My fellow American football fans:These are troubling times in the state of Tennessee. Football is king in this state, no doubt, but lately the state of football in Tennessee has been more like a jester instead of a monarch.
It’s bad enough that the four Football Bowl Subdivision teams are a combined 8-12 so far in 2009, but the state is also in danger of not sending a team to a bowl game at all.
Should that happen, it would be the first time since 1988 that a Tennessee school did not send a representative to a postseason bowl game.
There’s not a second to waste, so let’s start right at the top. Rocky Top has a new ruler, a new court and a new way of doing things.
The trouble is, the group of players remains much the same from Phillip Fulmer’s tenure. Fulmer let his reputation as a good recruiter get the best of him. He rested on his laurels, and forgot that recruiting was only the first step.
He didn’t develop these recruits from those final classes he brought in (the exception being Eric Berry, as he didn’t need any help), thus leaving the cupboard bare for Lane Kiffin and crew.
Kiffin did a fine job of getting publicity for a program which has slipped into mediocrity. The trouble is, it wasn’t all good.
He called out Florida coach Urban Meyer (and subsequently got him to crack in remarks made post-game), and drew the ire of Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive.
The Big Orange has critical deficiencies at quarterback and wide receiver. Jonathan Crompton has had to learn more new systems than NASA engineers.
Okay, not really, but how can you expect a quarterback to even have a chance to succeed when he’s confusing terminology from previous coordinators?
Granted, his inaccurate throws are his main downfall, but he wasn’t dealt a full deck to start with.
And they insist on throwing to receivers who have no business starting in the SEC. Gerald Jones can’t stay healthy, and he’s the only even halfway legitimate receiving target the Volunteers have.
They have a very good tight end in Luke Stocker, maybe not Jason Witten caliber, but he’s definitely a good target. But he’s not used nearly enough.
And the defense is solid, but they can’t be expected to work miracles if they have to defend only 50 or 60 yards because of bad special teams play.
Eric Berry should win the Jim Thorpe award, given to the nation’s best defensive back. But even he can’t carry the entire team when the offense can’t put up 20 points a game and the kick coverage is less than Linus Van Pelt’s blanket.
Remember Linus? He was Lucy’s litter brother from the Peanuts comic strips. His blanket could cover better than Tennessee’s special teams units.
The prognosis for Tennessee’s bowl chances is still debatable at this point. After Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina to finish the month, the Vols finish with home games against Memphis and Vanderbilt, as well as road trips to Ole Miss and Kentucky.
Assuming they win the Memphis, Vanderbilt and Kentucky games (which we are better off not assuming anymore), Tennessee still needs at least one more win to become bowl eligible.
So they’ll have to pick off Georgia, South Carolina or Ole Miss to reach six wins. I don’t see them beating Alabama.
As for the rest of the Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the 16th state, the best bowl chance rests with Middle Tennessee State.
They’re halfway to the magic six-win number with seven to play, even after suffering a blowout loss at Troy. This weekend they travel to Mississippi State, and then have a legitimate chance to rip off five straight conference wins before a final week showdown with Louisiana-Monroe which could decide the Sun Belt title.
Memphis sits at 1-4, but attendance is up at the Liberty Bowl. The reason is they sell beer at Tiger home games. That’s the only thing Memphis has going for it.
Vanderbilt has been a Jekyll and Hyde through its first five games. In their two wins, the Commodores have averaged 40.5 points per game. In three losses, Vandy has blistered opponents to the tune of 6.3 points per contest.
The loss to Mississippi State was especially damming, since a win there would have given them a path to six wins for the second straight year.
Now, after Army, they have to go through Georgia, South Carolina, Georgia Tech, and Florida before a Nov. 14 date with Kentucky.
One upset is certainly possible, but two may be asking too much. At this point, I’m thinking a 5-7 finish is in the cards for the Commodores.
The Titans are another story entirely. For those of you who are asking what’s wrong, I’m not sure I could list all the problems without giving a full class period lecture.
Maybe it’s a team that overachieved in 2008, and the loss of Albert Haynesworth and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz hurt more than most people thought it would.
I do believe that the loss of Schwartz was a bad one, given his track record. He tended to do a good job of masking holes in the defense and giving them a fighting chance with his schemes.
Chuck Cecil can’t seem to do that right now. They’re not going to the playoffs after this horrid start, but they should play better as the season goes along, and I still think they can finish around .500 if the locker room stays together.
Yeah, it’s a tough year for football in the Volunteer State, but here at Tech, at least the Golden Eagles have had a good start to conference play. A win over UT-Martin and TTU is in the thick of the OVC race. Hey, it’s something to think about.