Climbing Rocky Top
By: Jeff Doke
TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services
Tennessee Volunteer fans probably feel like they’re in a bit of a time vortex right now.
While last years’ initial campaign from new head coach Josh Heupel gave the Vols as much hope as you could expect from a first-year-of-a-rebuild season, the spectres of Jeremy & Casey Pruitt and their 18 Level I NCAA allegations still hang in the shadowy corners of Neyland.
Let’s focus on the positives here, though. In his first year as head coach, Heupel did a yeoman job of changing the atmosphere & attitude around the football program, and his players on the field responded.
The 2021 Vols produced 39.3 PPG and set several single-season program records, including total yards, points, and TDs. This up-tempo production can only go up this year, considering the rapport that QB Hendon Hooker and WR Cedric Tillman developed last year.
Hooker, after taking over the starting job early in the season, threw for 31 TDs and ran for another 5, all while limiting himself to 3 interceptions. Don’t be surprised if he gets some fringe Heisman consideration.
The defensive side of the ball is where the second-year coach is really going to need to work some magic. The Vols defense underperformed last year, sometimes considerably. If they are going to have even an outside chance at knocking off some of the (pardon the pun) “big dawgs” in the SEC, they’ll need to improve their third down efficiency, especially through the air.
Here’s how you can expect the Vols season to pan out.
WEEK 1 – vs. Ball State – Like any good SEC team not named Georgia, the season starts with a cupcake. Easy win against the Cardinals, 31-14.
WEEK 2 – @Pittsburgh – Pitt is in a bit of a resurgence, so this isn’t an idea time for Tennessee to come calling. I wouldn’t be surprised they pull an upset, but I wouldn’t bet on one either. Vols fall 28-10.
WEEK 3 – vs. Akron – Another lightweight, another W for Big Orange. Zips get zapped, 41-7.
WEEK 4 – vs. Florida – The Gators ran away in the second half last year, smashing UT 38-14. Vols get their revenge & open the SEC slate with a victory 31-24.
WEEK 5 – @LSU – Death Valley is a tough place to play, even on a bad year. Brian Kelly’s antics (and fake accent) might distract, but not enough to make a difference this year. Tigers win big, 49-17.
WEEK 6 – vs. Alabama – Someday, this rivalry will be competitive again. Today, however, is not that day. Bama does Bama stuff in a 55-14 trouncing.
WEEK 7 – vs. Tennessee – Martin – Got to pad those stats somewhere in the season. This is the week to do so. UT over UT-M, 45-20.
WEEK 8 – vs. Kentucky – This one will be closer than most match ups for the Vols this year. Kentucky will be hard pressed to match the momentum they built last year. Give it to UT, 28-24.
WEEK 9 – @Georgia – It seems to be fashionable to pick this as a trap game. I’ve never in my life been accused of being fashionable. Dawgs on top, 42-20.
WEEK 10 – vs. Missouri – Someone explain to me again why a midwestern team like Mizzou is in the Southeastern Conference? Tennessee easily notches another win, 28-10.
WEEK 11 – @South Carolina – Shane Beamer showed a lot of the same promise that Heupel did last year. It’ll be interesting to see which one is still around in five years. Beamer ball will take a close one at the horseshoe, 17-14.
WEEK 12 – @Vanderbilt – Nothing like an easy win for a team waiting on a call from the Belk Bowl. Vols wrap up the season with a 38-6 win.
FINAL PREDICTION – UT goes 7-5 for the season, 4th place in the SEC East, mid-level bowl berth.
By: Kipp Branch
TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services
To say the Tennessee Volunteer football program has struggled recently is being kind. The program is downright awful at the moment.
Tennessee has not won the SEC East since 2007, and have not won an SEC Title since 1998. Since 2007, Florida and Georgia have won the SEC East five times each, Missouri twice, and South Carolina once.
Since 2007, Tennessee has gone through five head football coaches. Jeremy Pruitt was hired in 2018 and fired in 2020 and that experiment was a disaster.
Pruitt was fired for cause due to committing serious NCAA recruiting violations. The NCAA is in a current investigation of the Tennessee. Major NCAA sanctions are looming over the horizon. Nine other coaches and staff were fired as well after the internal investigation.
On the local front former Brunswick High School head football coach Larry Harold was one of the nine terminated after the Tennessee internal investigation.
Rumors of cash being handed out to players and recruits in fast food bags are some of the things you hear being tossed around in connection to the investigation.
Former head coach and AD Philip Fulmer was forced to resign as Athletic Director over the internal investigation and was not allowed to take part in the hiring of Pruitt’s replacement.
I know Tennessee legend Johnny Majors had to be smiling down from heaven on that one after then offensive coordinator Fulmer conspired to have Majors fired as head coach of the Vols back in 1992. Karma has no menu. You get served what you deserve eventually.
Josh Heupel was hired away from Central Florida to clean up the mess of a rotten internal football culture at Tennessee. Heupel will need time to rebuild this program.
The transfer portal has gutted the depth of the program. Hendon Hooker transferred in from Virginia Tech and he and Harrison Bailey look to compete for the starting QB job. Joe Milton also transferred from Michigan and could also compete for the QB job.
Cade Mays leads an offensive line that was brutal in pass protection in 2020. Heupel runs a pass happy offense so pass protection is the key.
On defense the talent at LB transferred. The defensive talent level is lacking. Heupel must develop a defense at Tennessee, which could be a major challenge as his defensive units at UCF ranked among the worst in the nation. Poor defensive play will get you fired in the SEC.
The rebuild at Tennessee won’t be easy at all with Alabama and Georgia recruiting at elite levels and taking top Tennessee high school talent annually. Tennessee must recruit Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia well to return to glory.
It may take a decade after looming NCAA sanctions wear off for Vol fans to get back if ever to the standard they were used to in the 1990’s.
Schedule/My Predictions: Projected Wins: Bowling Green, Tennessee Tech, South Carolina, South Alabama, Vanderbilt.
Projected Losses: Pittsburgh, Florida, Missouri, Ole Miss, Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia
Projected record 5-7 and 2-6 in the SEC.
Tennessee football seasons hinge on outcomes of the Alabama, Florida and Georgia games.
Tennessee records against those three this century:
Alabama: 5-16 and currently on a 14-game losing streak.
Florida: 4-17 and a current 4 game losing streak
Georgia: 6-15 and a current 4 game losing streak
Since Tennessee’s last SEC Championship game appearance in 2007 the Vols are 36-70 in SEC play.
Tennessee has gone from one of the best programs in the conference to one of the worst in 13 years.
It’s not going to get better overnight Tennessee fans. The worst still may be yet to come once the NCAA gets finished with you.
By: Kipp Branch
TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services
As you look around the Southern college football landscape you see the Alabama, Clemson, Florida, and Georgia’s of the world playing a very good brand of football, but you can also look around and see some programs not performing very well.
We have a few programs in our geographical region that currently look like dumpster fires. Let’s take a look at my top five programs that have fallen on hard times.
- Georgia Tech: The Jackets were number one on this list two years ago. Now they are about remove themselves from lists like this. Georgia Tech is doing the right things to not be included on lists like this much longer.
Teams 1-4 on this list need to follow the Jacket blueprint. The Jackets land here as a motivational tool for 2021.
- Florida State: My how the mighty have fallen. This once proud football program has sunk to an all-time low.
Gone are the days of ruling the ACC with an iron fist, and now we see FSU backing out of playing home games against Clemson and using Covid-19 as an excuse after Clemson had already made the trip.
FSU used to be a recruiting machine and now they fight Georgia Southern and South Alabama for 3-star athletes.
FSU will be back eventually but how in the hell should a program of this magnitude ever appear on a list like this? It cost Clemson $250K to travel to Tallahassee for a pre-game meal, but they got to see a top five dumpster fire in person.
- South Carolina: Are you starting to see a pattern of the SEC East yet?
South Carolina is a State with good high school football, Columbia is 80 miles from Charlotte and less than 3 hours from Atlanta. The recruiting base is there.
South Carolina’s biggest problem is that they are Clemson’s little brother and they can’t shake that label.
You mention that to the fan base and they get fighting mad. How can Clemson be so good and South Carolina be so bad currently? I just don’t get it and many football observers in the south don’t either.
Will Shane Beamer fix this dumpster fire?
- Vanderbilt: Vandy has never been very good in football. We all understand that the academic prestige of Vanderbilt presents some competitive challenges for this fine University.
Derek Mason has been fired and been replaced by Clark Lea from Notre Dame.
Vandy needs to get back to work of becoming a competitive football team. The Commodores did not win a football game in 2020, and decided they were just not going to show up and play Georgia in their final game of the season. That mentality alone has to go and makes Vandy a dumpster fire.
- Tennessee: How did we get here Vol fans? You are the biggest dumpster fire in college football currently. A ten-year-old boy and Tennessee fan asked his father “What is it like to beat Alabama dad?” Dad answered “I don’t know son we are Vol fans.”
Tennessee just suffered through the worst decade of football in its proud history. Six head coaches in 12 years.
Now apparently Tennessee has as many as 30 level 1 and level 2 major recruiting violations. Rumors of giving away cash in McDonald’s bags and so on.
Due to NCAA sanctions forthcoming it may be 2025-26 until Tennessee has a full complement of scholarships to offer (they could lose up to 30 over next 4 years).
This program is about to be on life support. Tennessee is having a mass exodus via the transfer portal.
Memphis is the best college football program in the State of Tennessee right now.
Damn, just damn, Big Orange nation you are the biggest dumpster fire in all of college football.