Tide schedule preview: Tennessee

Editor's note: We’re taking steps to get you ready for every one of Alabama's regular-season opponents. Every Friday we'll go through each week of the schedule, starting with the season-opener against West Virginia and closing with the finale against Auburn.

The rundown

2013 overall record: 5-7

2013 SEC record: 2-6, sixth in the Eastern Division

Record all time against Alabama: 37-51-8

Last meeting: Lost 45-10 in 2013

Starters returning

Offense: 5; Defense: 15; Kicker/punter: 0

Top returners

LB A.J. Johnson, QB Justin Worley, WR Marquez North, S Brian Randolph, CB Justin Coleman, CB Cam Sutton

Key losses

OT Antonio Richardson, C James Stone, OT Ja’Wuan James, RB Rajion Neal, DE Jacques Smith, DT Daniel McCullers

2013 statistical leaders (*-returners)

Rushing: Neal (1,124 yards)

Passing: Worley* (1,239 yards, 10 TD, 8 INT)

Receiving: North* (496 yards)

Tackles: Johnson* (106)

Sacks: Corey Miller (6.5)

Interceptions: Randolph (4)

What they're saying:

“We’re still dealing with the realities of building a football program in an elite conference, but I thought our players were very focused. ... I thought our program benefited from 14 newcomers. I thought they brought a whole other level of energy and competition and that competitive culture that we speak about each and every day. I thought we took tremendous strides improving as a football team and as a football program,” said Tennessee coach Butch Jones, after spring practice

Three things to watch:

1. Youth is served: “Brick by brick” has been the theme of Jones’ tenure at Tennessee. If you follow him on Twitter, you’ll see the “#BrickbyBrick” hashtag often. And most of the time it’s having to do with recruiting. Jones inherited a mess in Knoxville two years ago. He’s spent the time since trying to rebuild through recruiting -- hence the brick symbology. He’s been successful, too, at least as far as recruiting rankings go. This year, Tennessee finished with the No. 5 class in the country, which was long on both talent (18 four-stars) and overall numbers (35 total commits). Of that group, 14 enrolled early with the expectation to compete for playing time as freshmen. All told, we could be looking at a Tennessee depth chart that will be majority first-year and second-year players.

2. Questions in the trenches: Losing Ja’Wuan James and Antonio Richardson hurts enough for Tennessee. Watching center Alex Bullard and guards James Stone and Zach Fulton move on as well is brutal. But if losing the entire starting offensive line from a year ago wasn’t depressing in itself, say sayonara to the defensive line as well. In fact, all four of its starters and a total of six members of the two-deep depth chart are all gone. Good luck with that. If the SEC is truly a line of scrimmage league, then the Vols are in huge trouble. There are some pieces to work with (Kyler Kerbyson and Dontavius Blair on offense, Corey Vereen and Owen Williams on defense) but there’s no getting around that lack of experience.

3. A QB battle: Justin Worley is the starter, if only by default. The former three-star prospect didn’t exactly impress last season when he threw 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Injuries kept him off the field the final four games, but the damage was already done. You have to wonder whether the staff sticks with the senior or looks to the future with someone younger like Nathan Peterman or Josh Dobbs. Whoever starts should have plenty of weapons to work with (Marlin Lane, Marquez North, Alton “Pig” Howard), but without an experienced offensive line to protect them, it could be a long season for Tennessee’s quarterbacks.