Our "One good reason" series focuses on the Tennessee Volunteers today.
What's in store for the Vols in 2012?:
Tennessee will break through in Derek Dooley's third season and win at least eight regular-season games: The Vols have more depth, more experience, better team unity and an easier schedule.
This is the season most reasonable Tennessee fans pointed to as Dooley's first real opportunity to show what he could do with this program. He's recruited well, upgraded the talent level and also developed some depth. The Vols' players are also saying all of the right things about being a more united bunch and determined to make some noise in the East race after suffering through back-to-back losing seasons. The offense, especially if it can find some semblance of a running game, should be one of the more explosive ones in the league with quarterback Tyler Bray throwing to the threesome of Justin Hunter, Da'Rick Rogers and heralded junior college newcomer Cordarrelle Patterson. Even if the defense has a few lapses this season, the offense should be good enough that the Vols will get away with winning some shootouts. Dooley has emphasized that he likes this team's focus and its maturity. There was a clear disconnect between Dooley and some of his players toward the end of last season, but both parties insist everybody's on the same page heading into the 2012 season.
The other thing to keep in mind is that the Vols traded Arkansas and LSU last season for Mississippi State and Missouri this season on their schedule. That's not a bad swap. Plus, Tennessee gets Florida at home. The opener against North Carolina State in Atlanta is perhaps the most important game Dooley has faced to date as Tennessee's head coach. If the Vols win that one, they could still lose to Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina -- the four nationally ranked preseason teams on their schedule -- and still get to eight wins in the regular season. And if they win can win one of those, they have a chance to get to nine wins.
Why it won't: Leadership issues flare up, and the Vols go in the tank after losing a couple of key games early.
It's impossible to downplay how important the first few weeks of the season are for this team. Dooley has said over and over that you're judged on your entire body of work, and in theory, he's right. The only problem is that the Vols' body of work could be doomed before the calendar even flips to October if they lose to North Carolina State out of the gate and then Florida two weeks later. A 1-2 start (Georgia State is the second game) would be disastrous for Tennessee, particularly given the way Dooley lost his team at the end of last season and all the turnover on the coaching staff during the offseason. And until we see some really strong leadership across the board on this team, it's fair to question where that leadership will come from. Senior linebacker Herman Lathers is certainly capable and the kind of guy any coach would want on his team, but he's going to need help. There were signs that Bray was headed in the right direction in terms of leadership, although the whole beer bottle-throwing episode a few weeks ago would seem to suggest otherwise. Either way, this is a team that could really take off coming out of September ... or really flop.