THREE THINGS WE KNOW
1. The old defense is back
This is probably one of the brightest rays of hope for a fan base that watched one of the most prolific offenses in school history saddled with one of the worst defenses the program has ever produced. The Volunteers' 2012 yardage allowed jumped 38 percent from the year before -- and it wasn't like 2011's defense was anything special. One of the first questions likely asked of Butch Jones and every other candidate who interviewed for the Tennessee job -- and there were apparently many -- was likely which defensive alignment they preferred. Fans have gotten what they wished for, now we find out what the results will be.
2. The offensive line is set
One of the overlooked things about last year's offense is just how well the offensive line protected Tyler Bray. Despite attempting more passes (477) than any team in the SEC outside of Texas A&M, the Volunteers ranked first in the conference in the number of sacks allowed per game, and fifth nationwide. The Vols' quarterbacks were sacked 1.7 percent of the time. Four of the starters from that unit are back in 2013, also assuring good protection for the man lining up under center -- whomever that may be.
3. November is the critical month -- once again
Last year, the Volunteers went into the last month of the season needing three wins against the following four teams -- Troy, Missouri, Vanderbilt and Kentucky -- to make a bowl game. Only the Vanderbilt game was on the road. But Tennessee dropped a quadruple-overtime game at home to the Tigers and ended the year 5-7 and sitting at home for the holidays. This year could line up pretty much the same way, with three wins needed among these four games: at Missouri, Auburn, Vanderbilt and at Kentucky. That's a little bit taller order than the Vols faced last year, but it's the same basic tune.
THREE THINGS WE DON'T KNOW
1. Whether there's a transition cost to the defense
I'm not aware of another situation in recent memory where a team has gone from the 4-3 to the 3-4 on defense one year and then back to the 4-3 the next year. (I'm sure it's happened somewhere, but I'm simply not familiar with the situation.) Part of that is because coaches know that the transition to the 3-4 is something that usually takes a couple of seasons to get right, so most head coaches are smart enough not to try to institute it when they're facing the firing squad. Oh, hello, Derek Dooley. The question is whether running the 4-3 is like riding a bicycle, or whether there might be some hiccups as the defenders go back from what they were taught for the last year. Of course, given how well they appeared to grasp the 3-4 last year ...
2. Who's going to be the quarterback this fall
Justin Worley being the only other scholarship quarterback that has thrown a pass for the Volunteers, there was always likely to be a position battle here in the spring and over the summer -- and that's exactly what we have. Worley has the edge on experience alone, having started three games in 2011 while Bray was out, but that might be enough to win the starting job if it wasn't enough to lock the position down before the summer. At the very least, Jones appears to be willing to let this play out for a while before deciding which player he'll give the reins to in the first game.
3. Where the receiving yards are going to come from
The name of the quarterback, of course, won't matter much unless he has someone to throw the ball to. And that could be the bigger adventure this year, given the number of receiving weapons that departed Knoxville along with Bray after the 2012 season. One of the new wideouts is going to have to emerge as a go-to guy if Tennessee is going to have any kind of success through the air this year. And having success through the air might just decide if the Vols are going to make headway on offense in 2013.