Tennessee Stat Book
The All-SEC teams, announced the last two days, were hardly illuminating from a Tennessee perspective.
A 6-6 team that lost more games than it won in the conference doesn't expect to have much of a presence when post-season honors are passed around.
Three Vols - cornerback Prentiss Waggner, defensive tackle Malik Jackson and safety Janzen Jackson - made one of the two All-SEC teams, which were announced Monday and Tuesday. You would be hard-pressed to make an argument for further representation.
But an All-SEC team devoid of Vols still warrants a double-take when you consider the school's history. The program had a 48-year streak of placing at least one player on one all-conference first team.
And worse teams than this one had outstanding players.
UT safety Eric Berry made first-team All-American two years ago when the Vols were 5-7. UT Linebacker Keith DeLong made first-team All-American in 1988 when the Vols had to win their last five games to finish 5-6.
But in a league as talented as this one, don't dismiss second-team honors. UT's trio is in good company.
The SEC is so stocked with stars that The Associated Press' second team includes a Heisman Trophy winner (Alabama running back Mark Ingram), the MVP of the last national championship game (Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus), and a couple of possible top-five NFL draft picks (Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett and Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green).
Something else noticeable about that foursome: They're all juniors.
The All-SEC first-team, as selected by the AP, also is distinguished by underclassmen. If you exclude the placekicker and punter, the team includes only nine seniors.
For a program like UT's, which is playing catch-up in the nation's best conference, the preponderance of outstanding junior players would be discouraging if not for the possibility of an early exit to the NFL. Now, it's actually a plus for a program trying to gain ground on the powers that be.
The best juniors in this conference probably won't become seniors.
ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper lists six SEC players in the top 10 for next spring's NFL draft.
Five of the six are juniors.
Another 2011 mock draft has four SEC juniors - Dareus, Green, LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson and Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley - ranked in the top five.
Imagine the NFL team you could build using this season's best SEC players as a nucleus: quarterbacks Mallett and Auburn's Cam Newton, wide receivers Green and Alabama's Julio Jones, cornerbacks Peterson and Janoris Jenkins of Florida, and defensive linemen Dareus, Fairley and Drake Nevis of LSU.
Nevis is the only senior in the bunch.
The best thing about UT's best players: They're coming back. Waggner and the two Jacksons can form a nucleus for a defense lacking in depth and in obvious need of improvement.
When you consider that the Vols rank 10th in the SEC in defense, those individual honors are even more impressive.
Moreover, Janzen Jackson was the only one who entered the season with any recognition to speak of.
You have to wonder how many coaches or AP voters even know who Waggner and Malik Jackson are.
Waggner went from a backup to a starting safety to a starting cornerback. Malik Jackson, who transferred from Southern California, had a comparable uphill climb - switching from defensive end to tackle.
In a year of transition, they made second-team All-SEC. And they did it on merit, not name recognition.