for the division lead with Georgia. The Vols have not won the league championship game since 1998 — when they went on to win the national title by beating Florida State in the first BCS championship game.
One positive this season is that Alabama and Florida must travel to Neyland Stadium; the Vols lost to both last season by a combined six points. But there are road games against Texas A&M and Georgia. In addition, the Gators have won 11 in a row over the Vols, the Tide nine in a row.
(You can follow Dan Mathews on Twitter @DanMathewsATL)
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