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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 28: Tennessee

It’s time for Tennessee to think positively. Yes, Derek Dooley promised a thorough examination of his coaching staff after last season, especially when the offseason began with a loss to Kentucky fresh in mind – though few thought that Dooley would be forced to undergo such a coaching overhaul. The pessimistic take is that the seven assistant coaches who left U.T. were jumping ship before it ran aground, joining Washington or Nebraska in a quest for better job security. The optimistic take is that the program needed fresh blood and a new voice. The talent is there; perhaps the Volunteers simply need a push in the right direction. Optimistically, the Volunteers may be in a better place, staffing-wise, than they were at the end of the 2011 season. But beware: Dooley won’t get a free pass in 2012 based on the staffing moves. The standards remain the same, with anything less than a seven-win regular season grounds for another major coaching shakeup — beginning with Dooley and continuing with his entire staff.

Conference
SEC, East

Location
Knoxville, Tenn.

Nickname
Volunteers

Returning starters
17 (10 offense, 7 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 49

2011 record
(5-7, 1-7)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 81

2012 schedule

  • Aug. 31
    vs. N.C. State (in Atlanta)
  • Sept. 8
    Georgia St.
  • Sept. 15
    Florida
  • Sept. 22
    Akron
  • Sept. 29
    at Georgia
  • Oct. 13
    at Mississippi St.
  • Oct. 20
    Alabama
  • Oct. 27
    at South Carolina
  • Nov. 3
    Troy
  • Nov. 10
    Missouri
  • Nov. 17
    at Vanderbilt
  • Nov. 24
    Kentucky

Last year’s prediction

The light’s still not on, in my mind. I still think Tennessee has a tough road ahead before being mentioned in the same sentence with the SEC’s best. But is this team better? There’s not even a question. Is this program better today than it was on Jan. 12, 2010? No doubt about it. In short, U.T. is going to add one win to last year’s regular season total. Is that enough to satisfy the fan base? I hope so, as 8-4 seems like a bit of a long shot with this schedule. There are seven seniors on this roster, folks. Roughly 70 percent of the roster are freshmen and sophomores. This is not a team built for success in 2011, but one built for success in 2012 and 2013.

2011 recap

In a nutshell The year slowed started tumbling downhill in October, steadily accumulating speed and momentum until, by year’s end, Tennessee stood in a wholly unfamiliar spot: last in the SEC East – dead last, behind Vanderbilt and behind Kentucky. The Volunteers also lost to the latter, believe it or not, for the first time since 1984; they might have beat Vanderbilt, for the team’s only conference victory on the season, but needed overtime. To say that it was a season to forget would be an understatement. But the reverberations from last season’s seven-loss finish carried into the winter, spring and summer: U.T. not only ceded the SEC East to teams like South Carolina and Georgia, but for one year, it took last place away from the Wildcats and Commodores. Tennessee can only hope to take enough of a step forward this fall to put last season fully in its rearview mirror.

High point A 45-23 win over Cincinnati on Sept. 10. Tennessee’s tempo was outstanding, as was its ability to control the clock, keeping the Bearcats’ offense on the sidelines. U.T. would then beat Vanderbilt in November, ensuring at least one SEC win. The Vols’ three remaining victories would come over Montana, Buffalo and Middle Tennessee State.

Low point Tennessee would gain more than 290 yards against only one SEC opponent, racking up 376 yards against Arkansas – and would lose that game by 42 points. Against Florida, Georgia, L.S.U., Alabama and South Carolina, the Vols would gain a total of 208 yards on the ground. In a positive vein, four of Tennessee’s seven SEC losses came by 11 points or less. Then again, the Vols went 1-7 in conference play. It’s not a stretch to say that this was the worst team in the program’s modern era.

Tidbit Tennessee is mired in the worst four-year stretch in the program’s modern era – though it’s close. The Vols are 23-27 since 2008, with one winning season and three seven-loss seasons, for a winning percentage of 46.0 percent. U.T. went 21-23-1 from 1977-80, with one winning season, one non-losing season and one seven-loss season, for a winning percentage of 46.7 percent. Over the last four years, Tennessee has outscored the opposition by a combined 97 points; from 1977-80, U.T. outscored its opposition by a combined 185 points. What was the program’s best four-year stretch? Three options: U.T. went 39-4 from 1938-41, winning the 1938 national title; went 40-7 from 1969-72, taking home the SEC in 1969; and went 45-4 from 1995-98, winning a pair of conference championships and one national title.

Tidbit (three quarterbacks edition) Last fall marked the fifth time since 1994 that Tennessee had been forced – or chosen, in same cases – to start three different quarterbacks at least once during the regular season. Why last year was different, however, was in the end result: U.T. struggled through a losing finish after winning at least eight games in each of the previous three-quarterback seasons. The Vols went 8-4 in 1994, when Jerry Colquitt shared starts with a solid baseball prospect named Todd Helton and a true freshman named Peyton Manning. In 2000, the Vols went 8-4 behind the trio of Jerry Matthews, A.J. Suggs and Casey Clausen; they went 8-5 in 2002 with Clausen, C.J. Leak and James Banks starting; and went 10-4 in 2004 with Brent Scheaffer, Erik Ainge and Rick Clausen starting at least three games apiece.

Tidbit (one win edition) Another low mark from last season: Tennessee won just one game during SEC play for only the fourth time in the league’s history. The Vols had previously hit this nadir in 1954, 1964 and 1977. Of course, owning Kentucky and Vanderbilt typically helped U.T. net at least two wins during conference play.

Former players in the N.F.L.

35 CB Jason Allen (Cincinnati), DE Robert Ayers (Denver), S Eric Berry (Kansas City), LB Kevin Burnett (Miami), P Dustin Colquitt (Kansas City), P Britton Colquitt (Denver), LS Morgan Cox (Baltimore), QB Jonathan Crompton (Washington), RB Arian Foster (Houston), OG Ramon Foster (Pittsburgh), DT Aubrayo Franklin (San Diego), CB Jabari Greer (New Orleans), C Nick Guess (San Diego), LB Parys Haralson (San Francisco), RB Montario Hardesty (Cleveland), DT Albert Haynesworth (Tampa Bay), DE Malik Jackson (Denver), QB Peyton Manning (Denver), LB Jerod Mayo (New England), DT Turk McBride (New Orleans), OG Jacques McClendon (Detroit), DE Tony McDaniel (Miami), WR Robert Meachem (San Diego), LB Marvin Mitchell (Minnesota), WR Denarius Moore (Oakland), RB Tauren Poole (Carolina), OT Chris Scott (Pittsburgh), OG Jarrod Shaw (Cleveland), QB Matt Simms (New York Jets), WR Donte’ Stallworth (New England), TE Luke Stocker (Tampa Bay), CB Jonathan Wade (Miami), C Scott Wells (St. Louis), DT Dan Williams (Arizona), TE Jason Witten (Dallas).

Arbitrary top five list

Older quarterbacks rejuvenated with new team
1. Norm Van Brocklin (Philadelphia).
2. Kurt Warner (Arizona).
3. Y.A. Tittle (New York Giants).
4. Joe Montana (Kansas City).
5. Warren Moon (Minnesota).

Coaching

Derek Dooley (Virginia ’90), 11-14 after two seasons at Tennessee. He was able to lead U.T. to bowl play in 2010, if only by the slimmest margin, but the Vols slid back out of bowl play last fall for the second time in four seasons. Dooley came to Knoxville after posting an 18-20 mark over three seasons at Louisiana Tech. His 8-5 2008 season marked a breakout year for both Louisiana Tech and its young coach, who made quite a name for himself in leading the Bulldogs to their best finish in a decade. In the course of two seasons, Dooley rebuilt a Tech program coming of its first 10-loss season into a genuine WAC contender. This is due largely to his enthusiasm and work ethic, the latter of which he learned as a longtime assistant under Nick Saban. Dooley spent 2000-5 with Saban at L.S.U., serving as the team tight ends coach (2000-2), special teams coordinator and running backs coach (2003-5). Dooley also held the recruiting coordinator title in those first three seasons, helping the Tigers land most of the players responsible for their 2003 national championship. After two more seasons under Saban, then with the Miami Dolphins, Dooley was tabbed to become Louisiana Tech’s 30th coach; it was his first head coaching job on any level. The Bulldogs showed a three-game improvement in WAC play in Dooley’s initial season in Ruston, rebounding from a dismal 3-10 (1-7 in conference) record in 2006 to finish 5-7, 4-4 in the WAC. He comes from great coaching stock; his father, Vince, coached Georgia from 1964-88, winning 201 games and the 1980 national championship. It was only a matter of time before Dooley moved up the coaching ranks to a major B.C.S. conference program. Perhaps some were surprised that it came so soon, only three years into his first job, let alone one year after suffering his second losing campaign. You’ve seen some ups and downs thus far, which might be partially as a result of Dooley’s inexperience. Unfortunately, Tennessee is not a school that will wait patiently while its head coach works out the kinks: Dooley needs an eight-win season more than any coach in college football.

Tidbit (coaching edition) First, the two holdovers: Jim Chaney returns at offensive coordinator, adding quarterback duties to his plate, while former quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw moves over to the wide receivers – where he’ll do a nice job, in my opinion. It’s all new elsewhere, with no one hire bigger than former Alabama linebackers coach Sal Sunseri, who takes over for Justin Wilcox as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator. Former L.S.U. and North Carolina assistant Charlie Coiner replaces Eric Russell as the Vols’ tight ends coach and special teams coordinator. After having Terry Joseph handle the entire secondary last fall, U.T. will split those duties up between Derrick Ansley and Josh Conklin; Ansley, a graduate assistant at Alabama last fall, was briefly the defensive backs coach at U.C.F. before joining Sunseri and Dooley in Knoxville.

Sunseri was a very nice hire, as were the final three new assistants. New running backs coach Jay Graham, one of the finest backs in school history, comes over after spending three seasons tutoring South Carolina’s backfield – doing a great job not only with Marcus Lattimore but with the Gamecocks’ other options after Lattimore’s injury a year ago. Offensive line coach Sam Pittman comes over from North Carolina, where he spent the last five seasons; before that Pittman worked at Northern Illinois, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Finally, Dooley landed one of the most distinguished position coaches in college football: John Palermo, the longtime Wisconsin assistant, will take on the defensive line.

Players to watch

So the offensive line can’t be worse – and don’t tell me it can, because I watched last year’s line stumble and bumble many times, and I’ll you: it can’t be worse. Pittman’s an upgrade not merely in terms of his ability as a recruiter, though he’s already stepped into a role as one of Dooley’s go-to coaches on the trail; he’s also a solid if unspectacular position coach, one who did a nice job not merely reeling talent into North Carolina but also quickly and effectively developing top-notch recruits into multiple-year starters. One thing in Pittman’s favor is the fact that U.T. certainly doesn’t lack talent up front; in fact, the vast majority of the Vols’ two-deep up front are former four-star recruits, with many choosing U.T. over offers from most of the SEC.

But it’s time for this line to improve: last year’s group helped – though that’s the wrong word – Tennessee mount the worst running game in program history, and while the line was adequate in pass protection, it simply couldn’t handle the SEC’s bigger, faster, deeper defensive fronts. One thing you like about this year’s front is the continuity it carries into 2012, with every meaningful piece of the puzzle back in the fold; while Pittman and this staff must settle on a starting five, the amount of returning experience is far greater than at this point a year ago.

Every position is set outside of right guard, where U.T. will continue looking at a pair of juniors, Zach Fulton and James Stone, until one provides some separation during fall camp. Fulton’s the safe bet, seeing that he started all 12 games in this spot last season, and Stone’s more valuable as a reserve – he can play both guard spots and center, where he started the first six games of 2011. Stone lost the starting job at center to junior Alex Bullard, the former Notre Dame transfer, who is a much better fit at center than at left guard. Senior Dallas Thomas will move inside from left tackle to guard, pushing sophomore Marcus Jackson into a reserve role. One thing you see from the start: U.T. is more experienced inside, but depth is also much, much better than in the recent past.

Where the Vols are strongest, however, is at tackle. Junior Ja’Wuan James is probably not going to develop into the all-American strong side blocker some envisioned he’d be following his freshman season, though he’s still a very nice starter on the right side. The player to watch up front – and perhaps the player to watch on this entire team, if not one to keep an eye on nationally – is sophomore Antonio Richardson, who will take over on the blind side after getting his feet wet in a small role last fall. The only thing bigger than the expectations surrounding Richardson’s move into the starting lineup are the sophomore’s hands, which look like waffle irons – he’s going to be deadly once he gains some technique to go with his athletic gifts.

The running game will improve along with this offensive line, though it’s hard to get overly excited about the options U.T. brings to the table in the backfield. More than anything, you’d like to see one runner step to the forefront and become the Vols’ every-down back; that doesn’t seem likely. Instead, look for U.T. to go with at least three backs, with junior Raijon Neal (134 yards) and sophomores Marlin Lane (280 yards) and Devrin Young leading the way heading into fall camp. Another pair of options arrived over the summer in Davante Bourque and Quenshaun Watson, though the latter needs to add size before becoming a staple in this offense. Neal and Lane are the favorites, not only because of last year’s experience but because both can give U.T. some big-play flair in the running game. But don’t sleep on Bourque, a four-star recruit with good size and, according to reports, a hard-charging running style.

With junior Justin Hunter (17 receptions for 314 yards) back after missing all but the first three games of last season with a knee injury, Tennessee can now put forth a receiver pairing matched by only a few select programs in college football. While junior Da’Rick Rogers (67 receptions for 1,040 yards and 9 touchdowns) compiled an all-SEC season in Hunter’s stead last fall, it was clear that the Vols’ passing game was desperate for a target capable of demanding attention on the other side. Hunter can do that and more if he’s healthy: he’s been a big-play threat since his first day on campus, averaging 22.1 yards per reception over the last two years, and his return gives U.T. two big-bodied, next-level, dynamic lead options in the passing game.

Depth at receiver is a slight issue, though it’s not an overwhelming concern. The Vols have a nice intermediate target in senior tight end Mychal Rivera (29 for 344), who should be a bigger weapon in the red zone with Hunter and Rogers out wide. But U.T. will need to get greater production out of senior Zach Rogers (14 for 189) and some snaps from at least two of the five incoming freshmen pegged to open at receiver – Drae Bowles, Cody Blanc, Jason Croom, Alton Howard and Cordarelle Patterson. Much is riding on two factors: Hunter’s knee, and he seems very much on schedule, and Rogers’ ability to keep his eye on the prize. Both should be focused on a huge season; that would help the team, for one, but could also move both into a high draft slot next April.

And then there’s the quarterback, junior Tyler Bray, and you encounter another pair of questions: can he stay healthy, and has he gained enough experience to make a leap forward in his third season? One issue is that he’s not your prototypical junior, having started only the last five games of 2010 and seven games last fall, the latter due to injury. So he’s not overly polished, which makes every practice snap vital to his overall development. What you don’t question is the skill set he possesses: Bray can make every throw in the book, can kill you deep and can thread it short, and has the sort of confidence – though this has gotten him in trouble in the past, and the very recent past at that – you love to see from the leader of your offense.

Bray is set to take off. All he needs is some careful, hands-on tutelage from Chaney, who takes on the task of ensuring that his quarterback lives up to mammoth potential. If U.T. can continue doing a nice job in pass protection, Bray has the surrounding skill players to be the best passing quarterback in the SEC. He’s already almost there, though his first two seasons saw Bray take one step back for every two he took forward. He’s already the program’s best quarterback since Erik Ainge; if he can match potential with production, Bray’s going to the Vols’ best since… you know.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to be more like Alabama, especially if trying to be more like Alabama comes at Alabama’s expense. Sunseri, the Tide’s former linebackers coach and a Nick Saban disciple, brings with him not only Alabama’s defensive alignment, the same 3-4 the Tide have run throughout Saban’s tenure, but also a formula for how to get stops in the SEC – that’s what three years of working alongside Saban and Kirby Smart will do for a coach. While it’s clear that Sunseri was ready for another step up the ladder, there are a few things to keep in mind: one factor is the scheme change itself, one that typically does entail an adjustment period for a team’s returning defenders.

But Sunseri isn’t wedded to the 3-4, even if it will serve as Tennessee’s base formation. Look for U.T. to continue using the 4-3 on a fairly high percentage of plays – I don’t want to guess, but let’s say 15 percent of the time – while the defense catches up with Sunseri’s new scheme. Of course, U.T. is better built for the 4-3, and will be until Dooley and this staff can start bringing linemen and linebackers built to the play in the system.

In terms of a top four, U.T. is ready to go at linebacker. It’s depth that’s an issue, and an even bigger issue should senior Herman Lathers not regain the form that made him a player to watch heading into last season. If Lathers is 100 percent following his shoulder surgery, pencil him into one of two starting spots at middle linebacker. The hybrid end-linebacker role – the pass-rushing specialist along the second level – will be filled by junior Jacques Smith (35 tackles, 7.5 for loss), who has all the ability you’re looking for from the position. And it might not be as tough a transition as you might think: the duties are largely the same – take on blockers, bring pressure of the edge – though Smith will now be doing so standing up, not with a hand on the ground.

Smith’s valuable because he can shift down to end when U.T. slides back into a 4-3 set. I have a feeling that he’ll do so fairly often, perhaps when the Vols want to get a little quicker up front. The linebacker corps is rounded out by a pair of very promising sophomores, A.J. Johnson (80 tackles, 4.5 for loss) and Curt Maggitt (56 tackles, 5.5 for loss), with each looking forward to taking on a larger role in this defense. I’m not sure what U.T. plans to do, whether Johnson or Maggitt moves inside – they started on the weak and strong side, respectively, last season – but both are big enough to do so.

This is great: Tennessee has four very nice linebackers for Sunseri’s system, and could move into a 4-3 set with ease. But this defense could be in trouble if there are injuries, even if senior Willie Bohannon could be a nice weapon at both outside linebacker spots. Another linebacker to watch in a reserve role is sophomore Jordan Williams, a converted end who should find a role on passing downs.

It was likely the most misleading statistic in football: Tennessee ranked 12th nationally against the pass last fall, but there was nothing 12th-best about this secondary. Why would teams pass when they could run? While the numbers say one thing, the reality of the situation says another: Tennessee’s secondary is a pretty large question mark heading into September despite the fact that the majority of last season’s contributors remain the fold.

One who will not return is would-be junior cornerback Izauea Lanier, a nine-game starter who was ruled ineligible in early June. If they weren’t considering it before, Lanier’s ineligibility led this staff to move senior Prentiss Waggner (48 tackles, 2 interceptions) from free safety to cornerback, where he’s more comfortable. Waggner has bounced around far too much over his career; it would be nice if he could finish his career with some positional stability – that would be good not only for Waggner but also U.T. as a defense. The Vols like sophomore Brian Randolph (55 tackles) at free safety, where he made three of his five starts as a rookie.

Randolph will be joined at strong safety by either Brent Brewer (24 tackles) or Byron Moore, both juniors, with Brewer an eight-game starter at the position a season ago. While U.T. is a bit unsteady at safety, especially if Brewer remains slowed by least season’s knee injury, Waggner’s position change gives Sunseri and the two defensive backs coaches a number of options at cornerback. Sophomore Justin Coleman is pegged as the other starter heading into fall camp, ahead of senior Marsalis Teague (27 tackles). The loser is the top reserve, along with junior Eric Gordon and two incoming freshmen, Deion Bonner and LaDarrell McNeil. Both will play as true freshmen.

So, the issues. One is Tennessee’s ability to get pressure on the quarterback. Sunseri is going to have a profound impact on the Vols’ pass rush, but much is riding on the front seven’s ability to grasp the new scheme. A second concern is the Vols’ ability to force turnovers in the passing game. Waggner has a nose for the football, but it’s too early to say the same of Randolph, Moore or Brewer. Finally, what about the two newcomers? It’s clear that U.T. needs some fresh blood in the secondary; there’s a chance that both Bonner and McNeil start a few games over the course of this season.

Tennessee’s special teams need work. Junior Michael Palardy has been up and down since stepping into the mix two seasons ago, which does leave sophomore Derrick Brodus and incoming freshman George Bullock with a chance at taking over kicking duties in August. Sophomore punter Matt Darr was underwhelming last fall, though he was a rookie. But sophomore Devrin Young will be more comfortable in his second year handling return duties, both on kickoffs and punts, and U.T. did a fine job on coverage last fall. One issue: U.T. had a great special teams coordinator in Eric Russell, though the numbers don’t totally reflect that fact.

Position battle(s) to watch

Defensive line I like Tennessee’s flexibility up front. The Vols have several ends who could move inside to tackle and outside linebackers who can shift down to end, though that is a byproduct of the scheme change – for now, U.T. is better prepared for the 4-3 than the 3-4, which is not surprising. What Palermo and Sunseri need is a nose tackle who can occupy blockers at the heart of this defense, and there aren’t many options who seem built for the position. Well, there’s one: Daniel McCullers, a true freshman, is a 6’6, 380-pound giant. With his size, U.T. would be in wonderful shape if McCullers can give this defense 20-25 snaps per game at nose tackle. That would address the defense’s biggest issue – and an issue for a few years running – which is a lack of prototypical size at tackle.

U.T. does have more than enough options to run a nice 4-3 set when needed. When U.T. wants to get quicker up front, it can move Jacques Smith down to end, team him with senior Steven Fowlkes and play JUCO transfer Darrington Sentimore and junior Maurice Couch (37 tackles, 6.0 for loss) inside. That’s a pretty good group. But when the Vols run the 3-4, look for Sentimore – who has looked better this month than he did during the spring – and junior Marlon Walls (22 tackles, 3.0 for loss) to start at end. Both are nice-sized ends in this scheme. If McCullers is up to the challenge, he can team with Couch, junior Daniel Hood and sophomore Gregory Clark to give U.T. several bodies inside.

The line really isn’t that bad, which is somewhat surprising; at first glance, back in January, I thought that finding answers up front would give Sunseri the most difficulty. With this personnel, it’s all about finding a comfort level in the new system. U.T. will lose explosiveness, especially inside, but Sunseri and Palermo have enough tools to cobble together a nice run defense. What about getting to the passer? I’m not sure if the Vols are going to get much push from their three-man front.

Game(s) to watch

Tennessee is happy to draw Mississippi State out of the West and not L.S.U. or Arkansas – very, very happy — even if Alabama’s around, as always. That’s one pleasing aspect of a schedule that’s tough but fair: U.T. plays more than a few strong teams, as is life in the SEC, but it could be worse. Now, the bad news. Georgia comes on the road, as does South Carolina. The Crimson Tide come to Knoxville, but that’s a loss either way; you’d almost rather play Alabama in Tuscaloosa and get a beatable SEC East team at home. We’re going to know everything we need to know about U.T. by the first of October, by which point the Vols will have played N.C. State, Florida and Georgia. As in 2010, Tennessee is also the beneficiary of an easier close: Troy, Missouri, Vanderbilt and Kentucky are the four opponents in November.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell Tennessee is ready to take a step forward. Beyond the fact that this team is hungry to get back into the SEC East mix, there’s simply too much talent here for U.T. to continue slogging around the bare minimum of bowl eligibility. Bray is going to jostle for all-SEC and postseason honors; at worst, he’s going to give U.T. the ability to stretch the field, something it simply couldn’t do when Bray missed time last fall due to injury. The receiving duo of Hunter and Rogers – should Hunter be healthy, as I think he’ll be – is the SEC’s best, not to mention one of the most purely talented pairings in the country. The offensive line is not only deeper but led by what most close to the profession believe to be a stronger position coach, with Pittman standing as an upgrade over his predecessor. A stronger line will lead to a vastly improved effort on the ground, which in turn will make it even easier for Bray and his receivers to make things happen in the passing game. In my mind, this offense will be Tennessee’s best since 2007 and one of the most improved in football.

You’ll notice that Tennessee’s strengths are predominately located on the offensive side of the ball. While the Vols have potential on defense, especially at linebacker, it will take time for this group to gel in Sunseri’s new system. This is clear up front, where the line and linebackers take on different duties, but even the secondary is a concern – as noted, last year’s solid finish against the pass was misleading. Looking at this team, what makes U.T. an SEC East contender is an offense with speed, athleticism and explosiveness to burn; what has Tennessee here, in third in the East, is the idea that the defense isn’t yet up to snuff.

But progress is progress, and few teams in the country could use an eight-win season more than Tennessee. What would that achieve? It would elate a fan base hungry for any sign of success. It would cool off Dooley’s seat, though it would also ramp up expectations heading into 2013. It would lead to more success on the recruiting trail, you’d think. And it would be proof of life for a program that has taken a slide down the totem pole over the last four seasons. I think that U.T. gets to 8-4 in the regular season with a strong close; while the resume of wins won’t be outstanding, this would be a very satisfying season for Dooley and the Vols.

Dream season So U.T. loses another game to Alabama, which hurts. But the Vols sandwich that midseason loss with a 5-1 start and a 5-0 close, taking home the SEC East title and earning a rematch against the Tide in the conference title game.

Nightmare season Let’s see. How much worse can it get? Here’s a nightmare for you: Tennessee loses to N.C. State, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State, Alabama, South Carolina, Missouri, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. The Vols haven’t lost to the Commodores and the Wildcats in the same season since 1964.

In case you were wondering

Where do Tennessee fans congregate? A number of options. Message board options include Vol NationVol QuestVols to the Wall and Inside Tennessee. I know I’ve missed some, so help me out. For additional coverage, take a trip to Rocky Top Talk and Go Vols Xtra, the latter a blog from The Knoxville News Sentinel.

Tennessee’s all-name nominee TE Dakota Summers.

Word Count

Through 97 teams 391,631.

Up Next

Who is No. 27? The total distance tomorrow’s program will travel for its road games this fall is 1,648 miles, give or take a mile here or there. [Distances are from the university's main address to the "town center" of each its road opponents -- for example, "Los Angles" should one of the opponents be U.S.C.]

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Comments

  1. Ohio says:

    Is Ohio next? It has to be a team from a very geographically compact conference.

  2. Scott Wallace says:

    22 days to game day.

  3. Yellow Jackets says:

    Georgia Tech is next.

  4. LC says:

    Distance for Ohio is 1482 miles, so it isn’t them. (358.4,65.5,599.9,142,184.8,131.9)

    I tried Georgia Tech (way too low) and Kansas State (slightly high), too, and looked at a few others such as Notre Dame, BYU, and Indiana. I have no idea.

  5. LC says:

    For Georgia Tech I get 1298 miles of travel. (399.6,109.7,549.7, 178.8, 59.9)

  6. David says:

    It’s definitely not BYU or Notre Dame. BYU travels ~1,500 miles just to South Bend and Notre Dame travels to Dublin. It is not Washington, they travel over ~1,600 miles to LSU.

    Georgia Tech seems right.

  7. george says:

    Alex Bullard transfered from Notre Dame

    Paul: Had Alabama on the brain. Fixed, thank you.

  8. Patrick says:

    LC … I think you’ve got Ohio’s mileage wrong. Their game against UMass is at Gillette Stadium — not at UMass. I’ve got 725 miles for that game, not the 600 you listed.

    Still, going by Google Maps, I came up with 1,710 for Ohio.

  9. Burnt Orange says:

    For those interested in coaching biographies, try Neyland The Gridiron General by Robert Gilbert.

    How is this for a resume- West Point Grad, three sport star, intercollegiate boxing champion in his weight class, offered baseball contract by New York Giants, served in WWI, aide to MacArthur, assistant football coach at Army and Tennessee, head coach at Tennessee. In first stint, 1939 team was unscored upon for the entire season. 17 straight shutouts. During WWII, supervised supplies for the Burma- China-India theater obtaining rank of Brig. General. Returned to Tennessee and after critics said game had passed him by, won two national championships in early fifties running single wing. 71 total shutouts in his career. Had a rule, no particular team could run a play in a game until the play had been run 500 times in practice – ponder that one. Twelve play playbook much of his careeer.

  10. LC says:

    Also, I have determined that the websites I used for distances was computing distances “as the crow flies”, using latitudes and longitudes, while others compute driving distances, using known road maps. That makes a big difference. For example, Athens to Oxford Ohio is 142 as the crow flies, but 182 by road.

  11. Wayne says:

    So from the Dream season section are we to infer that you’ll have Bama ranked over LSU in the countdown?

  12. jw says:

    Got 1,641 “as the crow flies” for Clemson.

  13. G. Tech or Ohio says:

    Ohio is too high if you use Boston/Gillette but they are approx (by my estimation) 10 miles over the listed mileage if you use Amherst, MA.

    While Georgia Tech came in (again, by my estimation), at around 10 miles under the listed mileage.

    I haven’t found any other team(s) that were close. It has to be one of the two.

    The HINT did stipulate “give or take a mile HERE or THERE” which is to say a couple of miles PER road-trip in the calculation would be acceptable.

  14. Matt Rob says:

    You guys may be overthinking the method of calculating distances. It seems to me that he is using google maps, putting in the team’s main address in the first field, and then “los angeles,” “vancouver,” “des moines,” in the second field.

  15. LC says:

    Matt Rob, that’s exactly what we did – put the cities into a distance calculator. The problem is that there are many websites that calculate distances, and the numbers vary widely, because the methods for estimating it ave very different. Google gives one number. Infoplease gives another. Geobytes gives two different numbers. Using infoplease I got 1482 miles for Ohio. Using a different website someone else got 1834. Using a third website, another person got 1673.

    In the end, since we don’t know which website Paul used, we can’t really solve this clue. We can rule out some teams that aren’t close, but a few teams like Clemson, Ohio, and Georgia Tech are within a few hundred miles, so they may be the answer Paul had in mind. I’m not trying to be critical of Paul – he works hard to keep us guessing. I just don’t think we can solve this one.

  16. Matt Rob says:

    Fair enough. I didn’t think that much variance would be present between map logarithms.

  17. Cdm133 says:

    I assume you guys are calculating distances there and back since total distance is referenced. Does that put GT back in the hunt?

  18. Matt Rob says:

    Just a couple to exclude(using Google Maps)

    - Ohio State: 1,359.
    - Texas (@ Ole Miss, @ KState)
    - Georgia Tech: 1,568.
    - WVU: Has away games at Texas, Tech, and OSU. They’re out.

  19. Lee says:

    I guess I am the only one that will comment on the article instead of the mileage calculation(idiots). Tenn is going to have a new coach next year. How you have this team ahead of the Gators is mind blowing. Their defense is below SEC standards and the offense has ZERO running game. UF killed Tenn with Bray last year and I expect very little to change this year. Tenn has had way too much turmoil over the last two years and Bray is an idoit that can’t stay out of trouble. They win 6 maybe 7. Dooley gets fired before December.

  20. Matt Rob says:

    Tennessee faces Akron, Georgia State, NC State, Troy, Vandy, Kentucky, and Mississippi State this season. They could win 7 games without even realizing it.
    (idiot)

  21. dawgs1 says:

    DD is a very good recruiter & was an excellent AD @ LA Tech. Great pedigree, student of the game…he just got this $EC “opportunity” way to early in his head coaching career. He just wasn’t quite ready for all of the off-the-field issues found at many of the major NCAA institutions & not yet proven in X’s & O’s.

    I would like to thank him for everything he did for LA Tech. He just left a little too early during the HC maturation process.

    Hopefully Sonny Dykes takes a different path. Now, on to the Orange Bowl for us!

  22. schedule nit says:

    Hey Lee, you’re right; that Florida game was downright funny. Bray sure proved once and for all that Florida’s DBs should not be switched to receivers!

    Regarding the distance calculation; are you guys accounting for the curvature of the earth’s surface?

  23. Bob says:

    A couple of corrections: Lathers was kept out of last season because of an ankle injury, not shoulder surgery; Cordarelle Patterson is the top-rated JUCO wide receiver with spectacular speed and size.

    To the gator fan… Yeah. Right. Well just talk on the field. You can blow all the smoke you want. The Vols have the potential to be far better than predicted but the predictions are reasonable, given recent history.

    But, here’s something to chew on: there are at least 6 players on offense and at least 5 on defense that could reasonably see playing time on Sundays if they continue to work hard and stay healthy.

  24. Mike Gordon says:

    Isn’t Daniel McCullers a JUCO transfer and not a True Freshman?

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