SEC media days are behind us which means its acceptable to talk college football at nauseam once again.
I have to confess, I highly enjoy summer ball talk. Its dubbed the silly season for good reason. The storylines get ridiculous, fanbases go at each other on Twitter, and more than a handful of heated discussions take place after a few brewskis at the neighborhood pool. But all this preseason fervor is just a testament to the passion this game invokes in its fans. All I have to say is enjoy this time of speculation and optimism because for many fanbases the anticipation will far outweigh the results on the field.
As a Vol fan, I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. And you know who’s not helping? Whoever the eff is in charge of scheduling our games. There’s got to be some running joke where they see how hard they can make the middle of the schedule every year. I feel like its just tradition at this point for the Vols to go on a four to five game stretch that’s absolutely brutal. This year might top all previous. From September 22nd to October 27th, the road is Florida, @Georgia, @Auburn, Alabama, and @South Carolina. Not to mention the Vols open the year against Will ‘Steroid Arm’ Grier accompanied by one of the top wide receiver corps in the nation.
Here’s an evaluation of the toughest 5 game stretch in college football:
Bold prediction: Tennessee will not go 0-5. Were the Vols god awful last year? Yes. Did they bring in a bunch of top talent this year to turn things around? Not really. But, I believe Tennessee isn’t nearly as bad as the record showed last year. For one, the team gave up on Butch. They played uninspired all year long. Injecting a new coach that can motivate the team is good enough to add a win or two. Secondly, the Vols strength and conditioning program has been total shit. Half the team freaking died. A lot of players will be back on the field this year and should remain healthy due to the fact that Tennessee has built up enough karma to forgive the sins of every prisoner in Guantanamo Bay.
Jeremy Pruitt is starting to get some momentum on the recruiting trail. The eyes of the college football world will be on the Vols throughout this stretch and he simply can’t afford a blank. I think the Vols go 1-4 at worst and 2-3 at best. That should be enough to get the Vols to at least 6 or 7 wins which 6 needs to be worse case scenario.
Game 1: Florida, September 22nd
Analysis: If you don’t believe in curses, take some time to review the history of this series. It’ll make a believer out of anyone. The ways Tennessee has lost these games have been cruel and unusual and I’m at the point that I accept the fact that the football gods favor the Gators.
As far as this year’s squad goes, they will be much improved from last season. Keeping with Urban Meyer’s tradition of recruiting felons, last year half the team was suspended in a credit card fraud case. Those players included a lot of starters and a lot of ballers and most of them will be back on the field this year. 10 starters return on defense and 9 on offense, making the Gators the 4th most experienced team in the nation. Dan Mullen takes over at the helm and to say he is an improvement at head coach is an understatement to say the least. A renowned quarterback whisperer, I have no doubt he’ll have Felipe ‘Pool Boy’ Franks looking like John Elway by kickoff. Somehow Cece Jefferson is still in school to anchor their defensive line and Martez Ivey (the number one O-lineman in the nation) is returning for what has to be his 6th season.
Prediction: Tennessee has a hard enough time winning this game when they have the superior team, much less when they have an inferior squad. If Pruitt wins this game and breaks the hex, then he truly is the Chosen One. I’m expecting the Gators to do what they typically do and beat the Vols. Note this is preseason and by the time September rolls around I’ll have convinced myself that the Vols have a real shot ;).
Tennessee: 13, Florida: 21
Game 2: @Georgia, September 29th
Analysis: Is there a particular reason we like to play our two biggest division rivals in back to back weeks? So much for building drama. God bless the Tennessee fans brave enough to show up to this game. Dawg fans are notoriously nasty to visitors. If you thought they were bad before, I can’t imagine what they’re about to be like now that they’ve had a taste of success. Not to mention the last time the Vols were in Athens was the infamous Dobbs to Jennings Hail Mary. No doubt that video will be played on repeat on gameday. Those fans will be quite literally foaming at the mouth by kickoff.
Georgia brought in an incredible haul of talented recruits. But I still think the Dawgs have a drop off from last year. That senior group they had last season was special. They only bring back 5 starters from that vaunted defense and they lose their running back duo in Sony and Chubb. Its yet to be determined if they’ll be able to plug and play like Bama does year in and year out. Another point to consider is this is the first time Kirby will be playing with mostly his players. Its different when you’re dealing with the egos of all that top talent you bring in. Especially when you personally made them a lot of promises. I’m interested to see how Kirby handles it and unlike most, I still think the jury is out on him.
Prediction: At the end of the day, I think the talent gap will be too wide for Tennessee to overcome, but I expect this game to be closer than people think. This won’t be a repeat of last year were the Vols don’t even cross the 50 yard line. Roderigo the kicker returns for them and may be the x factor.
Tennessee: 20, Georgia: 30
Game 3: @Auburn, October 13th
Analysis: This Auburn team is expected to be good, as they’re expected to be almost every year. I think we’ll learn a whole lot about this team Week One when they face a very good Washington team in Atlanta. Most of the hype for the Tigers revolves around their star qb Jarrett Stidham who’s garnering some preseason Heisman chatter. This to me seems premature as he’s coming off a shoulder surgery on his non-throwing arm. I’m certain this no doubt was brought on by being sacked ELEVEN times against Clemson early last year. Stidham also broke an ankle in college. The dude is injury prone and once a guy has shown a propensity to get hurt, I have a tough time putting my faith in them.
Gus Malzahn’s teams seem to always revolve around a talented running back and they lose both Kerryon Johnson and Kam Pettway off last year’s team. Perhaps a new running back emerges but I don’t recall being too impressed with Kam Martin. Once again, I feel like under this offense the team shines best with a qb that’s really a glorified running back and a partner in the backfield that balls. Auburn does return 9 out of 10 of the D-lineman on their roster and that unit will be one of the nastiest in the country.
Prediction: Its no secret that the west has owned the east in cross divisional games of recent. Auburn has won 6 straight games when facing the Vols. However, the Vols are coming off a bye week and will be in desperate need of a win, while Auburn will be coming off a game against a sneaky good Mississippi State team. Can someone say trap game? Under Malzahn Auburn has shown the propensity to win games they shouldn’t and lose some they should. Tennessee’s defense does enough in this one and Brent Cimaglia drills like 9 field goals.
Tennessee: 27, Auburn: 24
Game 4: Alabama, October 20th
Analysis: Is this breakdown even necessary? Honestly I shouldn’t even bother. The NFL once again drafts half their team, they’ll bring back 3 starters on defense, and it doesn’t even matter. Their ability to re-load is downright depressing. Its simply not fair that Bama sits on Tennessee’s schedule every year and I’m about ready to throw in the towel on this rivalry. Its not fun anymore. Tennessee automatically starts the year 0-1 in SEC play. We need LSU and Auburn to step up their game and give Florida and Georgia hell because Lord knows Bama isn’t going anywhere until Saban retires at age 87.
Prediction: Tennessee gets pounded into dust for 60 minutes, Saban doesn’t crack a smile the entire time and he chews out at least two assistants on national television.
Tennessee 7, Alabama 49
Game 5: @South Carolina, October 27th
Analysis: Is South Carolina a rival now? When they beat the hell out of us in 2016 that crowd was downright rabid. This game matters to those people. Perhaps they just haven’t gotten over Butch Jones taking them down in his first year when they were in the top 15. Or maybe it was Dobbs taking over in 2014 in an overtime thriller. Whatever the case, South Carolina seems to have some vendetta against the Vols.
Looking at the roster, its apparent that Muschamp has recruited well. This is the best team he’s had in Columbia yet. Perhaps the best receiver in the conference returns in Debo Samuels and I like Bentley at quarterback. The kid has moxy and he’s certainly had Tennessee’s number as a starter. South Carolina gets Georgia at home in Week 2, and if they can find a way to win that game then they have a legitimate shot at winning the East. But I’ll believe it when I see it. If UGA, Florida, or Tennessee don’t when the East every year then something is wrong with those programs. We’ll see how Muschamp handles having real expectations on his team this season.
Prediction: Muschamp has owned the Vols as a head coach. He’s 6-0 against us. However, I’m hoping that’s more of a 6-0 against Butch Jones type thing. South Carolina will be coming off of a bye and the Vols will be coming off getting blasted by the Soviet Union, uh I mean Bama. It will say a lot about Pruitt on how he gets his team to respond after a soul crushing defeat. Tennessee will need to get a win here to have a decent season and I’m feeling optimistic that the Cocks won’t beat the Vols for a 3rd straight year.
Tennessee 31, South Carolina 21