Part of the Doc's SEC Week.
Tennessee is one of those handful of places that always has the resources, always has the talent, always expects to compete for the conference championship, if not more. So the descent to 12-13 over the last two years, the first losing record over any multi-season span since 1977-78, has been sobering enough. But even Vol fans recognize they may only just now be approaching rock bottom.
If you were writing a script about a proud program on hard times, a straightforward description of UT's offseason would get you labeled as a sadist. The Vols came into 2010 knowing from the beginning that they'd be starting a new quarterback, breaking in a woefully inexperienced offensive line and replacing the top four tacklers on defense, including the program's brightest star since Peyton Manning, safety Eric Berry. They had no idea they'd be thrust into an abrupt coaching search less than three weeks before signing day, and forced to settle for their fourth or fifth choice, a guy with a losing career record, to fill the job on short notice. Or that the quarterback derby would be down to a JUCO transfer and a true freshman before the end of the spring. Or that their two most promising young offensive players would both flake out and quit the team within a few days of each other; one of them leaving the offensive line with zero returning starters.
That was before the epic fight earlier this month, the subsequent arrests and suspensions, and the ongoing investigation heading into the season, against a schedule that includes six teams in the consensus top 25 to start the year. The SEC media just picked Tennessee to finish fifth in the SEC East. Behind Kentucky.
The last times a major powerhouse had the deck stacked so overwhelmingly against it at the start of a season, Notre Dame collapsed to 3-9 with an untenably young, revamped lineup in 2007. That was followed by a 3-9 flop by Michigan in a nearly identical situation a year later. Both represented the worst seasons in those schools' long histories, a level of suck previously thought impossible for outfits of such pedigree. And neither was facing anything like the off-the-field issues following the Vols.
But Tennessee can't possibly be that bad. Can it? My unscientific poll of orange-blooded diehards' worst fears for the upcoming season says no. Probably not. But then again...
Joel Hollingsworth, editor of Vol blog par excellence, Rocky Top Talk.
Worse than 2005 or 2008? Maybe sorta, but not in the same way. In 2005 and 2008, we had expectations, and we're not burdened by any such foolishness in 2010. The record could be worse, though, although I'm thinking 6-6 to 7-5. Wins over UT-Martin, UAB, Memphis and Vanderbilt. Probably Kentucky, too, because we'll believe they can beat us when they finally do. Mississippi's a real possibility, too, so that's six. Possibly Georgia or South Carolina, if they fall apart like both tend to do at the end of seasons.
Worst-case scenario: Four wins, which would mean eight losses, which would be the worst record in school history if I'm not mistaken. [He is not – ed.] Problems? We're very low on numbers; probably less than 75 scholarship players. General wonkiness in the air. New quarterback, an offensive line with three career starts to its name, and all of those by one guy.
Vulnerable in the middle of the defense, especially with defensive tackle Marlon Walls suspended indefinitely. Fellow DT Montori Hughes (whose name's been coming up in the bar brawl reports, though he says he was the victim) also may not play. With the departure of one starting safety, Darren Myles, and the somewhat tenuous hold on good graces enjoyed by the other starting safety, Janzen Jackson, well, if things go really wrong, you might as well just lay asphalt down the middle of the defense. Combine that with an suspect offense, and we could have some very serious problems.
But the main thing here is that 2010 is different from 2005 and, to a lesser degree, 2008, when we didn't see it coming. We know we have trouble this time.
Holly Anderson, lifelong Vol fan, bon vivant and contributor to EDSBS, SBN and this here blog.
College football nightmare scenarios are fairly black-and-white. There's not much to say beyond "we lose a whole bunch of games." Unless Derek Dooley gets his athletic-director experience and pedigree tapped sometime in the next six weeks to replace Damon Evans at Georgia, we're motoring along the bottom of the lake bed as it is, much like the giant catfish we're so fond of fielding at quarterback.
Tennessee '10 is a team inhabiting a very narrow window of potential, with a floor of five wins (Tennessee-Martin, UAB, Memphis, Vanderbilt and Kentucky) and a ceiling of seven if we get lucky and an actual SEC team (or, hell, Oregon) takes a stumble.
Clay Travis, author of an entire book about the turbulent 2008 season and regular on Nashville radio and AOL FanHouse.
The Vols are going to be underdogs in six of the first eight games, but should be favored in the final four. If Dooley can win one of those six underdog games then close with the final-four sweep, he'd get to 7-5 and equalize Kiffin's first year.
That would be an extraordinary accomplishment.
But first he has to deal with a young team with limited confidence. Keep in mind that UT hasn't been 2-0 since 2006 and hasn't been 3-0 since 2004. Beating Oregon in the second game, probably UT's best chance to spring an upset, would be huge.
Otherwise he's got to keep morale up amidst beating after beating. Making a bowl game would be a great victory with this team.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.