Returning offensive starters: Tennessee – 7, Florida – 6
QBs – Tyler Bray is young and talented while John Brantley is more experienced. Bray looks to build on his impressive freshmen season. He was 4-1 as a starter and averaged over 300 yards per game and 5-30 in the Spring Game against the best Defensive Backfield in the Nation. Imagine how fragile and poor John Brantley will fare against our ballhawking DBs.Brantley struggled heavily in Meyer’s spread offense in throwing 10 INTs and only 9 TDs, but should be a better fit in Florida’s new pro-style scheme under Charlie Weis.
Edge – Tennessee. While Brantley should be improved, I look for Tyler Bray to continue his impressive passing numbers from a year ago.
RBs – Tauren Poole returns after an impressive year rushing for over 1,000 yards and could be even better running behind an improved offensive line. Tennessee will need to find a complement to Poole and be more consistent running the football. Florida has 2 speedsters with home-run ability in Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey. However, they will need to prove they can run between the tackles in the new pro-style system.
Edge – Florida. This one is close, but Florida gets the nod because of the big-play ability of Demps and Rainey.
O-line: Make no mistake that the strength of Tennessee’s offense should be the offensive line. The unit struggled last year due to youth and lack of depth, but all of the youngsters are back with plenty of experience. Add in transfer Alex Bullard with a few impressive freshmen, and this could be one of the top lines in the league. Florida is almost the complete opposite. They lose 4 starters from last years line. Not only do they have to replace those veterans, but they are learning a new scheme as well.
Edge – Tennessee. The Vols should have a very solid line while the Gators may struggle with inexperience and the new scheme all year long.
WRs/TEs – Tennessee loses 3 veterans from a year ago. They have maybe the best WR duo in the league in Darick Rogers and Justin Hunter, but need to find an answer for the loss of Luke Stocker. Florida loses SR Carl Moore, but their biggest problem will be learning the new pro-style offense. Deonte Thompson led the receivers last year, but had a penchant for dropping lots of passes. Jordan Reed could be a weapon at TE, but may struggle with run blocking.
Edge – Tennessee. If Rogers and Hunter can develop good chemistry with Bray, look for the Vols to have a dangerous passing attack. The Gators have some playmakers, but will struggle learning the new offense.
Returning defensive starters: Tennessee – 7, Florida – 4
DL – Malik Jackson is one of the best interior linemen in the league and will lead this group for the Vols. JUCO newcomer Mo Couch should provide much-needed help but the Vols will still struggle with depth. Florida doesn’t return much production here, but Floyd, Easley, and Powell have loads of potential. If Jaye Howard can stay healthy, he could be a top DT.
Edge – Florida. The Vols will be improved here, but the Gators athleticism and depth give them the edge.
LBs – This is arguably the Vols’ biggest question mark. The incoming freshmen will have to contribute and they lose 2 productive SRs as well as lose Herman Lathers to injury. Jelani Jenkins will need to have a big year. Florida is young, but talented.
Edge – Florida. Both squads will need to find leadership, but the Gators are deeper and more talented.
DBs – The Vols return an experienced and talented squad here. Janzen Jackson has 1st round potential and Brent Brewer improved greatly as the year went on. If JUCO DB Byron Moore lives up to the hype, this group could be one of the best in the league. On the flipside, this will Florida’s biggest weakness on defense. They must replace do-it-all safety Ahmad Black and their best player in Janoris Jenkins, who could shut down half the field.
Edge – Tennessee. They return experience and talent and signed some big-time players. Florida will need to find serious answers for the losses of Jenkins and Black.
Coaches – Tennessee enters its 2nd year under coordinators Jim Chaney and Justin Wilcox, while the Gators install new systems on both sides of the ball. Derek Dooley’s staff should have better continuity in their 2nd year together and the Vols will benefit from the coaching stability. Charlie Weis is considered an offensive genius, but defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is unproven and the SEC is not the best place to cut your teeth as a coordinator.
Edge – Tennessee. I think Muschamp will be successful in the long-term, but Vol fans have seen first hand some of the difficulties that come with coaching staff turnovers. Things will be running more smoothly under Dooley in his 2nd year.
5-3 in favor of Tennessee.