State of the Vol Nation – November 2009
We are now eight games into this 2009 season and the Vols are even for the season at 4-4. With Memphis coming to town this Saturday night – the weekly pre-game buildup will be a bit on the sluggish side – it’s an excellent opportunity to sit back and take stock in where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going. I’ve invited the charter members of the Vols in the Fall commenters to answer a series of questions on the Vols, the SEC, and the national scene. I throw my two cents in as well. We all provided comments without seeing each others’ musings. A blind tasting if you will.
Since none of us know what we’re talking about when it comes to Tennessee Football, or anything else for that matter, this should rank right up there with the professional media. As somebody once said, some things are far too important to be left to the professionals.
The Tennessee Volunteers
Let’s start with the most important question on everybody’s mind – do you like the black jerseys?
SANDY: As a one-time thing, on Halloween night, I thought it was cool. I thought it looked good… but not something to put in the regular rotation. Maybe black helmets
TK: Hell no. But what would you expect from the traditionalist of the group. I understand and respect what it was all about, but I don’t want to see them again.
DW: Nope—didn’t care for them at all. One of my daughters said from a fashion view “they looked upside down”.
ORANGEBOBBER: I loved the Black Jerseys for the occasion. I think you could still mix some black into the normal jersey design. I like tradition but uniforms to kids mean a lot. Just don’t fool with the helmets.
BERT: Yes, but in small doses… once-a-year is fine!
NORCALVOL: I enjoyed the whole scene as it developed Saturday evening: the excitement, the purpose, and, as I believe, the impact it had on our play (intensity level was very high). Having said that, the look was horrible, and I don’t want to see it again. However, I would be amenable to an all-black uniform, with judicious orange and white trim, used sparingly – no more than one game a season. Yes, all-black for me would include the helmet.
Give one word or a phrase or a short sentence that expresses the essence of the Vols’ season so far?
SANDY: Back on track.
DW: Stokin’ the fire under the still. Last year’s sour mash will eventually yield us some pure spirit.
NORCALVOL: The energy is back.
There has been a transformation of the image of the Vol football program, much due to Head Coach Lane Kiffin. He has received two reprimands from the SEC – for his criticisms of a coach and of officials. He has conducted some of his business in a very extroverted way (e.g., helicopter-aided visits to recruits in the Metro Atlanta area). His name has recently surface in a Li’l Wayne song. How do you think the Vol fans as a whole are adjusting to this style? And, HOW DO YOU FEEL about it?
SANDY: At this point, any publicity is good publicity, especially if it is free. It gets people in the media talking about the Vols. But you prove yourself on the field. If he is still having to do these kinds of things in 3 years, it will be a failure, and he’ll most likely be gone, or on the way out. But, if it works, then the talent and coaching staff get stronger, then success on the field will follow. I think he will always have an edge, but the tone would change. Right now he’s nipping at the heels of the Bama’s, Gators, and Dawgs… but from a position of strength the public statements would be more biting… sort of like the Spurrier years at UF. I still stand by my statement that he is either a genius, or a total idiot. And at this point, the jury is still out.
TK: If this was a “premeditated plan” by Kiffin, maybe it is getting the results he’s looking for. But I’m not sure it is such a plan. I’m wondering if this stuff just rolls off him. The Vol Nation I think is not sure what to expect of him and he’s been around long enough now that they don’t go into shock. But I think in general it makes them a little uncomfortable. I too get a little uncomfy with some of his stuff. Ask me this question in a year.
DW: I think the adjustment is well underway, for the fans and for Kiffin too. His demeanor/attitude during the game will override his off-season antics, and with a full season or two, I believe (hope) he will find his most effective public face to wear for the media.
ORANGEBOBBER: I like coach Kiffin’s approach. He knows the importance of marketing a product in today’s world of information. You have to keep and edge. Bruce Pearl also knows that and is always striving for that edge. Kiffin is not brash, he is smart. Keep you name in the limelight that is what attracts attention. Push the envelope to the edge but just don’t overdo it. He knows his limits and has a plan to reach his goals.
BERT: Fans only care about results… so, on that count, i think they’re very satistfied… I love his cockiness… barkin’ at the big dogs [urban, saban, spurrier and the occasional zebra...] has gotten UT some coverage [good and bad...] that would never have happened under fulmer… any press is good press.
NORCALVOL: All that has happened so far is a good thing for our program and the kids. I must continually caution myself, however, because I fully admit I’m a bit drunk on the Vols right now. In the lexicon of some, they are HOT. There is no doubt in my mind that all the visibility and the transformation of the Vol “brand” has aided our recruiting. And I don’t care what the fans or coaches of other schools, SEC or elsewhere, think. I really don’t. But I am sensitive to the orange masses, which is why I posed this question. So, I feel good about it – I didn’t at the start of the season – because I see the sense of togetherness between players and staff that has developed. Wins and championships will bring the entirety of the Vol Nation into that union as well. That union is on its way to happening.
Would a suspension of Kiffin be good or bad for the Vol image? Would it be good or bad for recruiting?
SANDY: Right now, good. A year from now, bad.
TK: Would not be a good image I don’t think. Don’t need that for recruiting. Build the program and the recruits will come.
DW: Yes to both. Well maybe not recruiting if we wanted the kind of thugs Miami used to seek out.
ORANGEBOBBER: A suspension for coach Kiffin would be ok if he is standing his ground for something he is sure is a worthy cause but he better have all the facts to support his actions. Sometimes these things can backfire on you. I think the players take on the identity of the coach in some respects so kids being recruited like a coach who stands up for what he believes. Who tells them what he thinks and does not give them a snow job. He is what he is and it is out there for all to see.
BERT: Bad for image [he's bordering on being labeled a whiner by the press...]…not sure it affects recruiting one way or the other.
NORCALVOL: Again, I’m a little tipsy on the Vols right now. In some demented way, I would be fine with a suspension as long as it was for a cause worth fighting for. And if that cause was worthy, it might even stoke the fire up even higher in the camp of the players and coaching staff. Thus, if it occurred for a worthy cause, would be beneficial for recruiting as well, because it would be spun by the coaches as a galvanising mechanism.
What is the most common thread that you hear from those around you – friends, co-workers, fans in the stands – about the Vols this year?
SANDY: The local media in the Triangle still think he is an idiot. The latest example is the “celebration” penalty at the end of the Bama game…. ridiculing him for not understanding that the game was over either way… of course, they don’t understand that his only purpose for the comments was to make a dig at Bama, and continue stirring things up… back to the “free publicity”. A couple of buddies that I talk football with do recognize the difference in this year’s team from the past.
TK: Satisfied with the new staff. Open to about anything they do to see what will work in Big Orange land. Don’t think many would have gone ape if they went 4-8 this year.
DW: They can’t understand why I like to wear those “pukey prison orange” golf shirts! There’s not much Vol-love here in Lexington. This summer I was hearing a lot of boasting how UK was gonna beat UT’s ass and shut that arrogant new punk coach. That talk died off after Georgia, and tickets to the games are getting real cheap now.
ORANGEBOBBER: What I hear from those around me and fans is excitement. Knowing that this may not be the best season but that our team is back to playing hardnosed football and disciplined on the field. The players we are recruiting are better evaluated and the talent level is going up.
BERT: They’re impressed with the vols’ performances against da gators and ‘bama, the apparent improvement in crompton’s play since the first game… and MRS KIFFIN.
NORCALVOL: Since I live on the West Coast, practically nobody I’m around has the foggiest notion of the Vols. One exception – the papers in the Bay Area will occasionally write a short blurb on Kiffin’s latest reprimand, and will spin it in a negative way – after all he was a coach of the Raiders that was fired under very combative circumstances.
Would the Vols be playing better, worse, or about the same under Philip Fulmer?
TK: I believe worse.
DW: Well, if we checked the historical trend, it would likely suggest worse. The W-L record might have been similar, but the enthusiasm/hope/attendance and pre-game partying would have been significantly subdued.
ORANGEBOBBER: I hate to talk negative about Coach Fulmer. He gave the university some great years. However, it was evident that the program was on a downward trend. The program and staff had lost their lustre. The discipline was missing on and off the field. We are playing much better now.
BERT: Worse, no doubt.
NORCALVOL: Worse, I believe, because the sense of togetherness between coaches/players/fans would not be anywhere near what it is right now.
What is the most improved facet of the Vols game since the season opener?
SANDY: Crompton. That was a couple of easy, one word answers.
TK: Attitude. Team seems more upbeat. More sure of themselves.
DW: Our ability to hold the scoring down!
ORANGEBOBBER: The most improved facet of this team is their desire to get better each week. To improve and eliminate mistakes.
NORCALVOL: Togetherness of the team. Nobody has quit. Watching Hardesty finish runs is all one needs to see – it is a manifestation of the positive energy that is shooting through this program right now. The renaissance of Jonathan Crompton has to be recognized, too.
Who is the Vols MVP so far this season?
SANDY: Hardesty. Another easy one word answer.
TK: Rico McCoy. And in a twisted kind of way, the offensive line as a while. That is, excluding field goal plays…
DW: Hardesty, no doubt.
ORANGEBOBBER: The Vols MVP for the season thus far, Montario Hardesty, no doubt. He is setting the tone. He is what desire, hardwork, and overcoming adversity are all about.
BERT: Monte Kiffin.
NORCALVOL: My Main Man – Montario Hardesty. Yes, our defense is spectacular. But if it wasn’t for Hardesty’s ability to keep drives alive, the defense would not be able to maintain its level of performance.
What will be Tennessee’s final regular season record?
SANDY: They could win out. But I think the Ole Miss game will be the challenge. That team has not played up to expectations and have something to prove. Both teams get a warm-up game this week (Memphis and Northern Arizona). It’s their home game. So the Vols either end up 8-4 or 7-5. Right now, I think the Vols arrow points up, the Ole Miss arrow points down. I’ll go with the Vols and say the exceed (by far) the pre-season expectations, finish 8-4, and enter the top 25 going into the bowls.
TK: I still think we stumble somewhere… 7-5.
DW: I said 6-6 at the beginning, and can only see being wrong and happy from here in. 7-5 would make them attractive to many southern bowl committees. But, iIf they get invited to Hawaii, we should all meet over there.
ORANGEBOBBER: My original record production 7-5. I’m sticking with it.
NORCALVOL: My pre-season record was 6-6. I’d be crazy to stick with that. Even though I’m tempted to revise it to 8-4 – all four are definitely winnable games – I’ll be conservative and say 7-5 (the Ole Miss game is going to be tougher than many wide-eyed optimists think).
What does UT lack in order to win the SEC East?
SANDY: A quarterback.
TK: Special teams. WHERE IS GEORGE CAFEGO?
DW: 3 more wins. A couple of good kickers wouldn’t hurt either.
ORANGEBOBBER: UT lacks only depth and talent at some key positions. When Kiffin gets this in place. Better things can happen.
BERT: A placekicker.
NORCALVOL: Better depth of quality on offense and defense and a competent kicking game (all facets). The great teams have a deep bench.
The Southeastern Conference
Who is the best team right now in the SEC?
SANDY: Back to those easy one word answers… Florida.
DW: Probably Arkansas, but they’re doing a great job of hiding it from view!
ORANGEBOBBER: The best team right now in the SEC is Florida because of the leadership of Tim Tebow.
BERT: I think Florida has gotten back in da groove.
NORCALVOL: Florida. Period.
Who will win the SEC championship?
SANDY: In spite of my previous answer, things balance out in the real world. Alabama beats Florida in the SEC championship. This comes down to whether Bama beats LSU this weekend. It’s at home, and their defense will shut down LSU. Ingram is the difference maker.
DW: I just can’t pull for Gators, so I’ll say LSU after they surprise Bama this weekend.
ORANGEBOBBER: I think Florida will win the SEC championship this year because of Tim Tebow.
NORCALVOL: I believe Florida will beat Bama in the championship game.
How many SEC teams will we see in bowl games this year? Who will get left out?
SANDY: These go: Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Ole Miss.
TK: Seven. Left out will be Vandy, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Georgia, and Auburn.
DW: Seven. The 5 punching bags won’t have to travel during the holidays—UK,Vandy,both Mississippi’s and Arkansas.
ORANGEBOBBER: I think eight SEC teams will make bowl games this season.
BERT: 10… Vandy and Miss State.
NORCALVOL: Nine will go. Left out will be Vandy, Kentucky, Mississippi State.
Who should win SEC Coach of the Year (based on the first 9 weeks)?
SANDY: One could have a pretty good argument for Kiffin. Similar to Cutcliffe at Duke. But, it would probably be Saban right now.
TK: Auburn gets this for their man… Son’t ask me why.
DW: Spurrier. He hasn’t stomped his hat yet on TV. Close a few times, but not actually on the ground planted under his foot.
ORANGEBOBBER: Based on the first 9 weeks, Urban Meyer, I hate to say, would be the coach because Florida coming off a national championship is still finding ways to win eve though I don’t think this team is as talented as last year.
NORCALVOL: Gene Chizik should. But he won’t.
Who is this season’s best player in college football right now? Who will win the Heisman Trophy?
SANDY: I don’t think there is any question… Tim Tebow.
TK: Houston’s QB, Case Keenum.
DW: Ingram and Tebow get most of the airtime, but I like that Kellen Moore kid at Boise State. Being a sophomore will hurt him in the Heisman race, so Texas wil probably buy enough votes to get it for McCoy. How disgusting to Vols fans would it be for Jimmy Claussen to win it? Especially since we suffered thru the slugs in the family.
ORANGEBOBBER: Tim Tebow and Tim Tebow.
BERT: Case Keenum… T-Bone.
NORCALVOL: Tim Tebow to both questions. He is simply one of the greatest players in the history of the college game.
Who will play at the Rose Bowl on January 7, 2010 for the BSC National Championship?
SANDY: Based on my previous answer, Alabama and Texas. Texas has no serious challenge remaining… they could slip up, but I don’t see that happening. Even a one-loss SEC winner will meet Texas. If LSU beats Bama, and Florida, then they go to the BCS. Should Bama lose to Auburn, but beat UF, then they are still in.
TK: Alabama vs. Texas.
DW: I’d enjoy Boise St./ Cincinnati/TCU making it. But reality is Fl vs someone else, and I’ll choose the Hawkeyes.
ORANGEBOBBER: Florida will play Texas for the Championship.
BERT: Florida v Texas.
NORCALVOL: Florida will face Texas.
The following five football programs are among the elite of the NCAA, but have not finished in the top five in the final rankings in a long time (last season in the top 5 is in parenthesis). Which program will be the first to get back to the top five?
- Notre Dame (1993)
- Michigan (1999)
- Nebraska (1999)
- Florida State (2000)
- Tennessee (2001)
SANDY: Whoa…. That is a really good question. Notre Dame? I don’t see it with Charlie Weiss and their schedule. Although, the media would jump on that bandwagon given the chance. They could start a season and remain undefeated for a while, which at some point would get them in the Top 5 (maybe 6-0, or 7-0), but would eventually lose. Although with one-loss they could remain in the top 12 and be in a BCS bowl. A win there could get them back into a final Top 5. Michigan? Rodriguez is in a mess right now. It’ll take several years for him to get that right, or for them to replace him. Nebraska? Heading in the right direction. But they have to leapfrog Texas and Oklahoma. I don’t see that happening in the near term. Florida State? Talk about a messy coaching situation. Bobby is probably coming back for another year. The Jimbo head-coach-in-waiting is not working. Mickey Andrews and Chuck Amato only make things more complicated. They are an average team this year at best, and that’s only because they’ve got a decent quarterback. Their only hope is to name Jimbo the head coach at the end of this season and clear the house. But even then it will take a couple of years to right that ship… even if Jimbo is the right man.
And that takes us to the Vols… it is becoming clearer and clearer that this coaching staff has the right stuff. And they are making headwinds into recruiting. All factors seem to be pointing up. I hate to sound like a “homer”, but I think the Vols have an equal, or better chance, of getting back to the Top 5 than any of those teams. Things go in cycles, the Vols have (hopefully) been at the bottom and are heading back up. Florida will lose Tebow after this season, and as good a coach as Meyer is, it will be difficult to maintain the level they have been at. Georgia is slipping. Then it’s just a matter of matching up with LSU and Bama and having things fall right. I think it’s between Notre Dame and the Vols as to who gets there first. If I had to bet the house, I would put it on Notre Dame. They are the most likely to catch lightening and ride a fast start to a Top 5 ranking, which could carry through and end up Top 5. If Kiffin can continue the current direction, he will get the Vols knocking on that door in the next 2-3 years. But he is in tough territory, and things have to fall in place.
TK: Michigan. And, I would like to thank Fred for creating this quiz to use up the rest of the idle time in my life!!!
DW: Nebraska followed by UT the next year.
ORANGEBOBBER: Notre Dame because they are the media darlings and will have Jimmy Clausen back next year. I would pick Tennessee next.
BERT: ND, only because their schedule is easier than Dobyns-Bennett’s….
NORCALVOL: Notre Dame.