In mid-October, the Tennessee Volunteers had just been whipped by Alabama 41-17, and their record fell to 4-3 overall and 2-2 in the conference.
They looked like dead men walking. The cries for Coach Phillip Fulmer's ousting began again after temporarily being silenced following a win over Georgia a few weeks earlier.
However, the Vols seem to be at their best when their backs are against the wall. Whenever they can play with a chip on their shoulder and complain that they don’t get any respect, magical things seem to happen. It happened in 1998 when they won the national championship, and it happened in the ruins of the Alabama loss.
Tennessee strung together five consecutive wins. Two were in overtime. One was a one-point win over Vanderbilt in which the Commodores barely missed a winning field goal in the final seconds.
Now, the Vols face the LSU Tigers for the conference championship on Saturday. Most of the year, commentators believed the Tigers were not only the best team in the conference but in the country.
However, they enter the game reeling after getting upset by Arkansas last week. Their national championship hopes are dead.
LSU clearly has more talent, but one has to wonder about their emotional state. They expected all season to be playing in the national title game, but that is gone. If they beat Tennessee, the only reward they get is a trip to the Sugar Bowl, which they played in last year. Will they be motivated?
As for Tennessee, will they have the energy to play? Anybody who watched their four overtime win against Kentucky last week has to wonder if they will have the physical spunk left to beat a team as talented as LSU.
Tennessee’s defense was on the field for 110 plays last week, which set a national college football record. The defense is already shaky, but if their legs are heavy against LSU’s talented playmakers, it could be a long day.
Call me crazy.
The pick: Tennessee 31 LSU 30
As for the Tennessee Titans, it is now panic time. Three weeks ago, they were 6-2 and in great shape for a playoff berth. Three losses later, including an embarrassing 35-6 loss at Cincinnati last week, they are 6-5 and would not qualify for the playoffs if the season ended today.
The loss to the Bengals was troubling. Their defense stinks yet we could only score six points. Additionally, the Titans’ defense has given up 34 and 35 points the last two weeks. A bad offense plus a bad defense equals big trouble.
This week’s game against Houston is a must win. A loss will likely dash any realistic playoff hopes. We beat the Texans earlier this year on the road. So we should be able to beat them at home, right?
The pick: Tennessee 21 Houston 20
Other NCAA picks: Navy over Army, Missouri over Oklahoma, USC over UCLA, West Virginia over Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech over Boston College, Arizona State over Arizona
Other NFL picks: Indianapolis over Jacksonville, Dallas over Green Bay, Miami over N.Y. Jets, Pittsburgh over Cincinnati
Last two weeks: 10-3 (.769), Overall: 106-35 (.752)