Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Despite coaching change, same problems face the Tennessee Volunteers heading into '09

There has been a lot of change in Knoxville since last year. Coach Phillip Fulmer, arguably the second most important figure in Tennessee Volunteer football history, was let go after the team collapsed and staggered through a 5-7 season.

Enter Lane Kiffin. He has an impressive resume when it comes to recruiting and making headlines, but he has no experience leading a major college football program. However, it is his challenge to get the Vols' program back on track.

His hiring has generated a lot of excitement, and reports indicate that the returning players have embraced his approach. Enthusiasm is nice, but the Vols still face the same problems that hampered them most of last year.

The offense was abysmal in 2008, and much of the same personnel return this year. Seven starters including quarterback Jonathan Crompton are back. Tennessee was held to 14 points or less in seven of its 12 games last year. Just a little more output and the Vols would have posted a winning record and gone to a bowl. Tennessee better hope incoming freshman super recruit Bryce Brown can contribute sooner rather than later.

The defense returns only five starters, but fortunately for Tennessee fans, one is free safety Eric Berry. Berry is one of the top five players in the country. In a perfect world, he would be right in the mix for the Heisman Trophy, but voters for that award are notoriously stupid. Click here to see UT's web site touting Berry's Heisman candidacy.

In some respects, the Vols catch a break with this year's schedule. Here it is:

Sept. 5: vs. Western Kentucky
Sept. 12: vs. UCLA
Sept. 19: at Florida
Sept. 26: vs. Ohio
Oct. 3: vs. Auburn
Oct. 10: vs. Georgia
Oct. 24: at Alabama
Oct. 31: vs. South Carolina
Nov. 7: vs. Memphis
Nov. 14: at Ole Miss
Nov. 21: vs. Vanderbilt
Nov. 28: at Kentucky

Eight of Tennessee's 12 games are at home, including five of the first six. The opener against Western Kentucky looks inviting, but the Vols lost at home to Wyoming last year and struggled to beat Northern Illinois. So, don't mark that one down as an automatic win. The loss to UCLA in last season's opener set the tone for the year, and payback would be sweet with a win in week two.

The Vols must go 3-1 in September. There is no way they will beat Florida so wins against the other three are mandatory if they want a winning season and a trip to a bowl.

Tennessee should be able to squeeze out seven wins this year. The toughest games are on the road (Florida, Alabama, Ole Miss) so they will have to clean up at home.

This is definitely a transition year for the Vols.

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