Projections for an upcoming sports season usually are based on the same criteria. You check a team's record, schedule, and returning starters.
You also might consider the possible impact of a supposedly can't-miss recruit.
What you don't consider is a former recruit who has spent the previous year or two seemingly running in place — playing perhaps, but not playing at a level that would suggest great success to come. Such players are deemed more likely to fall by the wayside than become a prominent player.
At least, I used to think that was more likely. Now, I'm not so sure.
In fact, based on what has happened with Tennessee basketball and baseball, I'm wondering if an All-SEC football Vol will come out of hiding this fall.
Take basketball first.
Jeronne Maymon spent his first season at UT making you wonder why former coach Bruce Pearl bothered to accept his transfer from Marquette. He accumulated almost as many fouls and turnovers (32) as he did points (37). His free-throw shooting was so bad (5-for-20), you might have questioned whether he was physically handicapped or at least in need of eye care.
But how do you like him now?
He leads the Vols and ranks fifth in the SEC in rebounding. He's also second on the team in scoring with a 12.3-point average and has made 56 percent of his field-goal attempts. He's the most improved player in the league on free-throw shooting alone (from 25 percent to 64.1).
His transformation has been so impressive, he almost qualifies as a new player. So does UT baseball player Drew Steckenrider. He played multiple roles for former coach Todd Raleigh, who was fired before he figured out whether Steckenrider should be a starting pitcher, reliever, outfielder, first baseman or designated hitter.
October practice was all new coach Dave Serrano needed to determine that Steckenrider should be his No. 1 starter and cleanup hitter. Last week, Steckenrider was named SEC player of the week after going 5-for-8 and pitching four shutout innings in his only start. Moreover, Serrano compares his talent with the best players he has coached — and he has coached a lot of them.
That's enough to convince me the Vols could have another Maymon on their hands.
Maybe the football team does, too.
I have two candidates — running back/wide receiver Rajion Neal and defensive end Jacques Smith. Each has been on the team for two years, and each has played enough to show potential and raise doubts.
Neal, a former Georgia all-state running back, rushed for 197 yards as a freshman and dropped off to 134 last season as a sophomore. Aside from his slight decline in production, he also has had ball-security issues — a combination that hardly qualifies him as the next big thing in the UT offense.
But his averages are more encouraging. He averaged 5 yards per carry for an offense whose 2.8-yard per-carry average would be acceptable only if it had been achieved in heavy sand or against Alabama in the national championship game. Also, he averaged 24.5 yards per catch on 13 receptions in his expanded role as a slot receiver.
He has good references, too. Teammates brag about his athleticism and speed, the latter of which he is demonstrating with the UT track team.
Smith might be the most puzzling player on the team. The former high school All-American was the No. 1 prospect in Tennessee when the Vols signed him out of Ooltewah.
He made the All-SEC freshman team in 2010. That progression pointed to a big year in 2011. Instead, he was a big disappointment.
But even during a lackluster season in which he played his way out of the starting lineup, no one denied his athletic potential. He now will have a chance to reestablish himself with a new defensive staff.
A new scheme might be more of a factor than a new staff. The 3-4 alignment which new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri will implement, should enable Smith to move from end — where, at 255 pounds, he's undersized — to outside linebacker.
Both Smith and Neal came to UT as highly touted recruits. Two years later, they're not so heralded.
But one or two seasons don't have to determine your college career. Maymon and Steckenrider prove that.