By Steve Williams
Tennessee football has received plenty of positive recognition on the national scene since the Vols capped off the 2014 season by blasting Iowa in the Tax Slayer Bowl.
When preseason chatter first started, Tennessee was even mentioned as a “darkhorse” to make the College Playoff field this year. That certainly got the attention of the UT fans.
More recently, the Vols were picked to finish second in the SEC Eastern Division at SEC Media Days and just the other day were tabbed No. 25 in the Coaches’ preseason Top 25 poll.
On the other hand, a few of UT’s top players have found themselves left out of the national spotlight as far as preseason honors and watchlists — enough to make them enter the 2015 campaign with a point to prove, if not a chip on their shoulder.
The snubbing started with sophomore defensive end Derek Barnett, who had a super freshmen season as one of the nation’s top pass rushers, not being honored as a first or second-team All-SEC preseason selection in Phil Steele’s popular national publication.
Steele admitted it was an oversight on his part.
Then highly regarded junior Cameron Sutton was left off the Watchlist for the Jim Thorpe Award, which goes to the nation’s top defensive back. Sutton didn’t fuss. He just said it would make him play harder for the team.
Jalen Hurd, who rushed for almost 900 yards as a freshman, inexplicably was left off the Doak Walker Watchlist of the nation’s top running backs.
Opposing defensive players can’t be too happy about Hurd’s snubbing as they’ll soon have to try to bring down the big back, who reported to preseason camp as a 6-3, 242-pounder.
Only one offensive player was named to the preseason All-SEC team at the conference’s Media Days. If it weren’t for quarterback Joshua Dobbs being named to the third team, the Vols would have been shut out.
Tennessee head coach Butch Jones even got somewhat of a backhanded compliment recently from Athlon when the national publication ranked him as the 25th best coach in the nation … but eight fellow SEC coaches are ranked ahead of him on the list.
Nick Saban of Alabama is No. 1 on the list. Auburn’s Gus Malzahn is No. 9, South arolina’s Steve Spurrier No. 11, Georgia’s Mark Richt No. 16, Missouri’s Gary Pinkel No. 17, Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen No. 19, Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze No. 20 and LSU’s Les Miles No. 24.
It’s no wonder Butch always seems to have on his game face.