Summer is still upon us but July 2012 is fast becoming just a sweltering memory and August is here. For college football fans, there is but a mere month standing between us and the start of the season. The University of Tennessee Volunteers are gearing up for training camp here in Knoxville and will head to Milligan College in Johnson City on August 10th.
Preview articles from most media outlets at this point, for many of us, have become stale rhetoric of what if’s and wild assumptions. “Can Coach Dooley win 9 games?” “Just how important IS the NC State game?” “Is the Mizzou game more significant than expected?” “Will Tennessee beat Florida and do the Vols stand a chance against the Tide?”
Seriously, I think we’ve all heard the answers to these questions and you probably have a pretty well informed opinion of the Vols’ season yourself at this point...
HOWEVER, you haven’t heard my thoughts on the subject yet. So here’s a quick look at the first 3 games in the upcoming schedule along with my predictions for the boys from Rocky Top:
Friday 8/31 NC STATE @ The Georgia Dome
Ah the Chik-Fil-A Kickoff in the Dome.... The Volunteers haven’t had the best of luck in Atlanta in the last decade and honestly the Tennessee season could be over before it has even begun if Coach Dooley and company walk out of the Dome with a loss after this game. Rabid football fans have been waiting months at this point to finally see teams take the gridiron and even those with no interest in an SEC/ACC matchup will probably tune in just to take in a game. This puts the Vols under pressure and out in the spotlight. The outcome of the season opener takes on a new level of importance that hasn’t been seen in recent memory.
The past 5 years have seen Tennessee slip from any sort of conversation on a national level. If the Vols can hang points on the Wolfpack in front of football fans across the country, it may force some people in the national media to take notice of the Volunteer program again. This game will also give fans a good idea on how the remainder of the season may play out.
This team and staff have something to prove coming off the disappointments of last season and while the big boys on the schedule remain, a win in this game will give the team the needed momentum to carry them through to their first big SEC opponent, the Florida Gators in Neyland Stadium.
A loss to the Wolfpack would not affect the conference standings of course, but it goes without saying that this game is a statement; not only to the other teams in the league but to onlookers around the country.
Yes, signature wins are needed if Coach Dooley wants to retain his position in Knoxville but there is no looking forward to Florida and past Georgia State when this game stands between your team and the rest of the season; a season that will see the trials of the unknown, untested talent of the Tennessee Volunteers. NC State beat ACC Conference Champion Clemson by 24 points last season and defeated Louisville in a bowl game. This is not a cupcake opener. This a test in Atlanta usually reserved for the end of the season.
Prediction: UT- 27 NC State- 17
Saturday 9/8 Georgia State
Have you ever wished that the Vols would win, not by a narrow margin in a nail biter (see 2011 Vanderbilt and 2010 UAB) but by big numbers? A runaway game where the 2’s could come into the game early and score on an opponent? Well this will be your chance Volunteer fans. Georgia State has had a football program for just 3 years this season and will actually be leaving their current conference, the Colonial Athletic Association, to join the Sunbelt next year. The Panthers lost their defensive coordinator and key starters on both sides of the ball in the offseason. A new quarterback is also penciled in at this point and the team is picked to finish last in their conference. If there has ever been a time for the Vols to take a game and run away with it, this is the one.
Mizzou and A&M make their SEC debuts this week. So that should be interesting....
Prediction: UT- 52 GA State- 10
Saturday 9/15 Florida
This is the year.
If not now, when?
Out of all the games deemed “signature wins” that are “necessary” for the coach and team to win this season, THIS game appears to be the one that is within reach. Nothing would propel the team faster and more confidently forward in the season than to send the Gators back to Gainesville empty handed. A seven year streak of losses broken in front of the hometown crowd could all but cement Coach Dooley’s place on Rocky Top for another season.
The optimism felt before last year’s match up in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium was snuffed out in the instant Justin Hunter fell in the opening minutes to a season ending knee injury. That same optimism has slowly regenerated itself as more and more positive reports have come out of summer workouts. With the inconsistencies the Gators have in the secondary and having what we know is an explosive passing game when Bray, Hunter, and Rogers are on the field at the same time, there is no reason to think that the Vols shouldn’t put up points against UF.
And while the passing game may be more often than not the Vols’ key to victories this season, I am more interested in seeing what Coach Sunseri is going to do against a questionable Gator offense with his corps of speed-oriented linebackers. Florida will force the big plays but I expect the 2012 UT defense to be able to make their own.
A win against the Gators will give this team what they have been lacking, the ability to return to the locker room and celebrate a win against a worthy SEC East opponent. There is not a single player returning this season that knows the feel of this type of win. Leadership, cohesiveness, and maturity will be the avenue needed to walk out of Neyland with a win that has been nearly a decade in the making. I WANT this win, not for the fans or for the coaches but for those players that have put in the time to be this team, this year. It’s time to get it done and I believe they will.
Prediction: UT- 35 Florida- 27