Phil Steele is not buying Tennessee as a darkhorse contender in 2015, at least according to his annual preseason rankings.
Tennessee’s roster was among them — six All-SEC selections — but didn’t have one player named to the first team. Curt Maggitt was the only Tennessee player to receive an All-American nod (third team).
Joshua Dobbs was the biggest snub for the Vols. Many project Dobbs to be one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks in 2015. However, Maty Mauk took final slot at QB in a questionable decision by Steele.
Dobbs willed Tennessee to its first bowl appearance since 2010. He went 4-1 as a starter and provided an ailing offense with a dual-threat option behind a depleted offensive line.
Mauk was inconsistent at best, despite playing for the SEC East division champions. He entered with high expectations but was disappointing in several starts.
Many believe Dobbs will be better than Mauk in 2015. Steele’s selection of the Missouri QB is puzzling, though his picks of Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott, Texas A&M’s Kyle Allen and Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson are valid.
Jalen Hurd and Marquez North were both named to the third team offense. Personally, I’d put Hurd second team behind only Nick Chubb and Leonard Fournette, but its still a fair assesment.
For North, its somewhat of a surprise to see him ranked. His ceiling is on par with any SEC wide receiver, but after failing to live up to expectations in 2014, a third-team nod is solid.
Tennessee also had four defensive players selected to All-SEC team.
Derek Barnett, who ranked top-5 in sacks and tackles for loss, was named to the All-SEC third team, which means he ranked behind four other defensive ends. There’s no way Derek Barnett is the fifth best defensive end in the SEC.
It’s not even about being a freshman considering Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett was selected to the first team. Garrett set the freshman sack SEC record — 11.5 sacks, 1.5 more than Barnett — but padded his stats in non-conference games. Barnett recorded all of his sacks in SEC games against tough competition.
LaDarrell McNeil and Cameron Sutton were also named to the third team defense. Jalen Reeves-Maybin was named to the fourth team.
Reeves-Maybin led the Vols with 101 tackles, the fourth highest among returning SEC players. With multiple linebacker spots, his fourth team ranking places him behind 12 other players.
Reeves-Maybin will also see an expanded role with the departure of A.J. Johnson. He recorded 25 tackles while Johnson served a three-game suspension to end his senior season and should continue his production as the team’s most experienced linebacker outside of DE/LB hybrid Curt Maggitt.
Steele may be considered an expert, but he’s capable of making mistakes. The Vols should exceed his expectations in 2015 and be well represented on the All-SEC lists at season’s end.