KNOXVILLE — Tennessee's status as the Southeastern Conference's East Division favorite will be confirmed when the league's preseason poll is revealed Thursday, the final day of the annual SEC media days in Hoover, Ala.
The Volunteers can thank elite recruiting classes in 2014 and 2015 for assisting their ascent from the depths of the SEC to the brink of a legitimate run at a league championship.
Yet three seniors from the transitional 2013 class, which coach Butch Jones and his staff barely had two months to finalize after being hired, will represent Tennessee in Hoover on Tuesday.
Quarterback Josh Dobbs, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and cornerback Cameron Sutton are three of Tennessee's four captains, and the impacts they've had on the program go beyond any touchdown passes, tackles for loss or interceptions. All three have filled face-of-the-program roles excellently while contributing to the Vols' recent rise.
Dobbs is 14-5 as the starting quarterback since taking over midway through the 2014 season. Reeves-Maybin went from special teams ace as a freshman to a defensive star and led the Vols in tackles the past two seasons. Sutton has started every game of his career and carried himself like a professional every step of the way.
Reeves-Maybin and Sutton originally committed to Derek Dooley's staff, and Jones and Co. flipped Dobbs from a longtime commitment to Arizona State.
What about the rest of that 2013 class?
Here's a look back at it four years later.
Wide receiver Josh Smith enters his redshirt junior season as one of the veterans of the receiving corps, and if healthy he'll build handsomely on his career numbers (45 catches for 624 yards and four touchdowns).
Malik Foreman was the starting nickel cornerback last season and navigated struggles to finish strong. Given the praise he's drawn from new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop this offseason, Foreman should remain entrenched in the Vols' secondary.
After starting two games in his first two seasons, Dylan Wiesman, who flipped from Cincinnati to the Vols when Jones took the Tennessee job, started all 13 games at guard in 2015 and earned All-SEC second-team status. This past week he landed on the preseason watch list for the Outland Trophy, given annually to the nation's top interior lineman.
Corey Vereen was quiet his first two seasons, but in a mini-breakout last season he totaled 3.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss, surpassing the combined production from his first two seasons.
Tennessee scooped up South Carolina commitment Kendal Vickers, and he's gone from a 239-pound defensive end to a 295-pound defensive tackle and one of the strongest players on the team. Vickers started all 13 games last season. Though not highly productive, he was lauded for his toughness.
Wiesman, Vereen and Vickers will be key pieces in the trenches for the Vols this season. Brett Kendrick, a seven-game starter the past two seasons, could join that group if he's able to build off a strong spring practice and win a starting tackle job.
Eight players from the 2013 class transferred from Tennessee.
Defensive end Malik Brown (Bowling Green) and wide receiver Paul Harris (Louisville) left after the 2013 season.
Tight end A.J. Branisel (Florida International), wide receiver Ryan Jenkins (Arizona State, as a walk-on), defensive back Lemond Johnson (Richmond) and defensive end Jaylen Miller (Limestone) all left after spending two seasons at Tennessee.
Three junior college transfers completed their eligibility, with wide receiver Johnathon Johnson (33 catches for 422 yards in three seasons) making a far larger impact than cornerback Riyahd Jones or tight end Woody Quinn.
What could have been?
Marquez North, Jason Carr and Austin Sanders were three of the five four-star prospects in the 2013 class, according to Rivals.com.
Sanders starred at Bradley Central High School, but his Tennessee career has been marred by injuries. After redshirting in 2013, he played in five games as a reserve offensive lineman. He missed last season with a torn biceps.
For North, it just never clicked after the talented receiver had a promising freshman season, which included a memorable catch against South Carolina. Injuries marred his sophomore and junior seasons, and after catching six passes in seven games in 2015, North signed a free-agent deal with the Los Angeles Rams after going undrafted.
One of Jones's first recruiting victories was fending off Alabama to hold onto Carr, a big defensive tackle from Memphis. He appeared in just three games in 2013, however, and transferred the following May. Carr played the 2014 season at Northeast Mississippi Community College and made 37 tackles for Division II West Georgia last season.
Then there's quarterback Riley Ferguson.
If not for a leg injury midway through his freshman season, Ferguson might have become Tennessee's starting quarterback when Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman were injured. Instead it was Dobbs, and Ferguson, whose arm talent was never in question, left the following May — with the Vols' starting job still up for grabs.
Ferguson spent one season away from football and another in junior college before signing with Memphis in December.
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.