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The Idiot Optimist's Guide to the 2011 Season

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Come in, sit down, Kool-Aid's on the table.

Now look, you'll say, "Didn't we do this last year?"  But last year was Year Zero.  And everybody knows zero is not a real number.  There's no expiration date on the Kool-Aid.

So this year, there's no doubt:  Tennessee is back.  Not in that way that Alabama said they were back every three years during what wikipedia refers to as The DuBose-Franchione-Shula Era (which we refer to as The Mike Price, etc. Era), only to then lose seven games or their coach to Texas A&M the following season.   Tennessee is actually back, in ways that would've been more evident if not for shenanigans and conspiracies on the part of referees (spits) after the game was over last season.  Did you know that if we'd been credited with the 8-5 record we rightfully deserved last year, it would've been our best season since 2007?  See, progress.

I hear all these people saying 2012 is the year, but son, the only difference between this fall and next will be margin of victory.  Just last week a friend of mine in Knoxville said he saw Tiny Richardson with his own two eyes, and his only comment was, "I predict National Championships."  Plural.  See, this is what I'm talking about.  These are the things we're supposed to say around here in August.  No more of this hugging and feeling sorry for ourselves.  It's time to win, son.

We don't have to worry about our coach leaving for Texas A&M, Southern Cal (spits), or anywhere else, because Derek Dooley is a Vol For Life son.  He's got the best hair and the best jokes in the SEC.  He's like Les Miles if Les Miles was actually trying to say the things that he says; Miles beat us by accident last year anyway.  Either that, or it was that Year Zero thing, and he was the only one capable of understanding such irrational math.  Either way, Dooley's material is only going to get better when we start winning. 

You know who's back?  On offense, everybody.  The quarterback who threw for more yards and touchdowns as a freshman than Erik Ainge, Casey Clausen, and Peyton By God Manning.  Did it in fewer starts too.  If you project his per-game average as a starter in yards and touchdowns out over the course of an entire year, he's going to become the first UT quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns this fall.  As a sophomore.

If Jim Chaney decides he doesn't want to run the Purdue offense and throw it 45 times a game, we've got Tauren Poole in the backfield.  Not only did he run for more than 1,000 yards last year, he's one of the last few guys on the team that played for Fulmer, Kiffin (spits), and Dooley.  See, Tauren Poole, he understands us.  He knows, better than most, the anguish and turmoil we've been through the last few years.  And he's the perfect senior to lead us out of it.

Either him, or Marlin Lane.  I haven't seen him in a game or a scrimmage, but based on a picture I saw on a message board he's going to be a combination of Chuck Webb and Chuck Norris.  I'm not sure if that's better or worse than our quarterback who's a combination of Drew Brees and St. Manning, but I figure it's pretty good either way.  They're sure to battle for second in next year's Heisman race.

Then we've got Randy Moss's position coach leading us back to the promised land of Wide Receiver U.  Moss isn't busy these days, so I'm sure he'll be swinging by practice all the time to coach these kids up.  Justin Hunter just set freshman receiving records that weren't previously held by 22 year old baseball players (spits?), and it sounds like he's not even the most promising guy on the field.  That's Da'Rick Rogers, who's got enough time left in a Vol uniform to become one of the greatest in school history at the position.  Then there's Mychal Rivera, whose sister is on that show where they sing.  You know, the one that makes thirteen year old kids accuse Journey of ripping them off when Don't Stop Believing comes on the radio?  You may call that show a lot of things.  I call it the best recruiting advantage on the planet.

Offensive line?  Do you realize last year that none of these guys had played in college before?  Now do you realize they're all experienced at an average of 6'4", 319?  With quality depth behind them?  Playing for a line coach who sends every starter to the NFL?  Put that fork down, Tyler Bray.  You're safe.

This offense is so good we might score 50 per game.  And if you're worried about the defense, an offense that scores 50 points a game frees them up to do all that crazy stuff Justin Wilcox did at Boise.  Now that we've got (literally) a dozen different options in the secondary, we're going to throw all kinds of crazy stuff at people.  Do you really think John Brantley, Jordan Jefferson, Stephen Garcia, and A.J. McInexperienced are going to be able to figure us out?

With the back end locked down, the front seven are free to go crazy.  Malik Jackson spends every Saturday making Kiffin and Orgeron (spits) cry.  Maurice Couch was the best defensive tackle in all of juco football last year, so he'll be an All-American right away.  Jacques Smith is going to make everyone in East Tennessee stop whining about how we never sign the best in-state talent.  And at linebacker?  Herman Lathers can take his time; we've got Johnson & Johnson:  No More Tears.

(...for us.  No more tears for us.  Lots of tears for the other team.)

The schedule?  We open with "I'd like to have seen" Montana, who may or may not play in a better conference than Cincinnati.  We could win those two 150-0 if we wanted, but we're probably gonna go all stealth-like and only win by 30 or 40, that way the Gators don't really know what's coming.

The Swamp?  Please, the only two guys who had any magic in that place are working for ESPN and on a golf course in South Carolina.  Will Muschamp may be Derek Dooley's old friend, but remember this:  Will Muschamp turned down the Tennessee job twice.  This cannot, and will not, go unpunished.

I'm most excited to play North Carolina.  After what happened in the Music City Bowl last year, I figure we'll keep scoring touchdowns until their athletic's calling the shots over there agrees to a home-and-home basketball series with us.  At a year to be determined later.  Because I think Bruce Pearl took the basketball-flavored Kool-Aid on his way out of town.

Either way, you couldn't have picked an easier time to play North Carolina.  Not only did they lose seven players due to eligibility issues last season, they also graduated the cheater they played at quarterback, who was "smart" enough to intentionally spike the ball with a small army on the field at the "end" of the Music City Bowl (spits).  Plus they lost five seniors on defense.  Here's a quote from their spring practice:  "When you look at the number of guys that went to the combine, the number of guys that might potentially get drafted or sign as free agents, that's a huge void in this football program."  You know who said that?  The guy who's not their head coach anymore.

I mean, what luck we had to schedule these guys and get to play them this year when they're in such disarray!  And can you imagine what it would be like to not have a chance for revenge after what happened last year?

Me neither.

Moving on...there's Georgia, who may also be without a head coach by the time they play us.  There's LSU, whose head coach owes such a debt to karma against Tennessee it has to all come due this fall, though I'm sure it'll be in dramatic fashion like it always is with those guys.  I mean, that's 6-0 without breaking a sweat.

And then there's Alabama.  The Third Saturday in October is not about blowouts.  It's about history, rivalry, everything that makes college football great.  So I stand by my prediction from last year:  we either win 3-2, or 77-75 in ten overtimes.  Either way, I hope they hold up their end of the bargain so we can finally meet each other in Atlanta.

From there, it's the usual downhill finish:  two teams that have only been in the SEC for twenty years, which means I must continue to refuse to respect them until the league expands again.  If Tyler Bray plays the whole game against South Carolina, we win last year.  And I'm expected to believe in Arkansas because of what their quarterback did in two quarters against the team with the 108th best pass defense in college football last year?  Bray was that good for five games and actually won them.  Yes, I'm still counting the Music City Bowl.

Am I really supposed to get excited about Vanderbilt because their coach is undefeated in press conferences and interviews and plays dodge ball with his team?  That's cute.  Kentucky?  Wait 'til basketball season.

And let me again remind you that Derek Dooley is immune to The Curse of the Georgia Dome, because he was standing on the other sideline the night it started in 2001.  So when we get to Atlanta, it's a guarantee.  And like it's been for the last five years, a win in Atlanta is a guaranteed BCS National Championship.  It remains my one and only regret that Southern Cal will not be eligible to meet us there.

14-0, National Champions.  Boom.