So now that everybody can freely admit that this season has been a disappointment (yeah, yeah, I know, understatement and all that), let's not forget that there have been some things to applaud about this football team as well.
- Effort I normally like to save the biggest point for last, but this should take top billing. Despite having a season where nearly everything has ended up going wrong, the players have yet to mail it in. There have been no reports of players wanting to quit on a game, and the effort on the field has been very evident. These kids are playing very hard and inspired football, even though everything surrounding the team is negative right now. To the players: kudos for playing your hearts out.
Berry Duh. This kid has been everything he was advertised to be and more. We now measure his record-to-set in terms of "when" rather than "if". I have had far too many conversations where I've had to remind people that he's still just a sophomore and that UT is guaranteed to have him for at least 1 more year before the NFL is an option. (I think everybody forgets that he actually played as a freshman. Novel, I know. It's one of those commie-Bama ideas, but it worked for us just this once.) To me, the amazing part is how natural everything is to him on the field. He reads angles and plays so well, it's a beauty to watch. As phenomenal as his athletic skills are, it's his brain that makes it all so special.
- Stephens I'm a broken record on this point, but he's playing quite competently as a quarterback despite having almost zero 1st-team practice reps in the spring and preseason. The gameplan is still simplified for him because of that, but he's handled it well so far. Zero interceptions. That's hard to do, especially when 3 good defenses are mixed in there (UGA, MSU and UA). Putting Stephens in has stabilized one of the most volatile positions on the field this year, and there's no reason to think he won't continue to improve with time.
- D-Line Remember how panicked we were about the D-line before this year? No depth, and no Haynesworth-types in the middle? These guys are getting terrific pass pressure. The running stats don't look phenomenal until you account for the sheer amount of time they've logged on the field this season. (Against UA, the defense was on the field for over 21 minutes in the second half.) They're getting the job done, and you can't ask for more.
- Britton Colquitt Yes, this kid's had alcohol problems in the past. All of us wondered why he was kept (even if we never concluded that he should be dismissed). Yet he really seems to have cleaned up. As far as I know, he's still dry since the last infraction back in February and he's on pace to be yet another Colquitt punter that UT sends to the pros. He had that shank against UA, but the difference between him and the other punters is night and day. Just watching his warmups tells you that he's the best punter on the team by a clear margin. Let's put the whole alco-Colquitt ordeal behind us and let him enjoy his new lease on life.
You may think I'm corny, but I like to note the postives even when things are rough. There's a lot about the team to appreciate when you get past the "we're-not-contenders-for-once" thing. (Trust me, when my alma mater rolls in for homecoming, you'll understand what true futility feels like.) Let's not forget that, when it's all said and done, these are still college-age guys who don't get paid for their efforts. (Don't try the scholarship argument; you show me any comparable group of scholarshipped students who bring a fraction of the financial return to the university that the student-athletes do. They aren't compensated for their value.)
--any others I'm forgetting?