I think Dooley is going to be OK. Assuming Justin Hunter continues to progress with his recovery (and he is apparently off to a great start so far) and that Cordarelle Patterson is even close to the player advertised, then the offense will keep them in every game next year, as it very well could be one of the nation's better ones. The four non conferences and UK and Vandy 99% guarantee a 6 win base to build off of.... Yes, I saw last year's UK game.....So Dooley needs two of the remaining six and the heat is largely off.
And yes, defense will be quite important to getting 8 wins; however, Tennessee had a fairly decent defense given the age of some of the players last year, and considering where the offense often left them after Bray got hurt. They continue to rapidly upgrade talent with players like Sentimore. Bray is healthy at present.
Dooley and Sunseri have said many times that they are not going all out 3-4. So 4-3 always will be an option (UGA went all out two years ago I believe). Assuming that every defense is in the nickle or dime 25 percent of the time,and assuming they will still play some 4-3 (which they have good players for, and already know), you are really looking at about half of UT's snaps coming in the 3-4.
UF, Bama, MSU and UGA, even USCe all project to be fairly vanilla offenses for 2012....an awful lot of offensive explosiveness left each one of those schools this year with Rainey, Demps, Dubose, Richardson, Jeffrey, Orson Charles, etc... So, Tennessee will at least have mostly I-formation, pound it at you offenses to defend when in the 3-4 in 2012 (not a lot of wildcat, spread, etc)... Probably some very good offenses, it's still the SEC, but nothing Muschamp, Saban, Richt or anyone else seem to be saying indicates anything other than basic, right at you offensive football for their teams next year.
Tennessee may very well still have a talent or coaching (or both) issue next year when it steps on the field against the upper half of the SEC, but they are gonna beat NCST and Ga Southern to start the year. They will have UF at home in the third game and UF probably ain't gonna be all that dynamic on offense at that point. The Vols are certainly experts at finding ways to blow that Florida game, but I don't think that one will be lost due to an inability to grasp what UF is doing offensively out of the 3-4-or a match-up problem when UF has the ball. (keep in mind that Grantham was playing Cam Newton, Mark Ingram, AJ Green, and Marcus Lattimore that first year and UGA wasn't going to stop them in the 4-3, 5-2, or 10-1...it wasn't all scheme).
I like where the Vols are. They will not be an LSU or Bama next year, by any means, but the indications are that the run game will be improved. If Bray, Hunter, Rogers and Clear all stay healthy, the offense will put points on the board even in the SEC games.
There is reason for optimism that the Vols can put two or three 30-24 victories on the board in their six "real" games, as I think the defense can hold together well enough in the transition year to occasionally force a few punts and turnovers each outing. The Vols will likely start 9 out of 11 players on offense who will get drafted when they leave the school, so they will have a shot...if they can make some plays when it counts, they will probably beat some good teams this year.
That doesn't leave Dooley in too bad of a spot.