Final Preview of and Prediction for the Vols 2012 Season
Before the last two seasons, I felt fairly confident of my pre-season predictions, both 6-6. There really wasn’t much thought about it at the time. It was too obvious. But for the Lexington Embarrassment, I would have had a perfect score. It wasn’t really anything to be proud of, because the cards seemed turned over before either of those seasons started. Low-hanging fruit.
But this season is an entirely different story. The 2012 season is impossible to predict with any gut-feeling of confidence. Anywhere between five and nine wins won’t make me blink. Which is why I have looked at the components of this team in much more detail than in the previous seasons.
But it isn’t all about us on paper. We do have opponents, and our status as a Southeastern Conference member has not changed.
So hear is a split-second look at each of Tennessee’s 12 opponents followed by my prediction for the final won-loss tally.
Game 1: vs North Carolina State (at Atlanta). This year’s Wolfpack has a realistic shot at becoming only the second team in school history to post a double-digit win total. But, it will be tough to duplicate last year’s 39 takeaways by the defense (including a staggering total of 27 INTs).
This game sets the tone for the rest of the season. Quality opposition on a neutral field combined with new position coaches and schemes make this a difficult game to gauge. But one thing is for sure: Tennessee has to win.
Game 2: Georgia State. This will be only the third season of fooball for the Panthers, and the last in the Division 1 FCS’s Colonial Athletic Association before moving next season to the FBS and the Sun Belt Conference. 2012 will also be the last season for head coach Bill Curry. In 2010, their first season, GSU’s final game was a loss to Alabama in Tuscaloosa, 63-7. They also played schools named Shorter and Lambuth.
Week Two takes the Vols back to practice camp under game-day conditions. The main goal will be to escape healthy in preparation for the following week.
Game 3: Florida. The Gators are likely to be significantly better than last year’s model driven by a first year coach. One reason for the expected improvement is that they can’t be worse than last year’s anemic total of forced turnovers (only 14: 8 INTs and 6 fumbles), the 8th fewest in the nation.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this may be Derek Dooley’s most important game of his career thus far. A win here, along with a 3-0 start, would firmly entrench the Vols in the Top 25 for the first time in what seems like an eternity. A loss, especially if preceded by a loss in the opener, will bring the anti-Dooley chorus to new decibel levels.
Game 4: Akron. Coming off two consecutive 1-11 seasons, the Zips can’t be any worse this season. Of course that is probably what was said this time last year.
If nobody on the two-deep plays in this game, the Vols still win. This is a needed respite sandwiched between two bitter rival games.
Game 5: at Georgia. A relatively easy schedule should help lighten the load of missing defensive backs (suspensions) for the early portion of the season. They also may have the best QB in the league.
Dreams of a Vols team with a 4-0 record going into Athens take one to memory lane. It would be a classic. Anything less will give this edition of a great rivalry-in-the-making a flavor of desparation.
Bye Week. The annual mid-season off-week comes at probably the best time of the season, as the Vols will have one tough road game under their belt with two coming in the next three.
This is either going to be a really good week or a really bad one. There seems to be no inbetween in sight.
Game 6: at Mississippi State. This season, head coach Dan Mullen has a decent shot at getting his first victory over an SEC West team other than Ole Miss (0-12). The Bulldogs may also be the most underrated team in the entire conference.
Many fans, as well as pundits, are already chalking this one up in the W column for the Vols. The downside of a loss here would be worse than one suffered in the weeks immediately before or after.
Game 7: Alabama. The defending national champions are reloaded and ready to repeat. This Tide just keeps on rolling along.
The Vols are going to need a full head of steam to (6-0 or 5-1) to have a chance against the best team in the land. The fact that it is in Neyland Stadium hasn’t meant anything in a very long time. It’s time to show who’s house this is.
Game 8: at South Carolina. After setting the school record last season for most wins (11-2), the Ol’ Ball Coach has enough returning talent to compete once again for the SEC East title. And without QB Stephen Garcia gone, there likely will be less drama.
This game, in this stadium, gives me the creeps. It was the last stand of Johnny Majors in 1992. It was the last stand of Phil Fulmer in 2008.
Game 9: Troy. The Trojans won or shared five consecutive Sun Belt titles. Then came last year’s 3-9 performance. They will be better this season, but so will several other Sun Belt teams.
The typical patsy non-conference, November opponent would have been a lot more interesting two or three years ago. But the 2012 Vols don’t need interesting matchups. They need wins.
Game 10: Missouri. This is a stable program (last 11 years with the same head coach) that is about to be tested like it never has been. It all starts in Week 2 when Ol’ Mizzou hosts Georgia. We’ll know a lot more about our new comrades after that one.
One of the newest members of the conference gets their Knoxville baptism. Let’s hope it is a full body dunking instead of a a couple drops of water.
Game 11: at Vanderbilt. James Franklin has provided a lot of sizzle at the SEC’s perennial doormat. This season, we’ll see if there is any steak.
A fascinating matchup because of the two different trends of these programs over the last season and the circumstances surrounding last year’s Tennessee victory (lockerroom videos, etc.). The game being played in Nashville makes it even more tasty.
Game 12: Kentucky. Only three teams in the nation scored less TDs than the ‘Cats in 2011. This season has the neighbors to the north facing an even tougher schedule. This could be the worst team in the conference.
Redemption of the highest order is in store for this one. A blue jersey on a tackle dummy will not be necessary to get the Vols fired up for this old rivalry.
So let’s break down the schedule into groups of opponents. These groupings are based on my appraisal of the likely betting spreads, based on how the teams look today. Obviously the dynamics change throughout a season, and it is nearly impossible to predict those changes. But since the objective here is to give a pre-season prediction of the Vols 2012 regular season, that is what we have to work with.
The first two groups represent the end members, and the final two groups are the middle of the spectrum based on team-to-team comparisons.
The Sure Things: These are the teams that the Vols would likely defeat at least 17 times out of 20 given the same circumstances. The Vols should be more than a 14 point favorite.
Georgia State, Akron, Troy, and Kentucky.
The Immovable Objects: These are the teams that the Vols would likely be defeated by 17 times out of 20 given the same circumstances. The Vols should be a 10 to 14 point underdog.
The Likely Victims: These are the teams that could reasonably go either way but likely should go the Vols way more times than not. Let’s say up to 14 times out of 20. The Vols should be the favorite, but by less than 7 points.
NC State, Mississippi State, Missouri, and Vanderbilt.
The Likely Victors: These are the teams that also could reasonably go either way, but likely should go the opponent’s way more times than not. Let’s say 14 times out of 20. The Vols should be the underdog, but by less than 7 points.
Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.
To predict the Vols win-loss record, I am choosing to select the likely number of wins from each group rather than for each individual game. Individual game predictions will be given a day or two before each game. This is the method that I used for the 2010 and 2011 seasons. So, here are my predicted number of wins from each of the four groupings.
- Four wins from the four Sure Things.
- Zero wins from the one Immovable Object.
- Three wins from the four Likely Victims.
- One win from the three likely Victors.
That adds up to an 8-4 regular season record for Tennessee in 2012.
The four wins from the Sure Things are games that should be won if Tennessee were to play their second string players.
Then there are three wins from the Likely Victims. The interesting thing about this group is that there is only one home game out of the four. This is the group that will likely make or break the season, and I feel reasonably optimistic here.
There is also only one home game of the three Likely Victors, so one win from this group is based on enthusiasm rather than a dry, rational optimism.
And finally, anybody that predicts a season W-L tally that is relying on a victory against Alabama is irrationally exuberant.
A paper study leads me to 7 wins this season. But, from the recruiting results, to the new coaches, to the new defensive philosophy, to the thoughts of a healthy Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter for an entire season, and to the general vibe of confidence and togetherness coming out of pre-season camp, I feel reasonably optimistic for an additional win.
And the dismissal of Da’Rick Rogers doesn’t change that tally one way or the other.
I haven’t felt this excited or optimistic about an upcoming Tennessee football season in quite a while.