There is no way you can tip-toe through the next few games on Tennessee's schedule. The Vols face unbeaten, fifth-ranked Georgia this Saturday in Athens, then take a week off before heading to Starkville and a date with unbeaten and 21st ranked Mississippi State. They then return home to host unbeaten and #1 ranked Alabama at Neyland Stadium October 20th, then wrap up this nightmare at 7th ranked South Carolina October 27th. Tennessee was faced with a similar stretch last season, against Georgia, LSU, Alabama and South Carolina; they lost all four by wide margins and even lost starting quarterback Tyler Bray with a broken hand against the mighty Bulldogs. It couldn't have gone any worse for the Vols in 2011, so we're all hoping for much better luck as well as much better play this time around.
Tennessee is 3-1 after a lackluster performance last week against Akron in Knoxville. A let down was expected after losing to the Florida Gators the week before. The Big Orange absolutely self-destructed in the fourth quarter of a 37-21 loss, then played about as poorly as they could play in the first half against the Zips. Had Tennessee just scored one more point against the Gators and came away with a win, instead of that big melt-down, they would be 4-0, still be nationally ranked, and would have much more confidence heading into this killer SEC stretch. Heck, they may even have enough confidence to win one or even two of these next four games.
Alas.....the Volunteers are 3-1 and will be underdogs in all four contests. If they lose all four, they will be 3-5 and would have to win out to salvage a 7-5 season. Even 7-5 may not be good enough to save Coach Derek Dooley's job. The natives are very restless in K-Town and rightly so.
Can Tennessee win at least one of their next four games? Yes. I believe they CAN win at Mississippi State. Can they find one more win against Georgia, Alabama or South Carolina? Anything is possible, but it's not very likely. During the pre-season, Coach Dooley spoke of the improvement and maturity he has seen on this year's squad. I agree with him, but it may not be enough improvement to get a couple of big wins on the road in the SEC against nationally ranked competition. I simply believe we must face facts; Tennessee is not a very good college football team.
When people stop me and ask, "What's going to happen?" or, "What's wrong up there?", I really don't know what to say. If you look at the talent level, it's not bad. Tennessee has a couple of first round NFL draft picks, if they choose to leave after their junior seasons, in Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter, and quite possibly a third first-rounder in Cordarrelle Patterson. They also have a couple of offensive linemen who have the potential to play on Sundays, but it seems like the Vols secondary may be a step or two slow in comparison to other SEC teams.
I have to think back to November of 2008, when I wrote and spoke out to anyone who would listen; "Don't get rid of Coach Phillip Fulmer", I said. "Don't have a knee-jerk reaction to this 5-7 season. If Tennessee fires Fulmer, it may take years and years to get the Vols back to where we all expect them to be." No one listened to me, at least no one with any pull or power to avoid what we all knew was coming. First it was Lane Kiffen, then Derek Dooley, and unless Tennessee finishes 8-4 or better, someone else will be in the "hot" seat.
I certainly hope the Vols can win a couple of these next four games. I predicted they would be 8-4 when the season started, which they can still be. But with all the uncertainty surrounding the program right now, we need to pull out all the stops. Do any and everything we can do to win. Tip-toeing just won't cut it.
Randy Smith firstname.lastname@example.org
Randy Smith has been covering sports in Tennessee for the last 43 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has continued his broadcasting career as a free-lance play-by-play announcer. He is also an author and is a media concepts teacher at Brainerd High School in Chattanooga. He is also the Head Softball Coach at Brainerd. Randy Smith's career has included a 17-year stint as scoreboard host and pre-game talk show host on the widely regarded "Vol Network". He has also done play by play of more than 500 college football, basketball, baseball and softball games on ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports, CSS and Tennessee Pay Per View telecasts. He was selected as "Tennessee's Best Sports Talk Show Host" in 1998 by the Associated Press. He has won other major awards including, "Best Sports Story" in Tennessee and his "Friday Night Football" shows on WRCB-TV twice won "Best Sports Talk Show In Tennessee" awards. He has also been the host of "Inside Lee University Basketball" on CSS for the past 11 years. He was the first television broadcaster to ever be elected to the "Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame", in 2003. Randy and his wife, Shelia, reside in Hixson. They have two married children (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith). They also have three grandchildren (Coleman, Boone, and DellaMae).