Tennessee was shut out of last week’s NFL Draft for the first time in 52 years, which surely hurt some Vol pride, but bodes well for the future.
Coach Butch Jones returns 21 starters from last year’s team — 10 on offense, eight on defense and three specialists — from a team that went 4-1 in its final five games to finish 7-6 after a 45-28 victory over Iowa in the Taxslayer Bowl.
That figure comes from Tennessee’s spring football guide. Forecaster Phil Steele lists the Vols with 18 returning starters, tied for most in the SEC with Vanderbilt, according to ESPN.com.
Last season ended a streak of four consecutive losing records and three without a bowl invite, so the future looks hopeful in Knoxville.
Still, the Vols have averaged just 5.7 wins the past seven years with three bowl appearances.
They haven’t reached double figures in victories since going 10-4 in 2007, when they won the SEC East and beat Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl.
Here’s a year-by-year look at Vol misery.
- 2014 — 7-6
- 2013 — 5-7
- 2012 — 5-7
- 2011 — 5-7
- 2010 — 6-7
- 2009 — 7-6
- 2008 — 5-7
That drought seems to be ending under Jones.
Not only do QB Joshua Dobbs and RB Jalen Hurd return, the Vols also have four returning offensive linemen and WRs Pig Howard, Josh Malone and Marquez North.
The defense returns players on all levels, including LB Curt Maggitt and SS Brian Randolph.
“I’m very excited moving forward, both on offense and defense,” Dobbs told UTSports.com after the spring game. “We took a lot of steps forward this spring. We installed a lot of good things and are playing with a lot more tempo and control of the offense and defense. You can just see it. Everyone’s playing with a lot more confidence. The guys are definitely excited heading into the summer and heading into the season.”