Well, it’s that time of year again and if you were born and raised somewhere below the Mason-Dixon line you know exactly what I mean. There’s no better time of year for a sports fan than the beginning of the football season and if your team happens to play in the Southeastern Conference, it’s even better.
This time of year is a great time to dream big. Your favorite team has not lost a game and your team has just as good of a chance as anyone else to surprise the college football world.
Will your team surprise the experts and win more than expected? Will your favorite team be able to avoid the injury bug and stay healthy enough to make a run at a championship?
Each team’s fan base will base their expectations on many variables. How good the team was the previous season, what they think of the head coach, how well the team recruited in the off season and returning players all factor into our assessment of a team.
It seems to me that as fall camp progresses, team expectations typically will rise and rise and some undoubtedly will express confidence in an outcome that isn’t realistic in the eyes of most rational fans.
This year is reminiscent of the late seventies when Johnny Majors came marching home to take over the reins of a floundering football program on the Hill. Just the name Johnny Majors meant to some that the Tennessee football program would magically be restored to its former glory. After all, Coach Majors had just won a national championship at Pittsburgh, and everyone knew he could coach. The problem was, Tennessee at the time had little talent and even the most seasoned coach couldn’t turn it around in one year. In fact, it took Majors a decade to restore the Vol program to its former glory.
So, the question is, how long does it take for a new coach to turn a fledgling football program around? Coach Heupel and his staff have certainly done their part to return the football program to elite status, but the job isn’t done, not by a long shot. So, what are realistic expectations for this year's Vol squad? Ten wins? Eight wins? Is a win total of seven or more considered progress? If Tennessee only wins six games but that includes a win over Florida, is that considered success?
I would say that Vol fans need to pump the brakes on all this enthusiasm, but the Vols have recruited well and as coach Fulmer used to say, “You win with the Jimmy’s and Joe’s, not the x’s and o’s.” Coach Heupel and his staff have recruited well the past year and he is building a roster that is looking more and more like an SEC team. You could argue that it is coach Heupel’s system that is most responsible for the offensive success in 2021, but in the grand scheme of things, what does it matter as long as they win, right?
I was surprised to read recently that SEC Network pundit Roman Harper picked Tennessee to win 10 games and that includes a win over last season’s SEC champion Georgia. No orange-colored glasses there, after all, he played for Tennessee’s hated rival, the red elephants from Tuscaloosa.
Regardless of how optimistic or pessimistic you are, it is a fun conversation to have. And, if you think the Vols will win 10 games, you are not alone.
I’m not saying I believe the Vols will win 10 games, but they might. Personally, I don’t think we have enough speed in the secondary or depth at linebacker to win 10 this season, but Tennessee is closer now than it’s been in a long time. I think nine wins are a possibility, but an eight-win season is what I’m predicting. I will say this, it is great to be having this conversation considering where the program has been as recently as two years ago. It is time to be optimistic and, when the season is over and we look back, we might all be pleasantly surprised to see Roman Harper was right all along.