As we get closer to the start of the college football season, Tennessee football fans are on a feeding frenzy. They eat up every bit of information available on their beloved Volunteers, but as exciting as second year head coach Butch Jones has made it around the state, the Big Orange faithful simply must be patient.
The 2014 Volunteers will be a much better football team than the 2013 version was. An extremely tough schedule however, will make it very difficult to better last year’s 5-7 record. The talent level in Knoxville is better, but still nothing to equal what it was 12-15 years ago. Tennessee is still a year, maybe two years away from being back to that level. The good news is…..Coach Jones is making a lot of progress in a little amount of time.
While this year’s recruiting class was rated a solid top ten in every publication, the one that looms ahead for 2015 could be even better. As of today, (July 8, 2014) the Vols are currently ranked 8th in the country and fifth in the SEC. Tennessee has a grand total of nineteen commitments, with seven of those being four star prospects. (According to rivals.com) Another banner class coming into Knoxville will return the Vols to SEC relevance.
I have written columns before begging the Volunteer faithful to be patient, which most of them weren’t. I wrote a similar story following Derek Dooley’s initial season as head coach saying to give Coach Dooley at least three more years and he will get the job done. Needless to say, I was wrong; though after his third season, hardly anyone thought he deserved four years.
This time I think I’m right. Butch Jones has excited the fan base as none of Tennessee’s last three head coaches has done. His recruiting is much better, and while the jury may still be out on his staff’s on the field coaching, I think that’s better too.
Some of the most optimistic Vol fans look to last year’s resurgence by Auburn and Missouri as examples for Tennessee to follow. The big difference is the schedule for Tennessee will be much tougher than either of those two teams’ 2013 schedules were. Even I can’t find a sure six wins on U.T.’s 2014 schedule; six wins that would send the Vols to a bowl game for the first time since Dooley’s first year.
Tennessee opens up at home with Utah State, and while a lot of people are counting the opener as a sure win, the Aggies will likely be a slight favorite on Aug. 31. Utah State was 9-5 a year ago and will be picked to win the Mountain West Conference in 2014. That one is a toss-up. The Vols then host Arkansas State the following week with a win almost being a lock. Playing devil’s advocate, let’s say Tennessee is 2-0 as they face a brutal three game stretch….at Oklahoma, at Georgia and at home against Florida. The Gators are the only one of those three I feel Tennessee will have a good chance to beat.
At 2-3, the Vols will likely beat Chattanooga, before facing Ole Miss, Alabama and South Carolina. After that tough stretch, they could be 3-5, before closing out the season against Kentucky, Missouri, and Vanderbilt. I’m picking them to win all three and finish 6-6 on the year. With that record, they could be headed to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis.
They could be better than 6-6, or maybe 5-7 or worse, but again, the only thing I can ask is be patient. Better seasons are ahead….just maybe not this season.
Randy Smith has been covering sports on radio, television and print for the past 45 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has written two books, and has continued to free-lance as a play-by-play announcer. He is currently teaching Broadcasting at Coahulla Creek High School near Dalton, Ga.
His career has included a 17-year stretch as host of the Kickoff Call In Show on the University of Tennessee’s prestigious Vol Network. He has been a member of the Vol Network staff for thirty years.
He has done play-by-play on ESPN, ESPN II, CSS, and Fox SportSouth, totaling more than 500 games, and served as a well-known sports anchor on Chattanooga Television for more than a quarter-century.
In 2003, he became the first television broadcaster to be inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame. Randy and his wife Shelia reside in Hixson. They have two married children, (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith.) They have four grandchildren, Coleman, Boone, DellaMae and CoraLee.
To contact Randy: firstname.lastname@example.org