Kevin C. Cox - Getty Images
As the Vols anticipate a challenging October, we look at preseason expectations and wonder whether there's hope in being wrong about opponents rather than wrong about the Vols.
One of the problems of embracing the Optimism Bias as a fan is that when circumstances disappoint and we respond yet again with hope, we are vulnerable to legitimate criticism. Criticism that we're ignoring the facts, that we're idiots, and/or that we're complete homers. That last one is a remnant of an earlier time in which fan perspective media didn't exist, but the first two? Yeah, I get it. But still, I'll link to it again and say it a different way: A healthy dose of optimism is good for you, and I for one am going to continue to inoculate against despair. Yes, even as we set off into the Red October that seeks to put an end to this particular chapter of hope.
So indulge me for a minute.
I can't currently locate a preseason poll, but I'm guessing that such a thing would have shown that most Tennessee fans believed the Vols should go anywhere between 7-5 and 9-3 in 2012. What I know for sure is that the RTT staff predicted a 9-3 finish with losses to Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina and a win over Florida. We got the Florida game wrong, and although we haven't polled the staff recently, it seems that the Florida loss remains the only adjustment. The current RTT poll down on the left side of the main page shows that post-Florida, most have either adjusted to or remained at 7-5 or 8-4 as the best guess for the regular season record. So the expectations going into the season appear to have mostly been 9-3 or 8-4, and so far, most of us are one game below expectations.
We got the Florida game wrong. But we were right on Georgia, and we'll likely also be right on Alabama and South Carolina. The rest of the games, we don't know, and they're extremely important. But right now, an analysis of the team's progress to date has to focus on the Florida and Georgia games. And I'm thinking that we weren't so wrong about our team as we were about the opponents.
Let's take Georgia first. In the preseason, the Bulldogs were the favorite to win the East. They were the 5th-best team in the nation when we played them, and even after getting utterly embarrassed and spanked by South Carolina this weekend, they're still in the 12-14 range. And a Tennessee team that hadn't done it much in the past overcame adversity twice on the road in that game and had a chance to tie it right up until the very end. That game ended when it ended, not when the teams took the field in the second half.
And Florida? My impression of Florida, and much of the basis of my prediction that Tennessee should beat them, was that they were down and that this year presented an opportunity to get them while they were still finding themselves. We thought that Tennessee's offense and Florida's defense was going to be good. We thought that Tennessee's defense was going to have struggles adjusting to a new scheme, and we thought that it might not matter so much against a Florida offense that had been inept and was itself going to struggle adjusting to a new scheme.
We were right about UT's offense and Florida's defense. We were also right that the Vols' defense was going to have problems, perhaps more right than we thought.
But we were dead wrong about Florida's offense, and that -- not any expectation about Tennessee -- is the difference between what we thought going into the season and what we have right now.
So for those of us wanting to continue to sip the happy juice of optimism even in the face of a monster October, there it is. We are who we thought we were. We're a game down from what we'd hoped, but it's not because we're worse than we thought we were, it's because Florida found its offense and is a top 5 team competing with South Carolina for the SEC East instead of on the outside looking in.
Sure, we're probably going to be right about Tennessee's chances of beating Alabama and South Carolina. But if we are who we thought we would be, we have a puncher's chance. Hey, sometimes the monster at the end of the book isn't what we anticipate it to be.
And October starts with a very real opportunity to prove progress by beating a Top 25 team on the road this Saturday.
So Go Vols. Beat the Bulldogs. And then let's see what happens.