(video courtesy of the SEC Digital Network)
The SEC RapidReports blog is taking a look at what went wrong at the five SEC schools that didn't make a bowl -- Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee.
Tennessee (5-7, 1-7 SEC)
Expectations: The Vols were picked fifth in the SEC East in the preseason by the media. Some thought that was too low. With a veteran OL and an impressive cast of skills players such as QB Tyler Bray, WR Justin Hunter and WR Cordarrelle Patterson, the Vols were a popular pick to pull a few upsets in 2012.
What went wrong: While the offense lived up to its potential, the defense was an absolute disaster. It couldn't stop anybody. The Vols finished near the bottom of the SEC in almost every major defensive statistical category, including last-place finishes in total defense (471.3 yards/game) and scoring defense (35.7 points/game). Though speed and talent were somewhat lacking on that side of the ball, scheme played a major role as well. Coach Derek Dooley brought in Sal Sunseri, a former assistant at Alabama, to install a base 3-4 defense for the 2012 season. It didn't work. The Vols never fully grasped the system and didn't have the overall talent to overcome the flaws. Making that transition in such a critical year for him might be one regret for Dooley, who was dismissed after a humiliating 41-18 loss at Vanderbilt on Nov. 17.
When it went wrong: With the nation watching, the Vols held a 20-13 lead over Florida in the third quarter on Sept. 15. That's when the collapse began. The Gators scored 24 unanswered points and ran away with a 37-20 win in Knoxville. The Vols went on to drop four straight to Georgia, Mississippi State, Alabama and South Carolina. Those losses were somewhat understandable. It was a 51-48 loss to Missouri in four OTs and the loss at Vanderbilt that sealed the fate of Dooley and kept UT out of a bowl.
Biggest overall disappointment: Sunseri was lauded by many as a great hire who would be able to revamp UT's defense. Instead, many fans were ready to run him out of town by the middle of the season. Even though the Vols won 55-48, their defensive performance against Troy was statistically the worst in school history. They gave up a school-record 721 total yards to the Trojans. That was one of many defensive performances under Sunseri that Tennessee will want to erase from its memory.
Bright spots: The Vols moved the ball and scored all season. They finished second in the SEC in total offense (475.9 yards/game). They averaged 36.2 points per game as well. The OL was tremendous. It improved in run blocking from 2011 and only allowed eight sacks all season, good for first in the SEC. Bray had some huge games and Patterson was one of the most exciting players in the nation. He played WR, RB, KR and PR and amassed a school-record 1,858 all-purpose yards. LB A.J. Johnson led the SEC in tackles (138) and scored six rushing TDs as a wildcat QB. The season-opening, 35-21 win over North Carolina State in Atlanta turned out to be the high point of the season.
2013 outlook: Dooley is now out and new coach Butch Jones is in. Jones brings a 50-27 record as a head coach after stops at Central Michigan and Cincinnati. He'll be without Hunter, who has already announced that he is leaving early for the NFL Draft. Patterson and Bray could do the same, though they haven't formally announced anything. Losing those three would be a huge loss, but he'll have the most experienced OL in the league next year and will return most of the defense. Perhaps added experience in addition to a switch back to the more familiar 4-3 defense under new defensive coordinator John Jancek will lead to improvement there. The 2013 schedule is brutal. The Vols travel to Oregon, Florida and Alabama in addition to playing home games against Georgia and South Carolina. Getting UT back to a bowl game after a two-year hiatus from the postseason would be a respectable start for Jones.
For more up-to-the minute news and analysis from SEC bloggers Larry Hartstein and Daniel Lewis, follow @CBSSportsSEC.