Countdown to Football

27 Days Tennessee Preseason Preview

“I don’t have a theory other than to say I’ve been watching SEC football all of my life, as you guys know, and everything goes in cycles, it always does. Programs have their great runs. Programs have their bumps along the way. I don’t think that’s ever going to change. I mean, that’s the competitive nature of our sport.

“So certainly the east looked a little different last year than it has in the past. But we’ll see how it turns out this year,” – Derek Dooley at SEC Media Days.

Derek Dooley has quickly become a coach known for his quirky explanations and odd analogies; however, most are reluctant to label him as a buffoon or a new, younger version of Les Miles.

Dooley proved himself in the realm of intelligence by obtaining his law degree, passing the bar, and working as a successful lawyer before making a drastic career change.

So while Dooley may still be in over his head and may produce laughable quotes from time to time, he has the intellect to make astute observations about college football.

And he is dead on with his quote at SEC Media Days.

Football is cyclical.

Hungry, passionate coaches who recruit well and coach well come in to light an early fire in a program and win games.  They make the future look bright and instill excitement in the fanbase.  Until a few years go by and the recruits get tired of his schtick, the assistant coaches leave, fatigue and complacency set in, and the fanbase grows weary of the performance on the field.

A coach comes in and dominates the SEC with high recruiting rankings and big time victories on national TV.  Nothing seems to be able to stop his building of a dynasty until a detrimental injury to a vital player occurs.  Then the season doesn’t meet expectations.  Then recruiting falters.  Then the next big thing comes along and takes over the SEC.

If there’s one thing Dooley doesn’t have to worry about, it’s knocking the big boys off the top of college football.  Most often, they’ll do that to themselves.

What Dooley does have to worry about is getting Tennessee prepared to compete when the SEC is seemingly at its toughest.

Three Questions About Tennessee

1.  Are the young guys learning?

Tennessee started a lot of underclassman last season including four freshman offensive linemen, a freshman quarterback, and two freshman receivers.

How much have they grown since last season?  How is the maturity level?  What about their confidence level after losing so many games?  What about the defense which will play more freshmen this season?  Have they learned enough to compete in the SEC this year?

The youth of this team is exciting for the future.  It could be dire for this season if they haven’t progress a lot since last year.

2.  Can the two young but talented receivers help the passing game enough to open up the running game?

This is a loaded question with three parts:

Tyler Bray has to perform well.
The receivers have to perform extra well.
The running backs have to take advantage of the passing game’s success.

The third and last aspect of this question is the most important.

Tennessee has a talented runner in Tauren Poole, but he’s not good enough to be the focal point of the offense.

Bray is ultra talented but inconsistent.  The receivers are huge, fast targets but need Bray to get the ball to them.

That’s the crucial part of the equation.

3.  Can Malik Johnson be a Nick Fairley type of player?

The defense lacks star power.  Janzen Jackson is back, but is he reliable?  He may be ultra-talented, but he’s been arrested and kicked off of the team.  Then let back on.  And then he quit in January, but he was let back on.

Head cases can’t be the leader of a defense.

Malik Johnson was good enough to get playing time for Pete Carroll at USC and then transferred to Tennessee where he produced a good season last year.

Johnson is a bit undersized at 275 pounds, but perhaps he’s put on weight.  Either way, Malik Johnson has to be the star as he’s the most talented guy they have.

Most Important Game

9/17 @Florida

Tennessee only plays four road games that are spread throughout the season.

The first is the 3rd game of the season against Florida.  The second is the 7th game of the season against Alabama on Oct. 22.

Tennessee doesn’t have high expectations, but they do have a very manageable schedule.  Easily the easiest in the SEC with no nonconference games worth worrying about.

Florida is rebuilding with a new head coach.  If Dooley and his young group of players can shock Florida at home, they have a possible path to only have 1 loss before facing Alabama in Tuscaloosa.  They have to get the spark for the season from the Florida game.

Realistic Expectations

Make no mistake about Tennessee – this is a very young team with an unproven head coach.

While they do only play four road games, those road games are against @Florida, @Alabama, @Arkansas, and @Kentucky.

They also play Georgia, LSU, @Alabama, and South Carolina in a row.

If this season doesn’t get off to a good start, it could get ugly for Dooley.

But I don’t think it’s going to be ugly for Dooley.

Tennessee was 6-7 last season, but they very easily could have been 8-5 with last second losses to LSU and North Carolina.

Dooley took over a headcase of a program after Fulmer was expelled from Tennessee and Kiffin ran out on Tennessee.

Tennessee has a chance to get better.  They have a change to improve with their young talent.

It all depends on how they do at home.  If their crowd shows up to these numerous home games, it will be very tough for the visiting team to win.  Especially if Bray can get it going.

But how does Tennessee get the home crowd to show up in full?

Beat Florida.  The season is riding on it.

27 Days

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