The Weight of the Upcoming 2010 Season Just Got an Ounce or Two Lighter
The Vols are going to have to rely on a measure of luck this upcoming season if they are going to finish with a winning record. The 2010 season looks to be brutal—a new coaching staff, inexperienced players at crucial positions, and a schedule that is enough to make you dread life itself. An ounce of luck came on Friday, six months early, and in an unexpected package.
The Oregon Ducks football program, Tennessee’s second foe in the upcoming campaign, and a likely one of the pre-season favorites for serious consideration of the national title, laid a massive egg on its fortunes and fans. Senior quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was suspended by his head coach, Chip Kelly, for the entire 2010 season. On Friday, Masoli was sentenced to 12 months probation and 140 hours of community service after he pleaded guilty to a felony second-degree burglary charge, which in a plea agreement was reduced to a misdemeanor. Former Duck wide receiver Garrett Embry also pleaded guilty for his role in the burglary. The two players apparently stole two MacBook Pro computers — one valued by its owner at $2,000, the other by its owner at $1,500 — and a $900 guitar from the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house in Eugene.
In the parallel universe of trouble this offseason for Oregon, star running back LaMichael James pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of physical harassment (he reportedly grabbed his girlfriend by the neck and pushed her to the ground). James received a two-year probation and a 10-day jail sentence, though he likely won’t serve any more jail time. On February 17, James was arrested for domestic violence—the Lane County Sheriff’s Office website listed James’ charges as strangulation, assault-4 and menacing. Also, Oregon’s place kicker (kickoff and long-distance specialist) Rob Beard pleaded guilty to harassment in a separate case after Beard was involved in a brawl on January 23 that left him severely injured.
Apparently what got Masoli the death sentence was that he lied to his head coach when Kelly questioned him about the burglary. If he is allowed to play again in a Duck uniform, Masoli may be redshirted for 2010.
James, on the other hand, was given a one-game suspension “at a minimum”. Thus, it is not completely clear that James will miss more than just the Oregon opener against New Mexico on September 4. Chip Kelly indicated that the possible return of James will be contingent upon his “adherence to a set of standards.” Oregon’s second game of their 2010 season will be against Tennessee at Neyland Stadium on September 11.
This news, following Kelly suspending LeGarrette Blount for 10 games after Blount punched a Boise State player immediately after the Oregon-Boise State 2009 season-opening game, amounts to a seismic event in Eugene roughly equivalent in intensity to the earthquake in Chile earlier this year—massive and potentially more destructive than at first blush. Oregon has built a national reputation as an offensive powerhouse in recent years. They have added real excitement to a Pac 10 Conference that is always under threat of being totally dominated by Southern Cal. And their business marketing of Oregon athletics as a brand in the last five years has been unparalleled in college sports.
Some in Eugene remain quite optimistic despite this meltdown; some are more cautious in their hope/optimism. And there is certainly a measure of Schadenfreude that always shows up for these kinds of events.
But what it means for the Vols fortunes in 2010 could be significant. A depleted Oregon—depleted in the absolute underbelly of the Ducks’ strength (see my Dec 3, 2009 summary of Masoli and James)—offers Tennessee a much more realistic chance of getting the season off to a positive start than looked possible before Friday’s announcement.
A comprehensive summary of the events can be found in this article from the Register-Guard, a Eugene, Oregon newspaper.