Now that Lloyd
Carr has left Michigan, Phil Fulmer moves into second place
behind Bobby Bowden for the honor of being the coach with the
most impressive combination of accomplishment and current
disappointment, at least when it comes to the unattainably high
standards set in the past. Tennessee is a factory for NFL
talent, is strong every year, and is always a prime contender
for the SEC title, but it's not mentioned in the same breath as
LSU, Florida, and now, Georgia, as an elite of the elite of the
elite superpower. Volunteer football is certainly respected, but
it isn't feared like it used to be.
This might not be the team that can change all of that, but
it'll be plenty good. It'll be a typically strong UT team with
plenty of athletes and enough talent to beat anyone in the
league, but is there enough in the bag to beat out national
title-level, Georgia and Florida teams? Maybe.
No one will
predict the Vols to win much of anything considering offensive
coordinator David Cutcliff left to take over the head coaching
gig at Duke, and
four-year starting QB Erik Ainge is done, but Dave Clawson’s
offense worked by the end of spring ball and new starter
Jonathan Crompton is a sharp, accurate passer who should grow
into the type of leader who can carry a team. And then there’s
It’s brutal early with road trips to UCLA, Auburn and Georgia
and a home date with Florida, but the Vols can win two of
those, and if they win three, look out. The rest of the slate is
relatively easy, the team should
get much better as the year goes on, and once again, an
under-the-radar run could lead the way to another SEC East
What to watch for on offense:
Clawson. It's not like he fell off the turnip truck and into the
coveted Tennessee offensive coordinator position, but he has a
lot to live up to with Cutcliff gone. It's no coincidence that
much of the Vols' offensive success happened when Coach Cut was
running the show, then things fell off the map when he left for
Ole Miss, and then the attack bounced back when he returned.
Clawson isn't a born and bred Vol. From Richmond, he's bringing
in some new ideas and an up-tempo offense with a shorter,
quicker passing game. If the offense falls flat, he'll end up
taking most of the blame.
What to watch for on defense: Can the tackles hold up?
Demonte Bolden is a tremendous talent who hasn't played up to
his potential yet. Junior Dan Williams is a promising inside
presence. While those two haven't played like Reggie White and
John Henderson, they'll need to early on as the young talent
behind them develops. Most importantly, they have to stay
healthy. Walter Fisher is a good option, but it'll be uh-oh time
if the DTs are fantastic right away.
The team will be far better if … the Vols can
generate a pass rush. It's inexcusable for a line with ends like
Tennessee has to be so poor at getting to the quarterback. 11th in the SEC in tackles for loss and 25 sacks in 14
games ... this is Tennessee? If the ends can't get it done again
this year, the linebackers will have to be sent more on a
variety of blitzes. It'll help to have one of the nation's best
secondaries, but if there's any consistent pass rush, the pass
defense could be a brick wall.
Patience could be the key. If the Vols can keep their head above water
early, they should blow through the late part of the schedule without
breathing hard. Talk about top-heavy, there's at UCLA, Florida, at
Auburn and at Georgia by mid-October, and Mississippi State, Alabama, at
South Carolina, Wyoming, at Vanderbilt and Kentucky to finish. If
Tennessee is actually good, it has to win all of those final six games.
Layups against UAB and Northern Illinois will keep the first six weeks
from being a total disaster.
Best Offensive Player:
RB Arian Foster. He's playing for a contract. After flirting with the
idea of turning pro early, the 6-1, 215-pounder, who'd have been a top
50 pick and might go in the first round next year, if he stays healthy,
tore off 1,193 yards and 12 touchdowns, and showed he could catch with
39 grabs and two scores. Jonathan Crompton will be fine under center,
but the more Foster can carry the workload early on, the better the
offense will be.
Best Defensive Player:
Eric Berry. Probably the best defensive back in America you've never
heard of, if you don't live in SEC country, Berry was a superstar
recruit with cornerback speed and big-time tackling ability for 5-11,
195-pounder. He'll be a free safety at the next level, with his range
and skills to hunt down passes making him a perfect Cover 2 defender,
but for now, he'll be one of the SEC's best all-around defensive backs
and on the short list for All-America honors.
Key player to a
Sophomore FB Kevin
Cooper. The fullback wasn't used, and was barely existent, in the former
offense, but might be a key factor in the Clawson attack. Cooper is a
big blocker who might not carry much of the load, but he'll need to be a
consistent hitter and a good receiver out of the backfield. There's a
chance he could become the team's unsung star.
The season will be a
... Tennessee wins the SEC title. You don't try for anything less if
you're Tennessee. The Vols know how to win the East, but now they have
to close after losing the last three SEC championship games they've been
in since 1998. The East is the better of the two divisions, Auburn is
rebuilding, and LSU isn't going to be the LSU of last year until, maybe,
next year, so if the Vols can win the division and get back to the show,
they might actually be the favorite.
Sept. 20 vs. Florida.
The Vols have lost three in a row to the Gators, and with road games at
Auburn and Georgia to follow on the SEC schedule, a fourth straight
defeat might mean a disastrous start to the conference season. It's not
a stretch to suggest Tennessee could be out of the SEC title hunt if it
loses to the Fighting Tebows.
2007 Fun Stats:
- Sacks: Tennessee 34 for 144 yards – Opponents 4 for 44 yards
- Penalties: Opponents 91 for 641 yards – Tennessee 74 for 641 yards
- Average rushing yards per game: Opponents 164.6 – Tennessee 139