You have to look hard to find a Tennessee presence in the preseason football magazines this summer.
Strong safety Eric Berry is a consensus All-American. Linebacker Rico McCoy, center Josh McNeil, defensive tackle Dan Williams and wide receiver Gerald Jones have received mention as All-SEC candidates. But no publication has the Vols higher than third in the SEC East.
Phil Steele's College Football has been the kindest to the Vols, whom he included on his "most improved list" after a 5-7 season in 2008. Steele ranks McNeil as the No. 2 center in the country and puts UT freshman running back Bryce Brown on his All-SEC second-team offense.
McNeil should leave a copy of Steele's publication on his coaches' desks. A three-year starter, he was in a heated competition with Cody Sullins for a starting job this spring.
Claw-Fense: Does this sound like the Dave Clawson you remember?
Quoting from "Athlon" on Bowling Green's new coach: "Clawson has taken the returning offensive starters and quickly acclimated them to the offense."
Quickly acclimated? I thought an average student-athlete needed two years to become proficient in Clawson's offense. At least, that was the popular spin after only one year of his failed venture as Tennessee's offensive coordinator.
The Falcons return five starters, including quarterback Tyler Sheehan, from a 6-6 team.
Ex And O Vols: Former UT coach Phillip Fulmer is the only former Vols offensive coordinator from the late 1980s until now who isn't still coaching.
Walt Harris, an offensive coordinator under Johnny Majors, later became the coach at Pittsburgh and Stanford. He's the offensive coordinator at Akron.
David Cutcliffe, who had two tours of duty as UT's offensive coordinator, is the coach at Duke. Randy Sanders, another Fulmer offensive coordinator, is the quarterbacks coach at Kentucky.
Jonesin' or Jokin': I appreciate the value of promotion, but The Sporting News regional cover for Knoxville is a bit much.
Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones and UT wide receiver Gerald Jones are pictured on the cover with a headline that reads: "Jonesin': Alabama's Julio Jones and UT's Gerald Jones are beasts among SEC wideouts."
What's with the plural?
Julio caught 58 passes for 924 yards while starring as a true freshman on Alabama's SEC West championship team. Jones caught 30 passes for 323 yards as sophomore on a 5-7 team.
From Rocky To Top: Cal's Syd'Quan Thompson has come a long way since he was abused by UT's Robert Meachem in the 2006 season opener at Neyland Stadium. In fairness to Thompson, he was playing with a cast on one arm when he gave up two touchdown passes to Meachem as a freshman.
Two years later, Thompson is a consensus preseason All-American.
Neyland Novices: Western Kentucky's Brandon Smith and UCLA's Keith Prince don't want to talk to former Cal quarterback Nate Longshore, who had as bad a day as Thompson in Neyland Stadium three years ago.
Like Longshore, Smith and Prince both will probably start their first college road games against UT. Smith, a senior, is competing with a couple of redshirt freshmen for the Hilltoppers' starting quarterback job. Prince, a redshirt freshman, beat out returning UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft in the spring.
Western Kentucky will open its season against UT. UCLA will open at home against San Diego State before playing UT the following Saturday.
Wrong Direction: Remember all the rave reviews Wisconsin's Bret Bielema received after going 12-1 as a first-year coach in 2006? If so, forget them.
His second team went 9-4, his third was 7-6 and his fourth is picked to finish in the second half of the Big Ten.
Based on one-game impressions, UT fans probably aren't surprised. The Vols' 21-17 victory over Wisconsin in the 2008 Outback Bowl was attributed, in part, to Wisconsin's odd reluctance to use its power-running game against the middle of a vulnerable Vols defense.
Right Direction: Derek Dooley, the son of former Georgia coach Vince Dooley, is getting more attention as an up-and-coming head coach.
In his third season at Louisiana Tech, he has 16 starters returning from an 8-5 team. Dooley, who has NFL experience and has coached under Nick Saban, could further enhance his coaching status if the Bulldogs are competitive against Auburn, LSU and WAC favorite Boise State.
Heisman-Size Praise: Athlon asked Florida quarterback Tim Tebow who was the best player in the SEC (outside his own team). His answer: Berry.
"He's very physical and he's just a playmaker," Tebow said. "He does things that you can't teach."
Berry made a great first impression on Tebow, intercepting a pass and returning it for a touchdown in The Swamp two years ago as a freshman.
Dark Humor: Steele lists Georgia first-year starting quarterback Joe Cox among his darkhorse candidates for the Heisman. On his same darkhorse list is Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing.
Cox, a fifth-year senior, has completed 33 of 58 passes for 434 yards in his college career.
In three years at Kansas, Reesing has completed 618 of 964 passes for 7,578 yards. He also has more than twice as many touchdown passes (68) as Cox does completions.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or email@example.com.