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Big Orange Roundtable: bucking the questions edition

This week's Big Orange Roundtable is brought to you by Moondog Sports.

Let’s assume the worst for a moment and say the Vols finish the season 6-6. Does Fulmer survive? If not, whom do you believe would be the best person to fill the head coaching vacancy? Even if you believe Fulmer survives, feel free to offer your thoughts on the Vols next coach.

I'm going to buck the question here. It's the pre-season. Georgia's had discipline problems throughout the summer and now they've lost their starting left tackle for the season. Florida has had as many torn ACLs this week as I've had pizzas, which is to say a lot. Auburn's players are getting into fights with each other, and Steve Spurrier's having quarterback issues.

Meanwhile, our key guys are mostly healthy (so far), we're cooking up something special in the chem lab, we've got probably the best safety tandem in the nation and one of the best secondaries in the SEC, we've got an experienced offensive line and a stable of really strong running backs, and our first-year starting QB was a very highly touted guy who's loved by his teammates and has had two years in the system just waiting his turn.

We've got the Clawfense, and whatever it is, it appears at the least to be the cure for predictability.

The preseason is the season of optimism. We'll only need to lose one game for the bulk of the fanbase to start screaming about Fulmer, so there will be time for all of that. The Papa's got it handled. He'll get enough heat if and when we lose a game or two or three or six. Me, I'm going to resist the urge to introduce any hypothetical negativity into a positive situation.

With the off-field troubles many college football programs have encountered over the past five years, including Tennessee, what actions would you take to prevent players from getting into undesirable situations?

There's not much you can do other than tell them what to do and what not to do and reward and punish them accordingly. As far as telling them what to do, they need to know that the more you flirt with trouble, the closer you get to it, the more likely you are to find it. When the sun goes down, trouble comes up, so stay inside and go to bed. Don't go to clubs where drunk guys think they can impress their dates by provoking football players. Don't be alone with chicks you don't know yet. Better yet, don't be alone with them anyway. Don't drink and don't even try drugs. There are plenty of other ways to have fun. Celebrating a national championship is one.

Prudish? Yes. Would following that advice keep one out of trouble? Yes. Is it practical to impose such restrictions on college football stars? That would be no.

Sometimes the adults have to crack down on the kids for their own safety and for the integrity of the program, but often, they just need to learn from the pain they cause themselves. It's better for the team if players' peers recognize problems and address them themselves. Leaders emerge. Chemistry develops. It's a much stronger and longer lasting fix than having the authorities threatening the players at every turn. Dictatorships are often strong in the short term, but they always fall eventually, and a carefully cultivated force of volunteers will always triumph in the end.

I think that's what Fulmer was doing in the spring, hoping that the team leaders would put a stop to the nonsense, because he knew that it would be much more effective and better for the team in the long run. It's risky. In 2005, nobody led and Fulmer waited too long, and the whole thing just got way out of hand. This year, though, (so far) it's turned out well.

What would I do? Probably the same thing The Papa's doing. Teach and talk and train and explain and expect some of them not to listen, to insist on learning from their own painful consequences. Impose punishment when someone goes over the line. But as far as group dynamics goes, it's better if they learn to control themselves rather than relying on someone else to motivate them toward integrity.

The Vols have rolled through UCLA, UAB, Florida, Auburn, Northern Illinois and Georgia. We’re No. 3 in the polls and up next is Alabama. With 3:16 left in the 4th quarter the Vols are down 20-17 and it’s 4th and one from the Bama 29-yard line. Do you kick the field goal or go for it?

Man, it really depends on how our defense, run game, and kicker are doing. If our defense is holding, our kicker is clicking, and our run game is faltering, I'd kick it. If the defense is getting punished, our kicker is quaking, and our run game is working, I'd go for it.

It really is all about the percentages, but the percentages shift according to how confident you are in your respective units. You must adapt on the fly.

What impact, if any, do you believe Stan Drayton will have as the Vols prepare to play Florida?

None. I'm sure the guy is great, but let's face it. He was a running backs coach at Florida, a position somewhere between the guy who makes sure the uniforms are on the bus and the guy who feeds Urban Meyer's fish. Drayton probably wasn't even allowed in meetings.

We’ve discussed the Vols offense and defense, but what about special teams? Give us your thoughts on Tennessee’s kicking game and special teams in general.

We're going to miss Britton Colquitt, no doubt. Do you think it's too late to suspend him for the final five games instead of the first five games? Hopefully, Chad Cunningham will do well in Britton's place. Daniel Lincoln had some consistency problems late last year and in the first preseason scrimmage.

That's the bad news. The good news is that Dennis Rogan is back returning punts and Eric Berry is pestering coaches to play on the punt return unit just to block for Rogan.

It used to be that Tennessee special teams lacked the ability to break big, exciting plays but that the more boring aspects (punting and kicking field goals) of the third third of the game was solid. We may very well see the opposite of that this season.

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