The Vacation Blog live from Knoxville, whilst watching the Music City Bowl...
Because we always start with Tennessee Football
Here on the last day before the last game of the 2007 season, it's been a tumultous holiday season for Vol football, with coaches leaving (and possibly staying if you believe a News-Sentinel report in today's paper about Trooper Taylor reconsidering if he was offered the offensive coordinator job), six players ruled academically ineligible including Lucas Taylor, Demonte Bolden and Rico McCoy, and the potential NFL futures of juniors Jerod Mayo and Anthony Parker, who sound more and more like tomorrow will be their final game in orange. The landscape of 2008, both in our minds and filtering down through the recruiting process, will be determined both by the outcome of tomorrow's Outback Bowl, and the final result of all these factors. And while it's easy to see that the 08 Vols will be better if Mayo and/or Parker stick around, the offensive coordinator opening could go either way.
David Cutcliffe has been a blessing in Knoxville, there's no debating that. No matter your feelings about Randy Sanders, which are probably below average anyway, Cutcliffe came in and produced right away. Offensive production was always present and only a negative factor twice - against the Gators both times, which is nothing new for Cutcliffe offenses - and the fact that we have to nitpick to find something negative to say says it all. The next person who walks through that door will not have Cutcliffe's QB credentials and will be a wholly different person. So the question becomes, will that be good different or bad different?
The above Sentinel article has picked up 220 comments in less than 24 hours, and I'd say that has much more to do with Trooper Taylor than it does Scott Loeffler or Frank Cignetti. And as you say "who?", you get the idea - that to the general populace, the idea of the chest bump is much more appealing as your next offensive coordinator than the quarterbacks coach from Michigan and the 49ers, respectively.
I like Trooper, and his work here speaks for itself - the transformation of Cedric Houston and Gerald Riggs into 1,000 yard rushers in 2004 to support freshmen and transfer quarterbacks, the way the wide receivers immediately responded and grew up in 2006 when Troop moved there, and yes, his infectious personality and charisma. But Phillip Fulmer's job isn't to make the fans happy - which hiring Taylor would do, methinks - it's to do the right thing to win. And sometimes the right thing is the unpopular choice. Fulmer is in a better position to determine what's best for the Vols than anyone else, so long as he's able to look beyond himself and his system and be open to other possibilities. So maybe he's clearly not going Trooper's way. It appeared he was in the final stages of courting Kippy Brown a few days ago. And we have to trust Fulmer to make the right decision and not universally discount whoever he brings in here to run the offense - Taylor or no, a name you've heard of or someone you and I don't know, whoever it is - Vol fans shouldn't judge until they see the product. Because chest bumping and play calling are different things. That style works for Bruce Pearl on both counts. And Taylor is about to get a chance to see if it works for him too...it just might be in Stillwater intsead of Knoxville.
Speaking of Bruce Pearl...
Chris Lofton keeps struggling, the Vols keep winning. We're 12-1 and now ranked #8 in the AP poll...but don't you feel a little uneasy? The Vols gut out a win in a hostile environment at Xavier, then really outplay Gonzaga in Seattle for 40 minutes and win by 10...but you're still a bit on edge, aren't you?
This is how much sway Lofton has earned in his 3+ years here. Because if Lofton is shooting better than .336 from the arc (he shot over 40% each of his first three years) you'd feel better about everything. And yet the fact that the Vols are 12-1 and have beaten West Virginia, Xavier and Gonzaga all at road/neutrals speaks volumes. Once again - this team isn't "Lofton and..." This team - all of them - are capable.
The Vols have a long break as the calendar turns to January and SEC play. And it's become a weird year - with the Gators taking baby steps and Kentucky on suicide watch, the biggest SEC games might be the first two at Thompson-Boling: #18 Ole Miss on January 9, #15 Vanderbilt on January 17. Combined record: 25-0.
The Rebels have Alabama A&M and the Dores have Rice and UMass before the SEC season starts, meaning both should stay undefeated. The Rebels are still more of a question mark, despite their win over Clemson, and the Vols in Knoxville will be their first SEC test. Vanderbilt has South Carolina in Nashville and then a trip to Rupp Arena before they come to Knoxville, but given the state of things in the bluegrass, you'd still think that what is a very good Vanderbilt team can easily still be undefeated when they come here. So while the landmark game on the schedule continues to be the Feb. 23 date with Memphis, the SEC schedule has proven unpredictable before the games even start.
First, Chris Henry, are you alright?
To Henry's credit, he got right back up and stayed in the game...which the Titans won, 16-10 against mostly Indy's backups (sorry Cleveland), and now Jeff Fisher's boys are playoff bound for the first time in four years. The Titans also get the favorable draw (in my opinion) and head west for a date with San Diego, who the Titans know they can play with and should've beaten just a few short weeks ago before falling in overtime. Here's hoping SD plays tight while VY plays, and plays loose. And by loose, I mean "under control." If not, we can always go back to Kerry "No play for Mister Gray!" Collins.
It's nice to be relevant again. We'll see where it goes from here. The Wild Card Weekend schedule:
Washington at Seattle - Saturday 4:30 PM
Jacksonville at Pittsburgh - Saturday 8:00 PM
NY Giants at Tampa Bay - Sunday 1:00 PM
Tennessee at San Diego - Sunday 4:30 PM
"They can't play out west!"
The Boston Celtics are now 26-3, could very easily be 29-0, and after dismantling Orlando and Chicago in Boston, just went 4-0 on their first West Coast road swing of the season, winning at Sacramento, Seattle, Utah and last night against the (still hated) Lakers. In case you missed it, the Lakers kept it old school and thought breaking out the 80s short shorts would give them that needed edge against the C's. I'd post pictures, but we're a family blog.
And besides, it didn't work. The Celtics won by 19. And so yeah, they haven't played Phoenix, San Antonio or Dallas yet. But hey, I don't make the schedule and they'll get around to them when they get around to them (which, uh, will be in February. Or January 31 if you're Dallas. Get ready.)
Boston is up 11 games in the Atlantic Division, though Detroit appears to be a game challenger for the best record in the East. And maybe they won't keep up this "best team of all time" pace all year, who knows. But it's fun as it goes...and beating the Lakers is always an excellent way to cap off the road trip.