As I said on Monday, this space and time will generally be occupied by a statistics-based preview of the upcoming game for the Vols. Part of that post will include a prediction based on what's already happened during the season, but when the season consists entirely of "We've played Austin-Peay and they've played Kentucky," well, then there's not much that can be gleaned from that. The entire process of making predictions in short-season football is sketchy anyway, and doing it with fewer games just makes it worse. That won't keep us from doing it next week (with probably hilariously erroneous results), but it will keep us from doing it after Week One.
So today, instead of the stats-based preview, we'll be (1) making fun of Western Kentucky, and (2) regretting making fun of Western Kentucky because of the fact that they have the very real ability to beat us.
Let's start here: Several years ago, during one of those long, boring summers, I did an entire series on team logos. I started with the scariest logos in college football, which was actually a list of the logos that were not frightening or intimidating at all. (I also did the 29 most boring college football logos, the 10 worst logos in college football, and the 20 coolest college football logos, but for our purposes today, it's the "scary" list that's important.) Here's the key bit, as it pertains to Western Kentucky:
American football is 30% preparation, 30% talent, and a full 40% intimidation. Little wonder that most college football logos feature wild animals snarling, charging, diving, swooping, thrusting, clawing, ramming or otherwise threatening all manner of bodily harm. Those logos that don't suggest patent hostility have such significant histories of dominating opponents that they can rely on a single letter and a single color to instill fear in their opponents.
Some schools, though, apparently didn't get the memo and instead opted for, intentionally or otherwise, something more . . . approachable. Something cute, cuddly, or just downright comedic.
A few examples of how not to intimidate your rival with your logo:
. . .
So there you have it. WKU's preferred tool of intimidation is a blankey. Not pictured: A nap mat. Don't even get me started on the actual mascot, which is actually frightening in a childhood nightmare sort of way. If Sesame Street was located in Chernobyl, the Hilltopper would be the result.
But let's move on to that picture up there, which I saw for the first time as the feature image for the RTT Podcast last night. Don't just glance at it. Really take a minute to soak it in. Yes, it's visual evidence that the WKU football team enters the field through an inflatable tunnel.
Seriously, the first question that pops into my mind upon seeing that is, "Where's the cotton candy and snow cones?" Do they have a Bounce Castle in their locker room to impress recruits? Is there funnel cake? Because I love funnel cake.
Butch Jones is rebuilding this program brick by brick. WKU is assembling theirs with a portable pump. On the plus side, it's quick, and they can carry the entire program in a duffle bag. Hey, when your coach is Bobby Petrino, mobility and portability is a key consideration. Now that I think about it, isn't it possible (or even likely) that the same considerations that led to that inflatable tunnel also led to the hiring of Petrino? Hey, when we're done here, we'll just move it over there.
And here's where I actually get scared. Because you know what? Western Kentucky may be as good or better than we are right now.
If you haven't yet heard last night's podcast, go listen to it. You'll hear Glenn from A Sea of Blue -- a Kentucky fan but a WKU alum -- get quite animated talking about how the Hilltoppers completely outplayed Kentucky. He said that the score (WKU 35, KY 26) was not indicative of how badly Western Kentucky beat the Wildcats. He said that WKU played well overall but got in its own way by making several mistakes. He said that they got 6-8 yards almost at will. And he said it all with a rising voice and an increasing irritation suggesting intense frustration.
I was mildly concerned about this game before talking with Glenn. Afterwards, I was genuinely nervous. Going into the season, I knew that Petrino was a good coach, but I figured it would take at least some time (is two games too much to ask?) for him to have them competitive against higher-level programs. But it's looking now like he's already got the Hilltoppers in the much-improved category, and they were no slouches last year. This game comes down to this: Two new coaches, both of whom are very good, but one of whom (Petrino) is probably better, and two new teams, one of which is likely more talented than the other. So who has the edge when one team has the advantage in talent and the other has the advantage in coaching? Go ahead, have another fingernail.
So yeah, WKU can beat us, and as Will pointed out last night, this is a really important game for young Team 117. If 2013 becomes a Bowl Watch, Saturday is a swing game. Things are not likely to get better at Oregon or at Florida in the following weeks, so what happens this week determines whether we get through those games with any enthusiasm for the rest of the season. Win, and we can tell ourselves that we're better, even if we're still not as good as the elite teams in college football. Lose, and we're talking about how long the storied Tennessee program is going to spend having to mingle with the WKUs of the world, they of the inflatable tunnels, mutant Muppets, and scary towels.