Fans pick Vols as SEC's surprise team

It's been a forgettable last few seasons for Tennessee.

The Vols have suffered through losing seasons in three of the past four years, including two straight.

But their luck is about to change, according to the fans.

With more than 11,000 votes cast in our SportsNation poll, Tennessee has emerged as the team fans expect to surprise in 2012 and challenge for a divisional title.

It was a close race between Tennessee and Florida, both of whom are hoping to overtake favorites Georgia and South Carolina in the Eastern Division race. The Vols received 32 percent of the vote and the Gators 28 percent of the vote. They square off on Sept. 15 in Knoxville. Florida has won seven in a row in the series. Tennessee's last win came in 2004 when Ron Zook was coaching the Gators and Phillip Fulmer was coaching the Vols.

Last season, Tennessee and Florida combined to go 1-12 against teams that finished the season with a winning record. So, obviously, it's a big season for both clubs.

Auburn, coming off an 8-5 season, checked in at No. 3 in our poll with 15 percent of the vote. Vanderbilt was fourth with 13 percent of the vote, and Mississippi State was fifth with 11 percent of the vote.

The Commodores finished 6-7 last season, but went to a bowl game in James Franklin's first year on the job. The Bulldogs finished 7-6, their second straight winning season under Dan Mullen.

It's no secret that Tennessee's Derek Dooley could use a big season. He walked into a mess after Lane Kiffin bolted for USC in January 2010, and it's been a struggle every step of the way.

But the Vols have more experience and more depth for the 2012 season, not to mention a more favorable schedule.

There were a lot of people who felt when Dooley arrived that Season No. 3 would be the first in which you could fairly evaluate him. Well, that third season is here, and the fans expect the Vols to make their move in 2012.