Wednesday, July 30, 2008
25. South Carolina - A new quarterback (Tommy Beecher?) will try and utilize RB Mike Davis and All-SEC WR Kenny McKinley to build a consistent offense in year four under The Ballcoach. The defense rests on adjustments and returns for several top players, including Eric Norwood, Jasper Brinkley, Captain Munnerlyn and Emanuel Cook under new coordinator Ellis Johnson. Carolina was 6-1 last year before losing five straight to close; is this the year they find consistent SEC success?
24. Boise State – No reason to start doubting them now with Ian Johnson back and all the pass catchers, though the Broncos must find a new quarterback to replace Taylor Tharp and rebuild the offensive line. Still, Boise returns seven on defense. An early tilt at Oregon will be enlightening for both teams, but the Broncos may not be challenged again until the unofficial WAC Championship Game when Fresno State comes to the blue turf.
23. Oregon – Nate Costa and Justin Roper (who led the 56-21 Sun Bowl win over USF) duel to replace Dennis Dixon, while tailback-by-committee will attempt to replace Jonathan Stewart. But the Ducks return almost everyone else on offense and seven on defense in a program accustomed to success. The Ducks play Purdue, USC, Arizona State, Cal and the Civil War all on the road.
22. Alabama – Year two under Nick Saban looks to produce better results than the same six losses that ran Mike Shula off. Still, last season all of Bama’s losses were one possession games. John Parker Wilson returns for his senior season with an experienced backfield running behind a great offensive line. The defense is more questionable, and Bama may again be asking for too much from their younger kids. Still, if this team puts themselves in position to win as they did last year, look for them to come away with more than seven wins.
21. Florida State – I really didn’t want to put the Noles anywhere on this list because I feel they’re often overrated for simply being FSU, but even though they haven’t won 10 games since 2003, this team has talent. They’ll first have to get past Wake Forest on September 20 while still playing without multiple starters due to suspension. When at full strength, their defense is solid at every position. Drew Weatherford will probably still be under center, for better or for worse, but experience abounds throughout the offense. More than anything, they play in a weak ACC and simply don’t play a difficult road game unless you count Miami. The schedule is forgiving enough to allow this team to succeed.
20. Illinois – You’ll find out how good Illinois will be without Rashard Mendenhall right away, as they open the season in St. Louis against Missouri once more. Juice Williams continues to have his moments, and without Mendenhall he’ll need more of them. Arrelious Benn is still around, as well as tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, who is required to show up in every Illini preview so we can all stare at his name. Ohio State and Wisconsin are the definitive Big 10 leaders, but the Illini are the best of the next group right now and showed last year they’re capable of pulling the upset. January 1, at least, should be an attainable goal.
19. BYU – This season’s flavor of choice among the mid-majors, the Cougars have won 11 games each of the past two seasons and return a loaded offense (QB Max Hall and RB Harvey Unga leading the way). The question for teams like this involving the BCS has to go right to the schedule; BYU is at Washington on September 6 and hosts UCLA the following week. Beyond that, they simply have to navigate the Mountain West portion of their schedule, which will include a couple dangerous road trips to TCU and the season-ending showdown at Utah. The BCS is the goal and it’ll probably take 12-0 to get there, but even if they stub their toe along the way this is still a good football team.
18. Wake Forest – The 2006 ACC Champions finished 9-4 last year after an 0-2 start, and two consecutive years of success is enough to earn my respect. Riley Skinner is still just a junior and back under center; he led the nation in completion percentage last season. The loss of WR Kenneth Moore must be addressed, but the defense returns nine starters from a group that was only really busted up once in a 44-10 loss to Clemson. It’s Clemson again who’ll lead the ACC pack on paper, but overlooking Wake a third year in a row would be a bad idea.
17. Kansas – The Jayhawks only have one good year under their belt, but at 11-1 it certainly got your attention. Now they’ll get a chance to prove both that they weren’t a fluke and that they can do more than beat up on a soft schedule. A laughable non-conference schedule gets an instant boost from a trip to South Florida, while their Big 12 schedule replaces Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M with Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech. Todd Reesing will be back to lead the charge with plenty of returning weapons to throw to, while a battle is emerging at RB between Jake Sharp and juco transfer Jocques Crawford. If they get past South Florida they’ll probably be 6-0 in mid-October…then we’ll find out exactly how good this team really is.
16. Texas Tech – The Red Raiders are still looking for a complete season, one where they continue and score some upsets while avoiding the upset bug themselves. They’ve been a lock for 8-9 wins every year this decade, but haven’t been able to get past that mark and win the Big 12 South. And until they do, I fear the nation will continue to view them as a gimmick team. The gimmick will certainly be back at full speed this year, with Graham Harrell throwing to Michael Crabtree. Eight starters return on a defense that always seems to be a question mark. Last year TTU beat Oklahoma but lost to Colorado and Oklahoma State. Consistency is the key to rising in the Big 12.
15. Arizona State – A chance for instant credibility comes with the Sept. 20 date with Georgia. You know the names on offense: Rudy Carpenter, Keegan Herring, Chris McGaha. But they can’t help if the offensive line isn’t better – last season the line allowed 55 sacks, and only two starters return. Seven starters return to a defense that can still improve. The Sun Devils’ only losses last season were to Dennis Dixon’s Oregon, USC and Texas. Even if they don’t beat Georgia, as always success in the Pac-10 comes down to beating USC.
14. Clemson – Like Arizona State, a team that returns all of its skill players but has huge issues on the offensive line. But while Spiller and Davis may get the hype, it’s the defense that can really carry this team. Eight starters return from a unit that was in the top ten in scoring and total defense last season. They’ll get tested right away with the neutral site opener against Alabama. The ACC is weak this year and Clemson is the only team that looks great on paper…but the Tigers have traditionally found a way to stub their toe more than once each season under Tommy Bowden. If the offensive line doesn’t get them beat, the talent is there to think championship…but the tradition is there to think more frustration.
13. Auburn – A solid offense with no spectacular pieces but a very good whole looks to come alive under Tony Franklin; Auburn didn’t score a ton of points but did get a ton of yards in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl win over Clemson’s tough defense. Auburn is one of several teams who might have the third best offensive line in the SEC and the third best offensive line in the country. The defense too is solid all around, with Sen’Derrick Marks and Tray Blackmon leading the way. This team will be very interesting to watch; like many in the SEC, they can go the distance or they can go 8-4. There’s a road trip to West Virginia stuck in there in October, but the SEC schedule sees Florida rotate off and LSU, Tennessee and Georgia all come to Jordan-Hare. If the offense continues to improve and Auburn avoids a lifeless game or two that’ve plagued them in the past, they can win the SEC. Quarterback play is the key.
12. South Florida – Of all the surprises from last season, I think USF has the best chance to duplicate their success. Most of that has to do with the fact that they play Kansas in Tampa, and they play in the Big East. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have Matt Grothe and nine other starters back on offense, with George Selvie returning as last season’s Big East Defensive Player of the Year. They did get murdered in the Sun Bowl, but their three regular season losses were by a combined fifteen points last season. If they beat Kansas and avoid an upset, they’ll be 11-0 headed to West Virginia on December 6.
11. Wisconsin – Quarterback play is key here too, where it could determine whether the Badgers are Big 10 Champions or an afterthought in 2008. If it’s Allan Evridge, he needs to do what Tyler Donovan excelled at: minimize mistakes and let defense and PJ Hill win it for you. There’s a talented stable behind Hill as well, and four starters return on the offensive line. The defense returns nine starters and must be stronger; in Wisconsin’s four losses last season they allowed an average of 32 points. The Big 10 this year appears to be Ohio State and then everyone else, but Wisconsin is at the front of that next group and gets OSU in Madison.
10. Tennessee – The Vols are considered an afterthought by many, but I’m still not sure why. The defending SEC East Champions return every skill player on offense and all five starters from a line that allowed four sacks in 2007. Defensively, there’s no replacing LB Jerod Mayo, but the only other major personnel loss was FS Jonathan Hefney, who’ll be replaced with the returning Demetrice Morley. Erik Ainge will be replaced by junior Jonathan Crompton, who’s probably receiving more hype than he deserves right now, but time will tell. The defensive line must come together and Rico McCoy is the only sure thing at linebacker, plus the Vols could get burned in the punting game while Britton Colquitt serves a six game suspension. But Tennessee plays best when the spotlight isn’t on them, and between the Gators and Dawgs there’s been little of it left for the Vols this season. Tennessee is good enough to win every game they play.
9. Texas – The reloading continues, as Colt McCoy may benefit from a year where he doesn’t enter the season as a Heisman favorite but still has plenty of weapons, even in the absence of Charles and Sweed. Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley are assets at receiver, while the backfield is inexperienced but, of course, full of raw talent. The line will have to carry the defense early in terms of experience, but Will Muschamp takes over as coordinator and will have lots of talent to play with in the LBs and DBs as well. The September schedule is forgiving, which should give Texas time to know what it’s got heading to the Red River game. Playing OU and Missouri in consecutive weeks won’t be fun. Still, it’s Texas, where talent grows on football fields.
8. West Virginia – I thought the most impressive performance in college football last year was in the Fiesta Bowl, where a West Virginia team who’d been heartbroken by Pittsburgh and was without their head coach played the team I thought was the best in the nation…and won by 20. Pat White is back to run the offense and take another stab at the Heisman, while Noel Devine should make people aware of his presence instead of Steve Slaton’s absence. It’s a defensive issue that keeps West Virginia out of surefire National Championship conversation; only four starters back (though the ’07 group was surprisingly great). They might get tested at East Carolina or at Colorado early, but they’re without a doubt the most talented team in the Big East and play USF at home to close. The national title talk begins and ends with the Auburn game.
7. USC – I’ve heard it said that there’s no truly great team in college football this year, but a bunch of really good ones, and that list starts here with USC. The offense gets placed in the hands of Mark Sanchez and whichever talented back gets the most carries. You judge this offense because it doesn’t have names like Palmer, Leinart, Bush or Williams – and maybe there are legitimate questions about how good these receivers are, and the fact that only one starter is back on the line – but just because you don’t know all the names doesn’t mean it still won’t score a lot of points. And with seven back on last year’s second best defense in the nation, the offense won’t have to win many games for them. These are the best linebackers in the country and the secondary is in the conversation. The Pac-10 is getting more competitive and Stanford proved you can’t take anything for granted, but most still believe that USC’s biggest hurdle to Miami is Sept. 13 against Ohio State. If the Trojans win that one, they won’t be this far down anyone’s list.
6. LSU – It’s privilege as defending National Champion to be ranked a couple spots higher than you probably should be, especially when you’re inexperienced at quarterback. But everywhere else, LSU is still very good. The backs and receivers are deep and experienced and the line is incredibly good, it simply falls to Andrew Hatch or Jarrett Lee to make it work. Remember – LSU won it all last year with Matt Flynn, so these new guys don’t need to win the Heisman for the Tigers to succeed. The Tigers return the best defensive line in the SEC even without Glenn Dorsey, but it gets a little muddy from there: Beckwith is the only returning LB, and only one starter is back in the secondary as well. Plus, Bo Pelini is in Nebraska. So it’ll be a real work in progress on that side of the ball, but again, that doesn’t mean they won’t ultimately be good. LSU has been to BCS bowls the last two seasons and is still right there in the uber-competitive SEC. They have the misfortune of trading Kentucky for Georgia on the SEC rotation and go to The Swamp, but they can still probably win the division if they can win at Auburn.
5. Missouri – Another very good team, I heard Chase Daniel on ESPN talking about being glad that people weren’t ranking them higher because it’s good motivation. These Tigers just aren’t going to get past the next four teams when it comes to preseason polls, but they could be every bit as good as them. Daniel returns with weapons to throw to, and though I’m sure they’d like to see something even more productive from the running game, Daniel has a chance to win the Heisman. Even better, the defense returns ten starters. Even better, they catch most of Kansas’ good fortune in the schedule from last season: the only time they’d see Oklahoma is in the Big 12 Championship, and while they must go to Texas, their other draw from the South division is at Baylor and home to Oklahoma State. Can’t overlook Illinois in the opener or Kansas at the close in the neutral site games, but this team has all the pieces and the schedule to head to the Big 12 title game in the running for Miami.
4. Ohio State – The Buckeyes might be the best looking team on paper, but after two years of coming up way short at the finish line and now facing a schedule that sends them to SoCal in week three, this is the last team in the country I’m going to assume with. Their only real loss is Vernon Gholston, which means Todd Boeckman, Chris Wells, Brian Robiskie, Brian Hartline, James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins and the rest are all back for more. They’re easily the most talented team in the Big 10, though they’ll face the next best things on the road (at Wisconsin Oct. 4, at Illinois Nov. 15). If the Buckeyes win each of those three big road games, they’ll deserve another shot at the big prize. Until then, I’m tempering expectations.
3. Florida – The Gators set the world on fire by beating Tennessee 59-20 in September…and then didn’t do a whole lot after that. They finished the year with four losses, and against Georgia and Michigan the defense gave up 40+. The good news is, the offense is almost completely intact with Tim Tebow looking for another ring and another Heisman. Whoever plays tailback will be lightning fast, while Percy Harvin will continue to rack up the yardage in a number of ways. The line should do a better job this year of protecting #15. The defense should be better on the tail end, with all three (good) linebackers returning and experience in the secondary as well. But the line is a giant question mark, with only Jermaine Cunnigham at end having any experience and a ton of sophomores filling out the depth chart. The Gators open with Hawaii and Miami, which should be interesting, before going to Knoxville. If teams can take advantage of their weaknesses and run the football on them, keeping Tebow and friends off the field, Florida is vulnerable. But if the Gators shore things up defensively, look out.
2. Georgia – The Dawgs are the odd man out in the SEC’s upper elite; four others have won National Championships since the league expanded in 1992, and Auburn had an undefeated season. So while Georgia is often counted among the SEC’s top half, they need a championship to really solidify it. This team was in a very bad place last year, and then inexplicably came out of it against their most difficult opponent. Since that Florida game, Georgia has been one giant momentum train, and it’s clearly rolling into 2008. A stretch of games from mid-September to mid-October will tell us if the second half of ’07 was the real deal: Georgia is at South Carolina, at Arizona State, then home to Alabama and Tennessee during that stretch. If UGA is truly a National Championship contender, they’ll run that table and set themselves up for the second half, where they’ll go to LSU, play Florida in Jacksonville, and then go to Auburn. It’s the toughest schedule I know of, and I’m not sure any team could come out of it clean. For Stafford, Moreno, an offensive line with questions and a defense with nine starters back, this season will show what they’re truly made of.
1. Oklahoma – The best combination of good players, experience, and a manageable schedule makes Oklahoma my best choice to make it to Miami. Nine starters return to an offense that averaged 42.3 points per game, and that doesn’t include RB DeMarco Murray. The defensive line will be dominant, though there are questions at linebacker and at the corner positions on defense. Still, Sam Bradford should be able to lead this offense and make a real run at the Heisman. The Sooners catch a break in the non-conference because Washington was a much better team when they scheduled the matchup years ago, but now that road trip doesn’t appear to be very threatening. They won’t see Missouri unless it’s for the Big 12 title, Kansas comes to Norman and Texas will be waiting in Dallas. What’s their most difficult road trip, at Kansas State? At A&M or Oklahoma State? Those are your best options. They’ve had a terrible time in BCS bowls recently, but as far as getting to Miami in 2008, no team is better equipped to do it than the Sooners.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
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...
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?
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)
Saturday, July 26, 2008
The 2008-09 schedule was released today, with times and television to be determined. Remember when we used to play schools you'd never heard of? Not anymore:
2008-09 Tennessee Basketball Schedule
Sat 11/15 - vs UT Chattanooga
Tue 11/18 - vs UT Martin
Fri 11/21 - at Middle Tennessee
Thu 11/27-Sun 11/30 - Old Spice Classic (Orlando)
Gonzaga - Georgetown - Maryland - Michigan State
Oklahoma State - Siena - Tennessee - Wichita State
Wed 12/03 - vs UNC Asehville
Sat 12/13 - at Temple
Tue 12/16 - vs Marquette (Nashville - SEC/Big East Challenge)
Sat 12/20 - vs Belmont
Mon 12/29 - vs LA Lafayette
Sat 01/03 - at Kansas
Wed 01/07 - vs Gonzaga
Sat 01/10 - at Georgia
Tue 01/13 - vs Kentucky
Sat 01/17 - vs South Carolina
Tue 01/20 - at Vanderbilt
Sat 01/24 - vs Memphis
Wed 01/28 - vs LSU
Sat 01/31 - vs Florida
Wed 02/04 - at Arkansas
Sat 02/07 - at Auburn
Wed 02/11 - vs Georgia
Sat 02/14 - vs Vanderbilt
Wed 02/18 - at Ole Miss
Sat 02/21 - at Kentucky
Wed 02/25 - vs Mississippi State
Sun 03/01 - at Florida
Thu 03/05 - at South Carolina
Sun 03/08 - vs Alabama
Thu 03/12-Sun 03/15 - SEC Tournament (Tampa)
NCAA First & Second Round Sites - March 19-22
Boise - Dayton - Greensboro - Kansas City
Miami - Minneapolis - Philadelphia - Portland
NCAA Regional Final Sites - March 26-29
Boston - Glendale - Indianapolis - Memphis
NCAA Final Four - April 4-6 - Detroit
The story that bridges the gap between 1998 and 2008 raises questions about what the Vols have done since their championship foundation was laid, and reveals how special and unique the '98 season truly was.
With the title in '98, the Vols wrapped up an amazing four year run of 45-5 football with three bowl wins and two finishes in the top three nationally. Phillip Fulmer was validated as college football's winningest active coach in only his sixth full season. And in the SEC, Tennessee's back-to-back titles and ability to finally beat Florida ushered in the end of the Gators' era of dominance.
Off the 13-0 championship season, the Vols returned most of their weapons in 1999 and entered the season ranked second. Peerless Price was gone but would be replaced by Cedrick Wilson as the go-to guy. The losses of Shaun Ellis and Darwin Walker on the defensive line would be filled by a pair of youngsters named Will Overstreet and John Henderson, who would eventually pair with Albert Haynesworth to give Tennessee one of the best defensive lines in SEC history by 2001.
And while Al Wilson couldn't be replaced, Eric Westmoreland and Raynoch Thompson were still around. The return of a healthy Jamal Lewis combined with Travis Henry and Travis Stephens, plus a freshman named Onterrio Smith gave the Vols the most loaded four-deep backfield in recent memory.
While many remember 1999 in hindsight as a group of players with rings who were more interested in their Sunday futures than their Saturday present, the Vols were still arguably two plays from playing for it all again.
At Florida, the Vols really didn't play well and allowed Alex Brown to become famous as he figured out the Vols' snap count and scored five sacks. Still, Tennessee used a 99 yard touchdown drive en route to cutting a 23-7 third quarter hole down to 23-21.
And when Deon Grant made an interception late in the 4th, I turned to my friend in the upper deck at The Swamp (in my only visit) and said "We've got them now."
But on 4th and 3, Tennessee inexplicably called a toss sweep to Jamal Lewis to run away from Alex Brown, and Florida stopped him cold.
The Vols continued to roll the rest of the season before karma got even at Arkansas, where the Hogs erased a 24-14 third quarter hole, scored on a late touchdown and then denied the Vols in the red zone to beat Tennessee 28-24, the exact same score from the previous year in Knoxville. And Clint Stoerner could sleep at night again.
Tennessee was No. 2 in the BCS when they lost at Arkansas. The Vols still earned an at-large bid and played in the Fiesta Bowl again. Unfortunately, they also played Nebraska again, who beat the Vol D into submission in a 31-21 win.
After a rebuilding year in 2000, the reigns were fully handed to Casey Clausen in 2001. Three years removed from the '98 title, a mostly new cast of characters combined to make up a Tennessee team that I believe to this day was every bit as talented as any who've ever worn the uniform:
Clausen at quarterback, with Travis Stephens becoming a Doak Walker finalist in his senior season. An incredible receiving tandem of Donte' Stallworth, Kelley Washington and Jason Witten behind a nasty offensive line. The aforementioned defensive line prowess of Overstreet, Henderson and Haynesworth. Kevin Burnett and Andre Lott also filled out the defense. This team was stout.
And just like 1999, two games that could've, should've gone the other way kept the Vols out of the National Championship picture.
After 9/11 moved the Florida game to December, the Vols beat LSU and jumped out to a two possession lead against Georgia. When the Dawgs rallied and took a late lead, Travis Stephens took a screen pass 62 yards for a score with under a minute to play.
But the forty-plus seconds left were enough time for freshman David Greene to lead the Dawgs downfield, where they'd eventually find a Hobnailed Boot and win in Knoxville for the first time in two decades.
But by December, the Vols had played themselves into position for that loss not to hurt them.
Down in Florida, the No. 2 Gators and No. 4 Vols played probably the single best minute-for-minute football game I've ever seen, with Tennessee coming out on top 34-32 behind Travis Stephens' 226 yards. The Vols' first win in The Swamp since the 1970s moved them to No. 2 in the BCS heading to the SEC Championship Game, where they'd only need to beat LSU for the second time that year to advance to the Rose Bowl and play Miami for the title.
And in what I believe is the most heartbreaking loss in Tennessee football history, the Vols built a 17-7 lead and knocked both QB Rohan Davey and RB LaBrandon Toefield out of the game. But LSU, behind the play of Matt Mauck, rallied to take the lead behind a Travis Stephens fumble, and Donte' Stallworth fumbled in the 4th quarter with the Vols driving to take the lead. LSU scored one late to win 31-20.
And that's as close as the Vols have been to the National Championship since.
After throttling Michigan in the Citrus Bowl, expectations were high in 2002 as the Vols entered the year ranked No. 3. Steve Spurrier was gone, a loser to the Vols the last time he saw them (something I'll always treasure) and '02 was supposed to be the year Tennessee took the SEC mantle from the Gators.
Ron Zook's Florida team had lost to Miami before the Tennessee game, and a rainy afternoon in Knoxville had all of us in orange eager to put the final nail in the Gators' coffin.
Florida scored on 4th and goal at the one yard line with just under five minutes to play in the first half to break a scoreless tie. From there, everything went wrong.
In the downpour, Casey Clausen mishandled more snaps than I can or want to remember. In rapid succession, Rex Grossman took the Gators from a 7-0 lead to a 24-0 nightmare at halftime. Tennessee never recovered in a 30-13 loss.
From there, injuries helped the Vols' downward spiral.
Clausen was injured in a six overtime affair with Arkansas, unable to go against Georgia, where the Vols played valliantly but still lost 18-13. Late in that game, Kelley Washington would be lost for the year, which helped factor into Alabama ended their seven year drought against the Vols 34-14.
Then Tennessee had the misfortune of having No. 1 Miami on the schedule, as the Canes destroyed the depleted Vols. An ugly and dispassionate loss to Maryland in the Peach Bowl ended the 8-5 misery.
After a respectable 2003 regular season that saw the Vols beat Florida, win at Miami and split the Eastern Division title three ways, the No. 6 Vols threw it away in another ugly Georgia Dome performance, losing to Clemson 27-14.
Casey Clausen gave way to Erik Ainge (and Brent Schaeffer) in 2004, where the Vols again put some pieces together to start thinking about championships.
A miraculous win over Florida was seemingly tainted by an Auburn buzzsaw, but then Tennessee went to Athens and stunned undefeated Georgia 19-14.
From there, the Vols wouldn't lose an SEC game the rest of the regular season, and rose to 9th in the polls with an Atlanta rematch with undefeated Auburn on the horizon.
But against Notre Dame in late November, an absurd decision to try and throw downfield in the final moments of the first half turned into a fumbled shotgun snap, and that turned into Erik Ainge separating his shoulder in an attempt to recover it.
Ainge was lost for the year, Rick Clausen came in to throw an interception that would be returned for a touchdown, and the Vols fell.
Tennessee lost to Auburn again in the SEC Championship, but again an impressive bowl performance - this time 38-7 over Texas A&M in the Cotton - raised expectations for 2005.
But for the second time this decade, the Vols went into the season with a top three ranking, and left it in complete disaster.
In 2005, Tennessee made more crucial mistakes than any other season I can remember. Between offensive red zone turnovers, special teams breakdowns and a general malaise that seemed to plague the team, the Vols went 5-6 (and would've been 4-7 if not for an overtime rally at LSU). Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders resigned, and 1998 seemed like a long time ago.
The past two seasons have been a more enjoyable roller coaster, but a roller coaster nonetheless.
In 2006, the Vols opened by blowing out Cal in Knoxville, then played eventual National Champion Florida to a 21-20 heartbreaking loss. Then the Vols won five straight, rising back to No. 8 in the polls and still one Florida loss away from retaking the SEC East lead.
But at South Carolina, on another absurd decision, a quarterback draw for the lightning fast Erik Ainge resulted in a sprained ankle. The Vols would go on to win in Columbia, but with No. 13 LSU and No. 11 Arkansas next on the docket, things were not looking good.
Jonathan Crompton and the Vols gave a valliant effort against the Tigers, but a three-to-one time of possession disadvantage and a missed call on a JaMarcus Russell fumble late in the 4th gave way to a touchdown pass to Early Doucet with less than ten seconds to play, and LSU won 28-24.
Without Ainge the following week again, the Vols were dismantled by Arkansas, and the season was lost.
The season appeared lost on three separate occasions in 2007.
First Cal returned the favor in a season opener. Then Florida scored 31 consecutive points in the third and fourth quarter in the worst Vol loss since 1981, 59-20.
And even after the Vols blew out a Georgia team that would eventually rise to No. 2 nationally, Alabama blasted Tennessee 41-17.
But the topsy-turvey 2007 college football season found a way to reward the Vols: Florida lost three SEC contests, and Tennessee made every play they needed to make in close wins against South Carolina, Vanderbilt and four overtimes with Kentucky to win the SEC East.
And the Vols were two Erik Ainge 4th quarter interceptions away from beating LSU in the SEC Championship Game.
As 2008 unfolds, the Vols find themselves again behind Florida, Georgia and LSU in hype. Phillip Fulmer's contract was recently extended, and the dean of SEC coaches appears safe until retirement (barring another 2005).
It's interesting to look at Fulmer, who's still the winningest active coach in college football among coaches with 10+ years of experience. Since becoming the head man at Tennessee in 1993, there have been 41 other head coaching moves in the SEC.
And it's interesting to note that in the nine seasons since the Vols won it all, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee have each won the East division three times. The difference there is, the Gators and Dawgs have made good on their Atlanta opportunities two times apiece, while the Vols have gone 0-3.
Both in terms of overall talent reduction in Knoxville and the rise of several other SEC programs, it's a different world than it was in 1998.
The SEC was Florida, then Tennessee, then everyone else from 1995-2001. Since then, LSU has won two National Championships, Auburn's had an undefeated season, and Georgia's won the conference twice.
The 1998 squad has sent Jamal Lewis, Travis Henry, Shawn Bryson, Peerless Price, Cedrick Wilson, Cosey Coleman, Chad Clifton, Shaun Ellis, Darwin Walker, Al Wilson and Deon Grant to productive careers in the NFL.
That level of talent doesn't live in Knoxville anymore, in large part because more talent lives in Athens and Baton Rouge these days.
All of these factors help remind me that the 1998 season was truly unique and special.
Of the four SEC teams who've won a BCS National Championship, only the Vols did so as an undefeated team. And while the Vols have both been close a couple times since then, and have been terrible a couple times when they were supposed to be close, the new landscape of the SEC brings some old truths into play:
The SEC is tough enough that anybody can beat anybody, where six teams come to August with real hopes of winning it and several others can make plenty of noise.
LSU won the title last year with two SEC triple overtime losses and a handful of other razor-thin conference wins, then destroyed the number one team in the country the same way Florida had done the previous year.
In 2007, Florida beat Tennessee by 39. Tennessee beat Georgia by 21. Georgia beat Florida by 12.
There are no off weeks, and every game is truly a challenge.
But despite that...no matter how tough the league may be, the Vols are still good enough to compete. And still goood enough to win.
Tennessee will face no one this year where they will use talent as an excuse if they get beat. The Vols have built expectations continuing off their championship foundation, and even if the talent is slightly down and the competition is way up...Tennessee is still good enough to win in this league, ten years from a National Championship and one year off an Eastern Division title.
The SEC is good enough to beat you every week. But Tennessee, ten years from their undefeated season, is still good enough to carry the fight to the opposition and keep it there for sixty minutes. 1998 was unique. But its legacy, ten years later, finds Tennessee still coming into August with championship goals, and the talent and ability to still carry them out.
We didn't know what 1998 would hold when the season began. The story that unfolded was the greatest in Tennessee football history.
What story will the Vols tell in 2008?
Big Orange Roundtable - Week 3 Roundup
Rocky Top Talk provides a thorough recap of this week's festivities - here's your chance to read good stuff about the Vols without having to hear about subpoenas.
Really, this whole thing is just an excuse to post this...
I don't watch the ESPYs, but I did catch part of the replay this afternoon while waiting to not watch the Braves and Phillies. Memphis' own Justin Timberlake was the host, and I have never liked him more:
Friday, July 25, 2008
But for the Atlanta Braves, tomorrow afternoon at Citizens Bank Park one game in late July can be very, very important after all.
The Braves spent the first half of the season watching their starting lineup head for the disabled list or season-ending surgery. They watched Jeff Francouer face demotion and are still in the throws of an unbelievable string of one run losses (still 24 and counting on the road in a row).
Coming out of the All-Star Break, the Braves were 45-50 and 6.5 games back in an NL East that no one had run away with. The centerpiece of Atlanta talk was 1B Mark Teixeira, last year's acquisition at the trade deadline when the Braves were buyers. But as the weeks and the difficulties kept adding up, in Teixeira's final year of his contract it seemed like Atlanta would logically need to play the seller for the first time in almost two decades to get at least some return on their investment.
Any ideas to the contrary would need to be proved immediately out of the break, with the trade deadline approaching on July 31. So the Braves came out sharp against the lowly Washington Nationals at Turner Field, building a huge lead they'd have to eventually save in a 7-6 win right off the break.
Then they lost the next two to the last place Nats by a combined score of 23-8.
Any hope that remained now faced an even steeper hill to climb: a six game road trip against surefire contenders, with three games in Florida followed by three at Philly.
The Braves held up their end midweek, taking two of three from the Fish. Still, winning the series at Philly seemed unlikely between the 8-1 mark the Phillies had established against the Braves this season, and Chipper Jones' hamstring injury, which is likely to cause him to miss all three games.
So it came to this heading into the weekend: win the series at Philly, and give yourselves enough reason to believe that you can still contend in 2008. Keep Teixeira (and possibly even add a piece) and play your hand now. Hope that your pitching staff puts itself back together and some cold bats warm up in a division that no one really wants to run away with.
Or lose the series and call it what it is: a below-average ballclub that, for a number of reasons, just doesn't have it this year and needs to sell what they can and look towards the future.
While the Braves have missed the playoffs the last two seasons after playing in October every year since 1991, even in those years the Braves were somewhat relevant in the races into at least August. They weren't sellers at the trade deadline, they didn't cash in their chips.
What's more, Atlanta fans simply aren't used to meaningful regular season baseball. Only twice in the eleven years from Atlanta's World Series title in 1995 to their last postseason appearance in 2005 were the Braves' postseason hopes even in doubt; during that span Atlanta won the NL East eleven times by an average of more than 9.5 games each season.
So there's still a lot of new feeling going around in a city that's known for only caring about its baseball team. 14 straight trips to the playoffs leaves a regular season arrogance that hangs around for a couple seasons even after not playing in October, and the idea that a late July game could have real merit seems ludicrous.
It still was, really...until tonight.
Atlanta went to Philly without Chipper Jones and his .369 league-leading average and put Jair Jurrjens on the hill in the biggest game of his young career.
Jurrjens responded with eight innings of three hit shutout ball.
Without Chipper, he was backed by Brian McCann, who hit a solo shot in the 4th to put Atlanta on the board.
Then in the 9th, still up only 1-0 (and with thoughts of that horrible one run loss streak dancing in their heads no doubt), the Braves loaded the bases against Brad Lidge, and Teixeira proved his worth by singling to drive in an insurance run.
For me, up in southwest Virginia and outside the realm of Peachtree TV and Fox Sports South, it unfolds like this: staring at an animated box score to tell me the results of every pitch.
So I see three red dots on the basepaths, and Brian McCann moving up to cleanup in the order in the absence of Chipper. And then in one beautiful animation, those red dots all disappear, replaced with nothingness and the words "GRAND SLAM".
It was the first home run Lidge has allowed all season. And the Braves put an exclamation point on the evening.
They'd plate two more in the ninth before Will Ohman allowed two in the bottom half before retiring the Phillies. Atlanta wins game one, 8-2.
Now, the Mets are actually leading the NL East, and their win tonight keeps the Braves 6.5 back.
Tomorrow, now Atlanta has a chance to go ahead and win the series. To give real evidence that they're still in this race and should keep Teixeira and play for today. And to take another step towards getting back to .500.
It's a big game, no doubt. It's on Fox at 3:55, which means I'll actually get to see it. But what makes Saturday's game potentially more special than all the rest and that added storyline boost to make it must-see TV for Braves fans is this:
After 35 months, Mike Hampton is scheduled to start.
He couldn't ask for a better storyline or stage. Against the high-powered Phillies and Cole Hamels. First major league action since August 2005 - you know, when the Braves were playoff bound. And a chance, with a win, to potentially secure Teixeira and give more momentum to the idea that Atlanta isn't going away this season just yet. It doesn't get much more important for late-July baseball than this.
Maybe Hampton gets hurt warming up again, which should surprise no one at this point. Maybe the Philly bats get hot again and they run him off quickly. Maybe Atlanta comes back and wins the series on Sunday anyway, maybe not. But right now, one game is all they've got in front of them. Win Saturday, and you can still think about winning in August and September. Keep winning...and maybe those October dreams can come back to life.
If you take them one at a time...tomorrow would be a good one to take.
(EDIT: I can't see it after all. Screw the Red Sox and Yankees.)
It's even all landscaped for your viewing pleasure...as long as you don't mind Phil staring at you while you do whatever it is you do on your computer. If he keeps talking like he did today (see the post below), he can stare at me all he wants.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
“I do have to be a little bit careful - a lot more than I’d like to be.
I was getting out of the car and was tossed a piece of paper that I picked up, stuck it in with a whole bunch of things that I had been reading on my way in from the airport and handed it to Bud Ford to put in his briefcase and forgot about it. I got a bunch of questions (from the media) about a subpoena that I hadn’t seen.
I wasn’t expecting a subpoena but maybe every time I go to Birmingham I probably will be expecting a subpoena. As it turns out its some sort of subpoena to do something, and I will let the attorneys all handle that. The issue is its all crap and they are trying to use the press trying to use a day that’s very special to the Southeastern conference for players and the coaches.
Because they can’t win legally they are trying to play the game in the press I am more than a little PO’d about any part of that. It’s sad that a few publicity hunting lawyers in one of our sister states want to keep open a chapter of history that has long since been closed and as far as I’m concerned will stay closed. Obviously this is an effort to distract our football team or distract me in some way. The last time this happened we won the division with two freshman quarterbacks. We won’t be distracted I had a good conversation with the commissioner about it.
About being in Birmingham, I wasn’t trying to mislead anybody. I hadn’t looked at anything.”
Around the Vol Blogosphere, Third Saturday has this covered from all angles as you'd expect, while lawvol over at Gate 21 gives his legal expertise on the firm of Blankenship, Harrelson and Wollitz, where they're taking your PayPal donations today and you, yes you, might have a case.
I do enjoy Phillip when he gets excited.
Mark May gives the Vols his blessing
You can read more about this at Rocky Top Talk and Third Saturday, but Tuesday on ESPN's College Football Live (starting back up this week, weekdays @ 3:30) they had Todd Blackledge and Mark May on. And in a span of 30 minutes, Mark May gave the following responses:
- Quarterback to Watch: Jonathan Crompton
- Heisman Dark Horse: Arian Foster
- National Championship Sleeper: Tennessee
Now, we know ol' Mark, an Outland Trophy winner himself, is loving on the Vols because of their offensive line (and he said as much). And yes, it's Mark May. But hey, you take what you can get. And when you combine Mayday with the SEC unit rankings from Athlon & Lindy's...well, give it a few more weeks, but I'll have talked myself into 14-0 well before kickoff.
Braves: Living and Dying in Philadelphia
The Braves survived the first part of Mark Teixeira Week by taking two of three down in Florida. They looked great in a 4-0 win on Monday, continued their quest to have a pitcher from every team in the league flirt with a no-hitter against them in a shutout loss Tuesday, then looked spectacular for 8.5 innings tonight, still winning 9-4.
Meanwhile, the tied-atop-the-division Mets and Phillies have been playing each other, which means you can't gain any real ground because one of them is going to win every night. So the Braves will head to Philly the same 6.5 games back they were at the start of this road trip.
And it does come to this, my friends. Even with Tim Hudson and Chipper ".369 is still good enough to lead the majors" Jones exiting early tonight with tightness in elbows and hamstrings, respectively, Atlanta can put themselves back in it this weekend.
Or they can continue to go down the path they've traveled so far with the Phillies this season, who are a staggering 8-1 against the Braves. But at least this series isn't at Turner Field, where they're 6-0.
What's more...and I'm jinxing it right now, and given the way the last three years have gone he doesn't need me to jinx it, I'm sure something else has already beaten me to the punch - but we might have a Mike Hampton sighting on Saturday.
It's the Fox game at 3:55, and it'd be a good story. I'm not sure the alternative (Jo-Jo Reyes, 3-9 on the year) is any better than the guy who's spent most of Bush's second term on the DL. The Braves will throw Jurrjens and Campillo between the Saturday spot, where Hampton or Reyes will face Brave-killer Cole Hamels. But at this point, they're all Brave-killers.
Atlanta doesn't have to sweep (though as part of the boundless optimism that lives on this blog, it's our duty to note that if they do, the Braves could only be 3.5 back by Monday and in that case, Teixeira definitely stays).
They do need to win the series. That's the goal. Two games in Philly would be enough for me to keep Teixeira (and Mark Kotsay) on board for the rest of the season. Two wins puts you within enough striking distance and reason to give it your best shot. Anything less, and it's going to be awfully tempting to put Big Mark out there.
We'll see what happens starting Friday night.
WWE: Now that's more like it...
(Warning: SmackDown spoilers for this Friday ahead)
It didn't take long for them to set up SummerSlam. One night after the Great American Bash, the events of Monday's Raw and Tuesday's SmackDown tapings should set up something like this on August 17:
- Triple H vs. The Great Khali (WWE Championship)
- CM Punk vs. JBL (World Heavyweight Championship, insert gimmick here)
- The Undertaker vs. Edge (Hell in a Cell)
- John Cena vs. Batista (first time ever, should be #1 Contender's Match)
- Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho (insert gimmick and excitement)
- Mark Henry vs. Matt Hardy (ECW Championship)
- Big Show vs. Umaga
- Jeff Hardy vs. MVP
- DiBiase & Rhodes vs. Hacksaw Jim Duggan & Jerry Lawler (easy & great idea)
- The return of Randy Orton
- The return of Kane's mask
That's a lot. And a lot I like.
I know it seems backwards to have the two title matches essentially be non-main events (Cena/Batista and the Hell in a Cell match will be the real main attractions)...but I do understand where they're coming from with Khali, who was in Get Smart and is some huge phenomenon over in India. The only way you make his match with Triple H interesting is to make it for the title. So they did. The only way CM Punk is interesting is to see how long they'll leave the belt on him. And so it still is.
Meanwhile, the rest of this thing is loaded. Between Cena/Batista, the Cell, and HBK/Jericho (which has been the best feud going since WrestleMania) it'll get my money, and deservingly so.
Now keep in mind...it's the WWE and things do change. Right now, the only things locked in are the Cell, the ECW title match and Triple H/Khali. But when you go off the air Monday with Cena/Batista...they're no fools.
If it stays this way...well done.
The News-Sentinel reports that Alabama and Clemson will split $3.8 million for their season-opening neutral site tilt at the Georgia Dome. The word up here in Hokieland is that talks are nearly finalized for Bammer and VT to play a similar engagement in the future down in Georgia.
Remember the Kickoff Classic and its stepsister, the Pigskin? This is like that idea except done well - out-of-conference southern rivalries in the one city we can all converge on.
The Vols are booked up with the major non-conference opponents for the next decade, literally. And if we won't play VT in Bristol, I doubt we'd play them anywhere. But still...between the money, ESPN GameDay, and the ABC audience (and of course, the alcohol)...others are going to start thinking this is a really good idea. And they're going to be right.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
We’ve followed the story of the ’98 Vols, from the program’s move to the doorstep during the Peyton Manning Era, and how Tee Martin took the wheel and led the Vols to wins against Syracuse, Florida, Georgia, a miracle against Arkansas and a second straight SEC Championship against Mississippi State.
So the story moved to the desert, where the Vols went looking for the final win to secure their first National Championship since 1951. And after Upset Saturday took out Kansas State and UCLA, a much more imposing threat arose to punch the other half of the ticket.
Florida State had lost back in September, 24-7 to NC State in a game that was frankly jarring to watch, because in 1998 you weren’t used to seeing FSU get beat that way.
But the Noles stayed the course and wouldn’t lose again. They used a defense as equally fearsome as the Vols’ and got the same fortunate bounces against the Gators to set up the championship matchup. For Florida State, it was just the latest edition of their program playing for it all.
For Tennessee, the brightest lights and the biggest stage were both a new experience.
Out in Tempe, you could tell the difference just between the fanbases.
After an eleven hour delay at a Louisville, KY airport (because all the flights from Knoxville were booked), my Dad and I arrived in Phoenix in the wee hours of the morning the day of the game. In the hours before kickoff, our interactions with FSU fans produced what I would call “unintentionally condescending” conversations: several conversations where Nole faithful told us some form of “You’ve had a great season, congratulations for making it this far.”
Again, they’d been here before. It was all new to us.
Early in the contest, it showed. While Florida State did what they do, with three fifteen yard penalties in the first quarter, the Vols did what they usually didn’t in 1998: Jeff Hall missed a short field goal, and Travis Henry fumbled on Tennessee’s first two possessions.
With both teams killing themselves in a scoreless first, Peerless Price made the game’s first big play, hauling in a bomb from Tee Martin to put the Vols in position. And when the Noles committed their fourth fifteen yard penalty by roughing Hall on a field goal attempt, the Vols took the points off the board and added a touchdown on a dump to Shawn Bryson.
Much had been made of both Peter Warrick and Marcus Outzen, the third string FSU quarterback who was thrust into action. The combination of those two things was bad news for the Noles on the ensuing possession – Outzen tried to force it to Warrick, and Dwayne Goodrich stepped in front and raced back for a pick six. Suddenly, the six point underdog Vols were up 14-0 in the second quarter.
Warrick would finish the night with all of one catch.
The Vols had a chance to get more, but Tee Martin was intercepted, setting up Florida State’s first touchdown. After a botched extra point, the Noles would add a field goal to make it 14-9 Vols at the break.
After a third quarter where almost nothing happened, Vol fans who’d learned to put their faith in the defense once again found themselves just hoping to hang on as the game went to the final period.
The Vols had been winning the field position battle, and Tee Martin tried to take advantage of a short field early in the 4th, but was intercepted in the end zone. From there, Florida State marched to 1st and 10 at the Tennessee 26 yard line with thirteen minutes left in the game.
After two runs for minimal gain and a crucial false start penalty, Vol DT Darwin Walker turned a potentially long field goal into a punt situation by sacking Outzen. FSU had 1st and 10 at the 26 and leaves the field with 4th and 26 at the 42.
It was the beginning of the sequence that would win the Vols the National Championship.
Off the punt, Tennessee runs into the line twice and faces 3rd and 9 at their own 21. There are still nine and a half minutes to play, and the Vols are seemingly still just trying to hold on. They put Peerless Price alone out to the right, and Tee Martin drops back and simply lets her rip.
Racing down the sideline, Price times everything right. The ball sails over the defender’s hands and into Price’s at just the right moment, and he comes down with nothing but green in front of him.
79 yards later, the Vols have put enough distance between themselves and Florida State to secure the title.
It wasn’t done – it looked like it when Outzen fumbled on the next possession, but the Vols only got three out of it. Then Florida State finally put together a cohesive drive that ended in the end zone, cutting the lead to 23-16.
An onside kick bounced off Sebastian Janikowski’s large frame before going ten yards, giving the ball back to the Vols. Still, they maddeningly fumbled it back to FSU…only to watch Outzen throw a game-clinching interception on the very next play.
As the clock ticked down at Sun Devil Stadium, I tried to take it all in. Once the scoreboard hit 00:00 and they put that giant graphic up on the jumbotron that had the name of my school with the words “National Champions” next to it…I simply couldn’t believe it.
But I was going to enjoy it anyway.
Grown men in orange are crying. One of my Dad’s friends tells me that they’ve been waiting their whole life for this, and I’m only 17 years old and get to enjoy it. A much younger looking Phillip Fulmer is down on the field, holding up that giant crystal football.
And my favorite moment, shared only by those who were there:
ESPN and College Gameday had been ducking Knoxville all season. They had good reason: Chris Fowler said some things about the Vols and trailer parks without thinking in the Peyton Manning/Charles Woodson aftermath the previous year. So in fear of the repercussions, Gameday didn’t come to Knoxville. Not once all year during the magical 1998 season.
But in Tempe, they couldn’t hide anymore.
Vol fans stormed the in-stadium set immediately following the game. The best of us are chanting anything clever we can think of off the top of our elated heads. The worst of us are lobbing beverages over the net ESPN provides for their stars. One of them comes six inches from Lee Corso’s head, who looks some awful combination of angry and afraid, and we all start chanting: “THIRSTY? THIRSTY? THIRSTY?”
It’s the little things you remember.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Mark Richt in the backyard with his newer, younger, slimmed down Uga VII. You know, since Smokey IX is 3-1 against Georgia.
Not that Jones doesn't have sizzle - and to his credit, the G-Gun package succeeded in clutch situations where other Vols with pseudo-sizzle ran into brick walls; we've been trying to run that package every year this decade, all the way back to Eric Locke and running through James Banks and even Lucas Taylor, but Jones made it work.
For this kid to do what he did as a true freshman on a defense that needed him to make every single one of those plays...he screams Dale Carter, he even runs like him off interceptions. Jones had some big play moments, but Eric Berry did this:
Our good friends at Rocky Top Talk have even gone so far as to document Berry's 07 glory in video form:
Despite his talent, I don't think Jones will separate himself enough from all the other talent around him on offense to even begin to approach the impact that Berry creates from day one on defense. Jones is still lots of sizzle with a little steak. Eric Berry is filet mignon. Son.
3. You devise a way to harness the Lost island's temporal displacement properties. The island will allow you to change one thing, but one thing only, in the history of the Tennessee Volunteer football program. What do you change? By the way, Ben warns that if you try to say "2005" or any other entire season, the mysterious clicking black smoke will sound its wailing siren, shoot from the earth, grab you by the ankles, and pound you to a pulp against a palm tree. So change only one thing. Unless, of course, you like that sort of thing.
After you get back from The Dark Knight, go out and buy the DVDs of Seasons 1-4 of Lost. I'll still wait.
RTT's answer of The Hobnailed Boot is a good one, if for no other reason than it robbed Travis Stephens of one of the greatest plays in Tennessee history. But once the Vols took care of business in The Swamp that December, we were in the interesting place of having lost a game, but it no longer hurt us.
So the only thing more painful, to me, in the history of Tennessee Football, was getting hurt all over again in Atlanta the following week.
If I could change one thing, one play, I'd go back to the 4th quarter of that game, and tell Donte' Stallworth to put both hands on the football and watch for the strip.
There were other mistakes in that game, no doubt: Travis Stephens fumbling in the 3rd quarter with the Vols up 17-16, which LSU would recover and then score the go-ahead touchdown. Tennessee having 1st and goal at the 4 and coming away with a field goal instead of a tying touchdown with only ten minutes left in the game.
But after that field goal, the Vol D stiffened behind a desperate crowd, 80% of us in orange and who were talking about how much fun it would be to take an RV cross-country to the Rose Bowl at halftime. When the defense made that stop and the Vols got the ball back, sitting there in the Dome, I knew we would win. I just knew it.
And when Donte' Stallworth caught a pass at the LSU 35 yard line and looked upfield, we were just moments away from taking the lead.
And then you see that ball hit the turf. And our hearts fell with it.
And that's as close as Tennessee has been to a National Championship since.
I believe 01 Miami was the best team of this decade, better than anything USC had and better than Vince Young's 05 Texas. And maybe the Vols go out to Pasadena to play for it all and lose (though I'd put the 01 Vols up against any other Tennessee team, ever, at even money). But at least we'd have out shot, and at least we'd have another SEC Championship in hand. Instead, Stallworth fumbled and we lost our last, best chance. It still hurts today.
4. What about the future? What is your worst fear for this upcoming season, the turn of events that would send you into a blind rage?
I read an article the other day that was trying to envision the worst-case scenario in 2008 for each of the SEC schools. And for Georgia, they'd listed 10-2 as the worst that could possibly happen. And my point is this: in the SEC, if anybody thinks the worst that could possibly happen is only losing twice, you're out of your mind.
There are six teams in the SEC every year whose fanbases are thinking about championships in July. And the cold reality is, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU and Tennessee can't all win. Somebody has to go down and take 7-5 or 8-4. At least one somebody. Or we can have more insanity like last year, and we all take our turn.
So while any of us should be open to the possibility of 5-7 in the darkest corners of our minds, my most realistic worst fear is that the Vols lose back-to-back against Florida and Auburn.
Winning one of those two will at least give some hope. If the Vols lose twice in two weeks, however - and if they don't look particularly good, especially on offense, in doing so - the demand will be for heads to roll.
You saw it last season. But even going back to 2003, when the Vols won at Florida, but followed it up with consecutive losses at Auburn and then home to Georgia, and then the longest off week in recorded history...we don't deal well with consecutive losses. And that back-to-back task of facing the Gators and then going to Jordan-Hare may prove too much for our young football team to handle. If it does, fan uproar will return to an all-time high, and Dave Clawson will never get a fair shake. He doesn't deserve this early schedule in his first year. But you play the hand you're dealt.
Check back here throughout the week for the other Roundtable responses, posted as we get them:
- Rocky Top Talk (host blog this week)
- Third Saturday
- Fulmer's Belly
- The Power T
- Gate 21
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Big Orange Roundtable - Week 2 Roundup
The Power T gave us the questions for Week 2, and they provide the roundup, putting together all of our answers and picking the best of the best. Look for Week 3 questions coming early this week.
SESB Preseason All-SEC Picks
Six weeks and counting, and with Media Days coming this week from Birmingham, you'll be hearing the official preseason predictions and All-SEC teams in just a few days. Before then, we take a stab at picking our own '08 Preseason All-SEC Team:
QB - TIM TEBOW, FLORIDA
Really, you can't go anywhere else here. Tebow is the defending Heisman winner and the face of the SEC, like it or not. And while Matthew Stafford, an LSU quarterback to be named later or even Jonathan Crompton could have a big year, Tebow has to be on your first team ballot.
RB - KNOWSHON MORENO, GEORGIA
RB - ARIAN FOSTER, TENNESSEE
Moreno is another one that simply has to be on here based on what he did last year, even if you think he might be a fluke or that he's in for a more challenging year in 2008. But that's not what I'm implying. Really. Knowshon is the only returning back who averaged more than 100 yards per game last season. Foster is second on that list, who really only needs to stay healthy to capture Tennessee's all-time rushing record this year. I will say that if LSU's Keiland Williams gets the carries, I think he'll turn in big results.
WR - PERCY HARVIN, FLORIDA
WR - KENNY MCKINLEY, SOUTH CAROLINA
Two guys excelling at two different things here. Harvin is still the consumate playmaker in Florida's offense, while McKinley continues to be the latest South Carolina receiver to shine in the absence of a great quarterback. McKinley led the SEC in receptions and yardage last year, while Harvin was the top receiver in terms of total yards. Whoever becomes Tennessee's top threat, be it Lucas Taylor or Gerald Jones, should make some noise as well, while Auburn's Rod Smith, LSU's Demetrius Byrd and Georgia's Massaquoi are also hoping for big years.
TE - CORNELIUS INGRAM, FLORIDA
Ingram caught a team-leading seven touchdowns last season, and the 6'4" senior will again look to exploit defenses who are already running in circles trying to stop Florida's spread option. The Gators are a real tailback away from insanity.
OT - MICHAEL OHER, OLE MISS
OT - ANDRE SMITH, ALABAMA
OG - ANTHONY PARKER, TENNESSEE
OG - TYRONNE GREEN, AUBURN
C - JONATHAN LUIGS, ARKANSAS
This is one of the best years for offensive linemen in recent SEC history; this fivesome could easily be an All-America team. LSU's Ciron Black and Alabama's Antoine Caldwell are also stout. Luigs won the Remington Award last season as the nation's best center.
DE - TYSON JACKSON, LSU
DE - GREG HARDY, OLE MISS
Even though he was the SEC sack leader last season, I'm not totally sold on Hardy. Jackson is the real deal and will continue to give the LSU defense its pressure off the edge. There are several young players all across the conference who'll have a chance to make a name for themselves this season.
DT - SEN'DERRICK MARKS, AUBURN
DT - GENO ATKINS, GEORGIA
Could've just as easily gone with Jeff Owens from UGA...Marks comes over from defensive end and should become one of the best in the country. Ricky Jean-Francois from LSU must stay healthy to warrant a spot. Peria Jerry from Ole Miss is also more than capable at this position.
OLB - ERIC NORWOOD, SOUTH CAROLINA
MLB - BRANDON SPIKES, FLORIDA
OLB - RICO MCCOY, TENNESSEE
It's a stronger year up the middle, where Auburn's Tray Blackmon and LSU's Beckwith will contend. Spikes is the returning tackles leader in the conference, so he gets the nod here. On the outside, McCoy has been starting for most of his career in Knoxville, while Norwood joins an impressive Carolina defense in his move from defensive end to outside linebacker.
CB - ASHER ALLEN, GEORGIA
CB - CAPTAIN MUNNERLYN, SOUTH CAROLINA
FS - DEREK PEGUES, MISSISSIPPI STATE
SS - ERIC BERRY, TENNESSEE
A solid year at corner in the SEC, with Auburn's Jerraud Powers and Vandy's DJ Moore also candidates. Berry and Pegues are two of the very best at their positions in the entire nation. Moore and Alabama's Rashad Johnson are the returning interception leaders with six, but Allen and Munnerlyn have greater upside.
K - COLT DAVID, LSU
P - RYAN SUCCOP, SOUTH CAROLINA
Yes, Colt David is still in school. And no, we can't vote for Britton Colquitt because we won't see him til mid-October. There are others like the Vols' Daniel Lincoln, Succop and Alabama's Leigh Tiffin who could turn in solid years as a kicker, but David has the experience to get the nod here.
Look for the real team to be announced midweek.
The Vols on CBS College Sports Network - July 21-27
In what I hope becomes a weekly feature, here's the Tennessee action you can check out this week from CBS College Sports (if you're not currently watching the Vols and Kentucky play overtimes on the network as we speak) - over the next two weeks, the network is replaying every single game from the 2008 Men's Basketball Tournament, so you can check local listings for other matchups you'd like to enjoy. It'll take all of this week just to show the first round, so you can see the Vols take on American on Thursday, July 24 at Noon. The March Madness extravaganza will conclude at the end of next week, and the rest of August is supposed to be devoted entirely to SEC Football. High five.
Vols in the NBA Summer League
First, we have to note that when I went to NBA.com to get the final stats this afternoon, the lead story on the official website of the association was about yesterday's outdoor WNBA game. The lead picture shows a mostly-empty tennis stadium as the game is unfolding, with the tagline: It was an event you will tell your grandchildren about. We've covered the flat stupidity in the WNBA's advertising before, but I'm glad to see that nothing's changed.
Moving on...before we talk about the new guys, it's important to again remember that CJ Watson continues to simply do what he does and know his role in the Golden State organization. After finding a role as a backup point guard for the Warriors last season, ol' Quiet Storm has put up 19 points and 5 assists per game during his Vegas summer league stint, which concludes tonight. And since Baron Davis isn't around in Oaktown anymore...who knows what possibilities could await Watson.
Chris Lofton and his three ball have Europe starting them in the face - playing for Denver's summer league team, Lofton (appropriately wearing #3) is averaging less than 10 minutes per game. He's 3 for 5 from deep in four games, but I seriously doubt that's enough to keep him around. Perhaps another NBA team will take a chance on him, who knows. He could make a nice living across the Atlantic though, should he not pursue the D-League route.
JaJuan Smith has seen his minutes increase in five games with Dallas, and true to form, he's not been afraid to shoot. He poured in 19 points in 18 minutes when finally given more of a role against Minnesota, then backed it up with 10 points in 11 minutes the following night. He's shooting 47% from three (I was going to type "from NBA range", but you get the idea). So we'll see...maybe he'll find his way after all.
Braves: Mark Teixeira Week
Or at least it was supposed to be.
The thought was, at 45-50 and 6.5 back at the All-Star Break, that the Braves would come out hot and sweep the lowly Washington Nationals at Turner Field, and then play a huge week starting Monday - at Florida, at Philadelphia - that would determine not only their chances in the NL East, but the fate of 1B Mark Teixeira. If the Braves are out of the race, which they certainly could be at the end of next week, it would make sense to deal Teixeira in his contract year and at least get something for him while retooling for 2009. And if the Braves could play themselves into the race over the next two series, then you'd keep him around and push for now.
It was going according to plan on Friday, when the Braves opened a huge lead and then held on for a rare one-run win. Then the bats went cold yesterday in a big Nationals win.
Since I'm tucked away here in southwest Virginia, I can no longer see Atlanta play - instead, I get the coveted Orioles and Nationals coverage on MASN (and the oft-forgotten MASN2). So unless they're on ESPN or FOX, the only time I can see the Braves play is when they face Washington. So I was looking forward to at least seeing them play this weekend. Plus, I'm still trying to decide about pulling the trigger on a trip to Atlanta in August.
So after just missing the finish of the British Open, I flip over to MASN2's coverage from Turner Field.
As I type, Washington is up 12-4 in the bottom of the 4th. It was 12-2 when I started this paragraph.
If the Braves don't miraculously make up these eight runs in five innings, they could be looking at 7.5 back headed into this road trip. And while I'd still wait on Teixeira until the FLA/PHI series are over...good grief, if you can't beat the Nationals at home...
Base hit, RBI Chipper Jones, and it's 12-5. We'll see.
WWE: The Road to SummerSlam
After an embarassingly lackluster SummerSlam last year, which is supposed to be the second biggest night in wrestling all year, the WWE will set the table for the event starting tonight, at The Great American Bash PPV. After the annual draft reshuffled the deck a month ago, WWE made the bold move of putting the World Heavyweight Championship on the young CM Punk. He defends tonight against Batista, while (newly to SmackDown) Triple H faces Edge for the WWE Championship. Meanwhile, Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho meet again in what should be another entertaining match.
The Bash certainly isn't getting my money tonight, but I want to believe in SummerSlam. I want them to do something good tonight that sets up something great next month, which is the way it should be. WWE has been hovering with their fans recently, and if they continue to build on this youth movement (all major champions currently under 30), there still might be some growing pains along the way. Either way...I hope whatever happens tonight, whatever the outcome, ends up earning my money next month.
Because I know you care, we're now 6-5 in online play on NCAA 09. It's impossible to guard Percy Harvin in man coverage on that game. Impossible. I hate Florida.