Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Big Orange Roundtable - Week 4

Week 4 and subpoena-free, brought to you this week by Gate 21. As always, you can find the other responses to the Roundtable questions at the bottom of this post as we get them, and at the initial posting from this week's host at the above link. Also, another friendly reminder that all of us read and respond to your comments, and as Rocky Top Talk did a great job of showing last week, your responses can be included in our weekly roundup.

With that said, on with the show...

1) Thus far we’ve made a number of predictions for the 2008 Vols. Now, let’s take the next step: What are your pre-season predictions for each of Tennessee’s regular season games this year (along with any explanations you feel are needed)?

Well, we've lasted four weeks, but here the fundamental flaw of SouthEastern Sports Blog gets exposed:

I don't pick against Tennessee.

Can't do it.

Now I have my moments and am capable of small does of being rational. I don't think Tennessee is the most talented team in the SEC. I don't think the odds are particularly great for any team going undefeated in this conference.

But even as I get progressively and frighteningly more irrational the closer we get to kickoff, I still won't pick against Tennessee at any point in time.

For one, I think the vast majority of us in Vol Nation still believe that Tennessee is good enough to win every game they play.

Even at Florida last year, I'm willing to bet most of you didn't just shake your head and think "Well, the Gators are simply a better team with more talent, and that's that." We've built expectations here and these are the consequences/repercussions.

The phrase I've used most often in the two-plus years of this blog's existence is some form of "The SEC is good enough that anybody can beat everybody. And Tennessee is still good enough to beat anybody every single week."

As long as that's still true, and as long as boundless optimism continues to live at this blog...then why not, as Mike Hamilton says, "Expect to win!"

So while I'll certainly nod my head when others suggest that 10-2 would do a nice job to set the table for a year in 2009 when the Vols could be one of those most talented teams in the conference and the nation, we live in the present where that phrase is still true...and so what you're most likely to get from me every week is something like "How the Vols can win this week" instead of "Will the Vols win this week?" throughout the year.

So...here's how the Vols can win this week...twelve times. I have dreamed a dream...

- The Clawfense (can we get this in the regular vocabulary?) hits some speed bumps early, but the Vol defense hits the UCLA offense. Tennessee wins 27-13 in the Rose Bowl in a game full of questions and answers.

- UAB - one of the worst teams in the FBS - makes us all feel better about ourselves and our chances the following week, 48-10.

- Against Florida...the defense will need to play as close to perfect as possible, and that necessitates creating turnovers. Still, the Vols finally wise up and play ball control and EMPHASIZE WINNING THE RUSHING BATTLE, and give Daniel Lincoln a chance to write his name into the lore of this rivalry. He does, 24-21.

- Meanwhile, Auburn gets their hearts broken by LSU, which allows the Vols to jump them early and then hold on late, 20-17 on The Plains. Every eye now turns to Athens...

- ...but first, the offense gets to stretch its legs after two tough weeks by busting Northern Illinois 41-17.

- Down in Athens, the Vols continue their tradition of ruining UGA's undefeated seasons, 31-20. Really, do you remember the last two years? Or 2004? Are you more worried about this one than anyone else because you've bought into the hype? Are you reading 31-20 and thinking I'm crazy because you've forgotten it would be a significant step up for Georgia to only lose to us by eleven? Tennessee rolls.

- ...and then runs into a five-star trap game the following week, where they need a late rally to put away Mississippi State, 28-24.

- The Third Saturday finds me at my most irrational, where the streets of Knoxville run red with the blood of the Alabama faithful, 41-14. Because it's fun to pick this game with that score.

- Then the Vols go to Columbia with an ever-improving defense and an offense that's excelling more and more at doing exactly what Clawson wants in getting the ball to the playmakers. The Vols secure their spot among the nation's elite with their eighth straight win at Carolina, 31-14.

- In the annual "Don't get anybody hurt!" game, Tennessee beats Wyoming 42-17.

- At 10-0, the Vols don't take anybody for granted and don't allow Vandy to flirt with success this time around, 31-10.

- And finally, in the Randy Sanders Bowl, Tennessee punches its ticket for Miami (and Oklahoma) via Atlanta (and LSU) with a 38-23 senior day win.

See? That wasn't so hard.


2) Gameday routines, we all have them. What are your gameday rituals, especially those that are completely irrational, grounded in baseless superstition, or otherwise defy explanation?

Like others in the roundtable, I usually don't get to tailgate because I'm usually in and out from southwest VA on fall Saturdays.

That said, I hate gameday traffic with a passion, and ever since my Dad and I discovered, before the Georgia game in '93, the parking lot across the Henley Street Bridge where we could enjoy the walk and also avoid all traces of post-game traffic, I've worked very hard to never put myself in it. So today, my friends and I make the lengthy walk from Gay Street to Neyland Stadium each week. And it's great fun when you win, and twice as long when you lose.

I also need to be in the stadium in time to hear Bobby Denton say "It's football time...". Not because I love Denton, but because I'm the weird guy who likes to watch warm-ups and stare off into the distance and try and figure out exactly how we are, in fact, going to win this and every game.

When we win a big game, we've gotta get a shaker.

My season tickets are in Z11 just above the visiting allotment, and so it's always fun in the aftermath of a big Vol win to walk among the departing vanquished and find the stuff they've discarded - a shaker at the least, but there's better stuff to be found as well. My Dad also started me on this one - I think there's still a rubber hog's head from Arkansas '98 somewhere in my parents' basement.


3) Crompton vs. Tebow? Discuss…

Actually, I hope we can avoid this discussion as the season plays itself out.

Not that Tebow's not a great quarterback and for Crompton to even be mentioned in the same breath would probably be a good thing...but for an inexperienced kid who's learning a new offense and taking the reigns of the University of Tennessee, he's got enough going on right now. He doesn't need the messianic comparisons.

That said, if he plays well at UCLA and runs for a score along the way, and follows that up with the numbers that are there to be had against UAB, you'll hear it. All it'll take is one of those plays he had against LSU in '06, where he goes shoulder-first into a defender and gets up looking for more. If that's still his mindset I'm sure we'll see it and then we'll hear the comparisons. But until then...Crompton needs to focus on being Crompton, or figuring out what it means to "be Crompton" in the new Tennessee offense. If that looks like Tebow (which I doubt it will by the end of the season, cause Tebow doesn't have Arian Foster and Mark May's favorite offensive line to run with), then okay. But until then, let's not heap too many expectations on our quarterback who's started two games two years ago by comparing him to a guy with a National Championship ring on one hand and the Heisman Trophy in the other.

4) Will the Vols manage to make it to the SEC Championship Game again this season — either outright, or through the backdoor? Why or why not?

Since we're going undefeated, you know...

Seriously...why not?

I know Florida and Georgia are talented. But here's the thing - the Vols are defending SEC East Champions. Our only major personnel losses are Erik Ainge, Jerod Mayo and Jonathan Hefney.

There's no replacing Mayo. But we get to substitute Demetrice Morley for Hefney. And the guy who's stepping in for Ainge is in the midst of being compared to last year's Heisman winner. Everybody else is back.

So really...why not?

Whether you buy the irrational optimism or not, realistically, we shouldn't be conceding to anyone. Florida comes to Knoxville, and any Vol fan who's afraid of Georgia has been asleep at the wheel. I have an appropriate measure of respect for the Dawgs, but excuse me if I'm not going to hand the East Division to a team we've beaten 51-33 and 35-14 the last two seasons.

Plus, Georgia is this year's winner of the most ridiculously unfair schedule award (which the Vols will be taking home in 2010). This year once again, I think beating Florida is the key to the kingdom. No reason to believe the Vols can't be right back in Atlanta in December.


5) Of all the coaches in the SEC who do you currently consider to be the best? Why?

Urban Meyer.

You thought I was going to say Fulmer for sure, didn't you?

Most of the coaches in this league are very good, no doubt. I think Nick Saban is overrated and Les Miles underrated. I think Tommy T can be the best coach in the conference at times, but his teams often play the most uninspired football at the worst possible times. Saint Richt lost six straight games to SEC East opponents before Georgia got hot last year. Spurrier hasn't found Florida success with South Carolina talent. And until Sly Croom or even Bobby Johnson, both of whom I respect, but until they at least win their division, they can't be in this argument for me.

Meyer is a guy who runs his system and makes it work. Anybody can recruit at Florida, true, but Meyer's still doing it very well (honestly or otherwise). And Meyer's teams seem to excel in the clutch more often than anyone else has in the SEC in the last three years. I don't like the guy, but I'd still take him over anyone else in this league right now.

More rational arguments come this week from:

- Gate 21

- Third Saturday (who shares my love for Mayday's O-Line and Urban Meyer)

- Fulmer's Belly (who shares my love for insanity)

- YMSWWC

- Rocky Top Talk

- Moondog

- The Power T

- Losers With Socks

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