By Alex Norman

Football season might not officially begin for the Tennessee Volunteers until September 5th, but last week’s appearance at SEC Media Days certainly marks the unofficial start to the 2015 campaign.

Over 1000 credentialed media members were on hand for the annual gabfest with players and the head coach for all 14 SEC football teams in Hoover, Alabama.  Representing the Vols were head coach Butch Jones, junior quarterback Joshua Dobbs, junior defensive back Cam Sutton and senior linebacker/defensive lineman Curt Maggitt.

Thanks in part to a strong finish to the 2014 season, and the Vols first bowl game victory in 7 years, Tennessee is a hip pick to not only contend, but to win the SEC East for the first time since 2007.

Yes, times have certainly changed with regards to the way Tennessee football is perceived.

“That’s what we want at the University of Tennessee. We want the expectations high,” said Jones. “That’s why players choose to come to the University of Tennessee.  We still have a lot of unproven areas in our football program starting up front at the defensive line position but our players have worked exceptionally hard.  And this is what it is all about. You want to be part of a program that is relevant and has the magnitude of Tennessee.”

When you look across the SEC landscape you see that Tennessee is one place in the conference that doesn’t have a question mark at the quarterback position.  Joshua Dobbs is the guy, and the Vols will go as far as his arm and legs will take them.

“My goal is to be the best motivator I can be for this team,” said Dobbs.  “I know I do that. If I push the players and hold them accountable and hold them to a high standard then I’ll get the most out of them. If I put in the extra hours, it motivates them to do the same. So if we do that and take advantage of all our opportunities this year, we will be successful.”

“Dobbs did a great job off and on the field,” said Maggitt.  “He has matured a lot, and is being a lot more vocal. I told him, ‘I got his back, no matter what’s going on, I got his back.’”

“A CEO quarterback is a quarterback that owns the team.  He owns the offense, he can problem solve on his own,” said Jones. “He can get you in the right place.  He takes care of the football and he’s the leader of your football program, and Josh has been able to do that.”

The off season has not been ideal for the Vols, with players like Von Pearson being suspended after accusations of sexual assault.  Dobbs realizes that things are much different for a football player today than in the past.

“When you are a college football athlete, obviously everyone at the school you go to and across the country knows who you are,” said Dobbs. “And especially nowadays with social media, anything you do can be screen shot, and sent out on Twitter and Instagram and thousands of people can see. So you have to be smart you have to constantly live your life as if there is a camera on you and if you do that you will make the right decisions moving forward.”

The closest that SEC Media Days came to controversy was a slight jab by (who else) South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier, who suggested that Tennessee and Arkansas were still doing cartwheels after finishing with the same 7-6 record the Gamecocks had.

Jones addressed it at his first opportunity.

“I want to make one thing clear… contrary to reports there were no backflips and there were no summersaults,” said Jones. “But in the world of college football, you are judged by wins and losses, but also you are judged (on) does your team overachieve or underachieve.  And I thought last year’s team, Team 188, overachieved.  And being the youngest college football team in all of college football, not having any returning offensive linemen and defensive linemen, I’m really, really proud of our players.”