Before I get started, don't take this as apathy.
When somebody spends more than 10 hours a week writing about the Vols, half of that amount reading about them and also adding up time re-watching games, hanging on every word of the coach's show and listening to press conference audio, it would hardly be accurate to say I don't care whether Tennessee wins or loses this weekend.
But I'll say that I think I'm not nearly as emotionally attached to it following the meltdown at Florida. Mainly, that's because I've detached my fanhood with the ability to believe that we're actually going to win.
I hate that this is now the way it is, personally. I want Tennessee to win, I'll be cheering passionately for them to win and I'll never quit on them. But in my heart of hearts do I believe the Vols are going to beat No. 5 Georgia in Athens this weekend? No, I don't. Do I think they have the talent to? Kinda, I guess. But I've got no faith in this team's ability -- or this coaching staff's ability -- to put together a complete, 60-minute game. I've defended them, trumpeted their praises, stood by them and even made excuses for them.
Now, I need to see it on the football field. I need to see that a Derek Dooley-coached team can win a game against somebody of consequence. This is yet another opportunity. Three more will follow.
Show me, Tennessee, that you can carry the fight early and keep it there. Show me that you can play with an intensity that matches your talent level. Show me that when adversity strikes, you don't roll over and play dead. Show me that you can come out fired up and play like you're interested for 60 minutes. Show me, Jim Chaney, that you can put together a solid play-calling game. Show me, Sal Sunseri, that we can get pressure on Aaron Murray and not get run off the football field early. Show me, Tyler Bray, that you can lead and light up a good team. Show me, Derek Dooley, that you can be a good football coach every hour of the week and not just those that don't pass between the lines.
Every single one of these players and coaches need to look themselves in the mirror before the game and ask themselves if they're content being what they've recently been.
If this sounds like I'm being hard on them, you're misinterpreting what I'm saying. I know that I could not do what these elite athletes do. I know that -- for the most part -- most of these kids want desperately to win. I know that Dooley wants to keep his job. I just simply want them to go out and play like they're representing that Power T on their helmets. The time to curl up and die is over. If they get down, fight back the way Florida did against Texas A&M and us, the way we've failed to do recently. Just show me that you're capable.
Last week, an overmatched Auburn team fought tooth and nail with the No. 2 team in the country. Though they lost 12-10 to LSU, they fought. Every single fan of that team -- while disappointed -- can be proud. We haven't had a loss like that since LSU in 2010. We haven't had a win like that in much longer.
Every Tennessee fan wants to see it. We need to see it. We need something to believe in, something good. Or this season can spiral out of control the way the others have before.
FIRST, A QUICK LOOK BACK
SHEP (Week 4: 5-1, Total 14-10)
- Louisiana Monroe +7.5 over Baylor. Late TD for the backdoor, but it counts. 1-0
- Notre Dame -5 over Michigan. What's that, Michigan? You'd like to turn it over six times in South Bend? Sure, no problem. 2-0
- LSU -20.5 over Auburn. These two teams barely combined to score 20.5 points. 2-1
- Florida -24 over Kentucky. Like clockwork. 3-1
- Kansas State +15 over Oklahoma. I'll take your cover and raise you a win. 4-1
- La Tech +3 over Illinois. Fifty points in road games against BCS competition, it's the Louisiana Tech way. Can we bring some of that to Tennessee? 5-1
KID B (Week 4: 2-4, Total 9-15)
- Miami (OH) -24.5 over UMass. Did UMass stop being awful when we weren't looking, or is Miami not exactly what we would call good? 0-1
- LSU -20.5 over Auburn. Hard to cover 20.5 when you only score 12. 0-2
- Kansas State +15 over Oklahoma. Colin Klein should be a Heisman candidate, and Bill Snyder should be a serious candidate for his second straight Coach of the Year. The man is a genius. 1-2
- Vanderbilt +16.5 over Georgia. Vandy gonna Vandy. 1-3
- Arkansas -8.5 over Rutgers. This is where it sinks in that Arkansas is bad at football. 1-4
- Oregon -21.5 over Arizona. Apparently the Ducks have a defense. Who knew? 2-4
I_S (Week 4: 4-2, Total 16-8)
- Wake Forest -7 over Army. Maybe Wake Forest can't stop Army. But scoring 49 helps. 1-0
- Utah +7 over Arizona State. Early candidate for worst pick of the season. 1-1
- Oregon State +7 over UCLA. Does Oregon State really have one of the top run defenses in the country? Sure look like it through two games. 2-1
- Penn State -7 over Temple. The Nittany Lion Gravy Train rolls for a third straight week. 3-1
- Southern Cal -16.5 over Cal. Southern Cal might not be as good as people think. But Cal isn't good either. 4-1
- South Florida -9 over Ball State. Or this one. This one was pretty bad too. Nothing like losing outright in Muncie. Is that even a place? 4-2
ONTO THE LOCKS
- Penn State +1 over Illinois. I haven't believed that Penn State was an OK team until the last couple of weeks. I don't know that I believe it yet, but I do know that Illinois isn't that good. I'm a bit confused why they're a favorite in this game. This Nittany Lions team looks to have grown up a bit since the first two heartbreaking losses of the season. Meanwhile, the Illini have done nothing to prove to me they can win any B1G game. Matt McGloin is playing really well, and PSU is at home. Take the Lions.
- Minnesota +7 over Iowa. This is a homecoming game for the Hawkeyes ... one I think they'll regret. The Golden Gophers have won the last two against Iowa but haven't won in Iowa City since 1999. They are also 4-0 for the first time since '08, and I've always liked Jerry Kill as a coach. The combination of Max Shortell and MarQueis Gray are going to be too much to overcome for Kirk Ferentz's boys ... especially since they can't score. Still, this was sixth on my list -- narrowly beating out Mizzou +3 over Central Florida.
- Clemson -10 over Boston College. How are the Tigers going to respond after a second-half meltdown against Florida State? This has the makings of a trap game with BC desperately needing a home win. But I don't buy it. Tajh Boyd, Andre Ellington and Sammy Watkins are just too much for the 1-2 Eagles to handle. I like this one to be high-scoring, but I think Clemson wins handily, something like 48-24.
- Louisiana Tech -3 over Virginia. It's been a little too far removed to say that La Tech improved after Dooley left. The bottom like is Sonny Dykes' Bulldogs are just a pretty darn good football team -- especially for the WAC. They remind me of those old Pat Hill Fresno State teams nobody wanted to play. After demoralizing Illinois in Champaign, they will travel to Charlottesville to take on Mike London's Cavs. They're averaging 54.7 points per game, and UVA can score, too. But I don't think they can keep up.
- Texas -2 over Oklahoma State. This is easy money. Everybody needs to run and get this line while it's available [ahem, just for entertainment purposes, of course...] The Longhorns have finally -- after seemingly eight years of controversy -- settled on a quarterback, and they are clicking with David Ash. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State star freshman quarterback Wes Lunt is a gametime decision. Though the Horns haven't been challenged this year, OSU was drummed by 21 at Arizona. I think Texas is pretty good this year, and I think they cover.
- Louisville -10.5 over Southern Miss. The no-doubt, no-brainer of the week in my mind. Louisville is ranked No. 19, has one of the most impressive young quarterbacks in the country in Teddy Bridgewater and is consistently improving under Charlie Strong. Southern Miss, meanwhile, is 0-3, can't decide between three quarterbacks and has one of the worst defenses in the country. What in the world am I missing? UofL wins this one, by 25 at least. Teddy. Bridgewater. Remember the name. Accurate, talented, star in the making.
KID B'S PICKS
- Louisville-10 over Southern Mississippi: Louisville opened the season by beating the Wildcats of Kentucky by a score of 32-14. FYI: Charlie Strong pulled quarterback Teddy Bridgewater AT THE HALF. Kentucky later hosted the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, and gave argumentative firepower to SEC haters everywhere by losing 32-31 to the Hilltoppers. The thirteen Kentucky fans who attended this game were reportedly livid. The following week, the Hilltoppers hosted Southern Mississippi and had their way with the Golden Eagles, beating them 42-17. Now I realize the transitive property of equality doesn't work in college football, but it counts as relevant data, and this data suggests that Louisville is way more than 10 points better than Southern Miss. On top of all that, the Cardinals didn't play their best last week in a closer-than-expected win over FIU. I expect a bounce back game. Cards roll.
- Florida State-17 over USF: From as far back as I can remember, I was in awe of FSU's football teams. From 1987-2000, FSU finished in the top 5 of the AP Poll Every. Single. Year. Drink that in for a second. This year's version of the Seminoles is the first in a long long while to resemble "the old FSU". Now are they really a juggernaut, or do we just want them to be a juggernaut for old time's sake? Well, if they can't beat USF by more than 17 points, we will know for sure that they do not qualify under even the loosest definition of the word juggernaut. But I have a feeling they will.
- Texas Tech-3 over Iowa State: I know that Texas Tech hasn't played anybody worth their weight in dog poop. And I know that crazy things tend to happen when teams travel to Ames to participate in football contests. But I'm taking Texas Tech anyway. With a veteran defensive unit, and a senior QB, the Red Raiders should travel well. And I'm just not ready to believe in an Iowa State team that only beat a terrible Iowa team by the score of 9-6.
- Louisiana Tech-3.5 over Virginia: Fact: La. Tech can freaking score, y'all. I'm a sucker for football teams that can score and for bow-legged women too (but not necessarily in that order). Fact: UVA kids love popping their collars. And I think popped collars are the height of pretension. So this was an easy pick. Hopefully these will be the only Bulldogs on Saturday prevailing with relative ease.
- Alabama-30 over Mississippi: When in doubt, go with the juggernaut.
- Oregon-30.5 over Washington State: When in doubt, go with the juggernaut, part deux.
- Tulane +19 over ULM. Tulane is an abysmal football team, and I might regret this. But ULM has played three consecutive games against bigger, faster, stronger football teams that represented the possibility for program-defining wins. Two games went to overtime, and just last week, the Warhawks fell just short in one of the biggest games in school history. If they have anything left in the tank, I'll be shocked.
- Navy +2.5 over San Jose State. Keeping with the theme of bad football teams, Navy isn't good this year. But San Jose State got a big last second victory last week, and now have a cross-country trip for their second straight road game, in which they get to face an offense that's tough to defend on short notice. Oh, and the Spartans aren't great run-stoppers either. Give me Navy, bad or not.
- Kent State +2.5 over Ball State. Kent State is at home and sports one of the better defenses in the MAC, which are good independent reasons to pick them. Ball State is also coming off a huge home upset of South Florida, which helps even more.
- NC State +3 over Miami. Miami is not a good football team. They had some nice fumble luck against a BC team that racked up 500 yards of offense, and they seem to have Georgia Tech's number for some reason. Neither of these mean they're good. NC State should show us that soon enough.
- Georgia -14 over Tennessee. Aaron Murray is exactly the sort of quarterback the Vols don't want to face. He can burn a weak secondary, and he can do damage scrambling if he has to. But mostly, I've just grown used to the Vols folding up the tent against good football teams. It may be close at halftime, but once Georgia gets that big drive or big play, they'll score again and Tennessee won't.
- Virginia Tech/Cincinnati under 45.5. This is exactly the kind of offense that Bud Foster's defense is built to stop. And I'm still a skeptic on the Hokies scoring points of their own.
FIVE KEYS FOR TENNESSEE
- Don't Bite. Georgia coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo have made their living on play-action, especially with Aaron Murray as the quarterback. Tennessee cannot get beat for long plays like last year's bombs that won UGA the game and cemented Marsalis Teague as a perennial 'Bless His Heart' candidate. The Vols are last in the SEC in big plays allowed, and UGA is too good a team to allow quick strikes. If that happens, it could be a long day.
- Find Jarvis Jones. He's only an All-American, an early-season Heisman trophy candidate and the best player in the SEC. He was a one-man win against Missouri. He's the type of outside linebacker who normally roams the field for Alabama and one who makes the 3-4 defense tick. He'll be an NFL All-Pro many times over. And somehow the Vols have to account for him. Given Florida's -- and Akron's -- success speed-rushing our tackles, this may be the biggest key to the game. Even if you do stop him, the Dawgs have other great linebackers. Just a tall, tall task.
- Cut The One-Dimension Crap. Memo to Jim Chaney -- we actually can run the football. I know, I know: SHOCKER! But while our passing game is certainly the strength of our team [and Tyler Bray needs to get Cordarrelle Patterson more touches...] the running game isn't a weakness anymore. We totally abandoned the run against Florida in the second half, and we shouldn't have. The Vols worked on the running game against Akron, and though it wasn't always perfect, it was at least more successful than it has been in two years. Georgia isn't Akron. But UT will have to be balanced offensively to win this game. We simply have to have success running the ball -- and trust that we can run it -- or this will be the same ol' story.
- Sustain Drives. Perhaps this is an extension of the above bullet. Perhaps it's the reason for the reluctance of coaches to not keep running. But Tennessee has been downright TURRIBLE [Charles Barkley voice] in short-yardage situations this year -- no matter the opponent. The Vols can run the football. It's working to be successful even when everybody in the stadium knows you're going to run it. UT failed to convert a fourth-and-1 and third-and-1 against the Zips last week that took wind from our sails. The Vols have got to convert their share of third-and-shorts to beat the Dawgs.
- Adversity Is An Old, Old Wooden Ship. This is the first true road game all year. The Dawgs are coming home from a 48-3 demolition of Vanderbilt. They're excited. Their fans will be fired up. They have a size advantage over the Vols and one of experience as well. There will be some moments that UT have to handle or the game will get away. Will this team ever grow up? The coaches are too scared to put any load on the running backs or the defense. Instead, they place the burden on Bray, who hasn't proven he can lead through a firestorm yet. Will he ever? This is the time.