Monday, May 27, 2013

Tennessee Volunteers facing another transition season in football in 2013

A bowl would be nice.
The University of Tennessee has one of the most storied programs in college football history, but the last five years have been rough going. The bad news for the program is tough times likely lie ahead for the 2013 season.
Since Phillip Fulmer’s firing in 2008, the program has been spinning its wheels. Lane Kiffin’s one-year tenure left the school’s fan base wondering how he could have been hired in the first place. The only bright spots were that he was able to beat Georgia and South Carolina.
The situation went from bad to worse during the three-year Derek Dooley era. Dooley did manage a Music City Bowl appearance in 2010, but the program quickly slid into the abyss his final two years.
Last year, the team stumbled to a 5-7 record in which the defense was historically bad. In eight games, the defense gave up 35 or more points. In two of those games, Tennessee allowed opponents to score more than 50.
However, the program turned a corner of sorts when Butch Jones was hired as head coach last December. Since then, he has said all the right things. On short notice, he was able to salvage a top 20 recruiting class and the 2014 class is off to a good start.
He has done a magnificent job off the field in reconnecting with former players and rejuvenating the fan base. His work handling the intangibles of his job has been outstanding. An indicator of this was when more than 61,000 turned out for the spring game, which was the most for that event since 1986.
Now comes the hard part. What will the Volunteers look like in 2013? Tennessee fans have had their patience worn thin the last five years, and it looks like they will have to be patient for at least one more year. The bottom line is the team is thin and inexperienced in important areas.
Defensively, it could be considered a positive that many starters return, but since that squad was so bad last year, is this really a good thing? It would be easy to say that nothing could be as bad as last year, but this does not mean success is just around the corner.
However, there are some things to feel good about. The team is switching back to a 4-3 base defense, and the team had some success with this in 2011. Last year, the secondary fell apart when safety Brian Randolph injured his knee against Florida and was lost for the season. His recovery is progressing and along with Justin Coleman and LaDarrell McNeil, a fine nucleus could be there in the secondary.
Offensively, lots of question marks remain. A talented offensive line returns, but there are many unknowns at quarterback and wide receiver. Junior Justin Worley and redshirt freshman Nathan Peterson were essentially co-starters at quarterback during spring practice, but neither separated themselves from the other.
At wide receiver, there is some solid potential but nobody close to the talent at that position last year. Redshirt freshman Jason Croom, Alton “Pig” Howard, and Devrin Young are the names to watch there, but considerable work remains to get ready for this season’s formidable schedule.
Playing in the Southeastern Conference is a tough place to be when rebuilding, and the Volunteers face a challenging schedule. Road games include trips to Oregon, Florida, and Alabama.
Tennessee’s on-field goals must be conservative this year. Finishing with a 6-6 record would be a good achievement for this squad considering all the question marks.
Tennessee is one of only two major college football programs never to have lost more than seven games in a season (Ohio State is the other). If the Vols survive this season with that achievement in tact, then 2013 will have to be considered a success.

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