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Tide schedule preview: Tennessee

7/9/2013

Editor's note: The season is nearly upon us and TideNation is taking steps to get you ready for every one of Alabama's regular season opponents. Every Tuesday and Thursday we'll go through each week of the Crimson Tide's schedule, starting with the season-opener against Virginia Tech and closing with the finale against Auburn.

The rundown

2012 overall record: 5-7

2012 SEC record: 1-7, sixth in the SEC East

Record all time against Alabama: 38-7-48

Last meeting: Alabama 44, Tennessee 13 in 2012

Starters returning

Offense: 5; Defense: 8; Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

OT Ja’Wuan James, LB A.J. Johnson, RB Marlin Lane, RB Rajion Neal, LB Curt Maggitt, S Brian Randolph, OT Antonio Richardson

Key losses

QB Tyler Bray, WR Justin Hunter, LB Herman Lathers, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, TE Mychal Rivera, DE Darrington Sentimore, OG Dallas Thomas, CB Prentiss Waggner

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Rajion Neal* (708 yards)

Passing: Tyler Bray (3,612 yards)

Receiving: Justin Hunter (1,083 yards)

Tackles: A.J. Johnson* (138)

Sacks: Darrington Sentimore (4)

Interceptions: Byron Moore* (5)

What they're saying:

"Not only are you trying to turn a program around and win right away, but you're also having to do it in the most competitive conference in the country. So it makes it that much more challenging, but that's why you have to stick to the plan and you can't deviate from your plan. You have to focus on the process each and every day. You can't waver, and you just have to put your head down and grind every day." -- Tennessee coach Butch Jones, to ESPN.com in early June.

Three things to watch:

1. New coach, new attitude?: Jones is saying and doing all the right things to start his campaign in Knoxville, but the same could be said for Derek Dooley when he took the job in 2010. Despite his hot start, Dooley went on to finish with a 15-21 record over three seasons. Jones is hoping for better luck. The former Cincinnati Bearcats coach is looking to bring some of the magic he fostered in the Big East to the SEC. It will take time, though, for Jones to undo the damage left in the wake of Phillip Fulmer's retirement and the Lane Kiffin fiasco that ensued. A strong start on the recruiting front will help Jones' cause, but the schedule doesn't offer any favors as the Vols travel to Oregon in Week 3 before jumping right into the heart of the SEC schedule a week later at Florida. By the time they get to Alabama in late October, Tennessee will have already played four potential top-25 teams.

2. Competition under center: We won't know whether the quarterback job will be filled by sophomore Justin Worley or freshman Nathan Peterman until fall camp, but we do have an idea about the kind of challenge faces whoever starts under center for the Vols. To put it mildly, Tennessee lost a boatload in the passing game. All told, 2,914 yards and 26 touchdowns are gone from a season ago. And while the loss of starting wideouts Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson stings, the absence of Mychal Rivera is especially painful. Without an experienced safety valve at tight end like Rivera, a young quarterback can flounder. The one thing going for whoever wins the job is that despite the loss of Dallas Thomas, Tennessee will have one of the best offensive lines in the league.

3. Turning the defense around: Returning eight players from last year's defense was a nice start, but for Tennessee to get back into the thick of the SEC East competition, a lot more must be done both up front and in the secondary. Losing Herman Lathers is a big blow to the linebacker group and Darrington Sentimore's departure creates problem for a lackluster defensive line. But the area most in need of help is the secondary, which finished next to last in the SEC in passing defense. You'll remember that Alabama carved up the secondary to the tune of 306 yards and four touchdowns during their last meeting. The Vols finished the season a paltry 86th nationally in passing efficiency defense, as opposing passers had a 138.7 rating.