Thursday, August 5, 2010

Volunteers have to improve quickly to earn a bowl berth this season

The University of Tennessee football team faces its most imposing rebuilding effort since Johnny Majors took over the team in 1977. Under normal circumstances, the Volunteers would be facing a lot of work this year. However, the schedule this year is brutal, making the rebuilding to be done all the more difficult.

As we begin, here is the schedule:

Sept. 4 -- vs. UT Martin
Sept. 11 -- vs. Oregon
Sept. 18 -- vs. Florida
Sept. 25 -- vs. Alabama-Birmingham
Oct. 2 -- at LSU
Oct. 9 -- at Georgia
Oct. 23 -- vs. Alabama
Oct. 30 -- at South Carolina
Nov. 6 -- at Memphis
Nov. 13 -- vs. Mississippi
Nov. 20 -- at Vanderbilt
Nov. 27 -- vs. Kentucky

Tennessee plays Oregon, Florida, LSU, Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina all before November. Florida, LSU, and Alabama have each won national championships in the last four years, and Oregon is the reining PAC-10 champion. Tennessee has lost three consecutive games to PAC-10 teams, including against UCLA last year.

Tennessee has to win six games to become bowl eligible. So, who will the Volunteers beat this year?

In September, Tennessee must win at least two games, but most likely will need three. The Volunteers should beat UT Martin and Alabama-Birmingham (notice I wrote 'should' because nothing can be taken for granted this year). As for Oregon and Florida, the best bet for a win will be against the Ducks. Oregon is a solid program but is coming off a lot of off-the-field problems that resulted in their starting quarterback getting booted off the team. A cross-country journey and a hostile crowd could make the Ducks vulnerable. I know this did not help us against UCLA last year, but the power of Neyland Stadium can intimidate good teams.

Unfortunately, October looks like a mess. Who will we beat? Despite regressing under Les Miles the last couple of years, beating LSU on their field is unlikely. They still have a lot of athleticism and can physically beat up teams, especially teams like Tennessee that lack depth. Georgia is a trendy pick by many to be the dark horse team in the league and should be worked up to pay Tennessee back for the 45-19 pasting they received last year.

Alabama is the defending conference and national champion. Despite returning only two starters on defense, the Crimson Tide should be formidable this year. As for South Carolina, its success or failure this year will be because of its offense. However, if Tennessee loses there, it will be more because of the Volunteers shortcomings than the Gamecocks ability.

At this point, I must conclude that Tennessee will lose all four of its October games. Because of this, the Volunteers must win three or four games in November to become bowl eligible. The good news is the schedule lightens up in November. Memphis has a new head coach and is coming off a 10-loss season. Tennessee should be sufficiently fired up to repay Ole Miss for the loss at Oxford last year. Kentucky likely is better than Tennessee, but has problems breaking through on the field against the Volunteers. Vanderbilt is also breaking in a new head coach and coming off a 10-loss season.

Based on all this, I believe Tennessee will finish 6-6 and qualify for a bowl. I believe Tennessee will beat: UT Martin, Oregon, Alabama-Birmingham, Memphis, Ole Miss, and Vanderbilt.

That is not exactly the resume of a team that should go to a bowl, but these are the times we live in. Let's enjoy the season and make the most of it.

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