When red-shirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Guarantano suffered an ankle injury in the first half of the Vols game with Southern Miss on Saturday night, I wondered who Coach Butch Jones would insert into the lineup. I didn't have to wait long to discover that true freshman Will McBride would burn his redshirt with three plays. Just moments after McBride entered the lineup, television commentators all across the board would be criticizing Coach Jones, though it's easy to see he really had no choice.
With injuries stacking up like a scene from a World War II movie, the Vols needed a full-time coach on the sidelines just to replace injured starters.
When the game started Tennessee was down to just seven offensive linemen, with three of them being true freshmen. It's a miracle the Volunteers were able to hold off Southern Miss for a 24-10 win, but credit a solid performance by the defensive unit for this homecoming victory. I would never call a win an "ugly" win but this one came about as close as possible. Let's just stop short and call it "unsightly."
Tennessee is now only two wins away from bowl eligibility with three games remaining. Two of the last three games for the Volunteers are both winnable but it will take a supreme effort to be able to reach that 6-6 mark. First up is Missouri; a team that a few weeks ago was considered to be the SEC's worst team. After claiming a 45-16 win over the hapless Florida Gators on Saturday, that is no longer the case and the Tigers may be awfully tough to beat in Columbia this weekend.
Next would be LSU on November 18th at Neyland Stadium and I see no way the Vols will be able to get a win over the Bengal Tigers; not even if Coach Jones snuck Peyton Manning in the lineup to play quarterback. Then the season comes to a merciful ending with a home game against Vanderbilt; a team that has won two of the last three meetings with the Big Orange.
Playing in a bowl game is important for college football teams because it gives them three extra weeks of practice and for young teams like Tennessee that is extremely critical. At 4-5 with three games left it's possible but how probable is it for Tennessee to reach that 6-6 record? I'm sure that the Las Vegas odds makers would give anyone a line on it who wanted to bet either way.
So, the 2017 season has come down to this. Finishing the year 6-6 is not exactly what Tennessee fans wanted or expected when the season started, though most of them would take it. If you look the term "snake-bit" up in the dictionary, you will find, "characterized by bad luck or a series of misfortunes." That's a perfect way to describe the last two years under Butch Jones at Tennessee. In fact with a few exceptions, that's the way you could describe the Tennessee football program since 2008; the year they fired Phillip Fulmer.
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. 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 30 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 five grandchildren, Coleman, Boone, Mattingly, DellaMae, and CoraLee.