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How the Vols and their future opponents fared this weekend

How did this past weekend's events affect our outlook for the remainder of the season? We do a bit of public introspection.

Kevin C. Cox

Regular readers know that this is the weekly post where I figure out whether I feel better, worse, or the same about the Vols' remaining games (and my prior predictions for the outcomes of those games) based on (1) how Tennessee performed over the weekend, and (2) how the future opponents performed over the weekend. And regular readers know that this opening section deals with the first part of that analysis.

So this is where I take a deep breath, because what I'm about to say is at very serious risk of being misconstrued no matter how I say it. It's going to be received by some who don't read to the end as a defense of Derek Dooley despite the fact that I don't intend for it to be. This is me trying to gain some clarity on how I feel about the team right now in the most honest way I can. And let me say it one more time for emphasis: This is not about Dooley. So here goes.

I, of course and like almost everyone else, feel worse. But here's the thing. If I'm being honest with myself, I think I feel worse this week than last only or largely because we've moved from the theoretical to the actual. We knew in the preseason that October was going to be brutal. Discussing pain that is two months away is a certain kind of agony of its own (I'll get to that in a minute), but it's not the same in kind as actual pain. Where we thought about it before and discussed it ad nauseum, now we're feeling it red hot and burning.

But I knew what this October would bring. As I've said before in this space, I was wrong about two things this season. I had no idea that Florida would be anywhere near the second spot in the BCS standings, and I didn't believe that Mississippi State would be just outside the top 10. I thought we had a chance against both of those teams, and they turned out to be better than I had anticipated, and we lost.

And we knew about Alabama. I know some people are tired of hearing this, but Tennessee has played the top two teams in the nation at home and the Nos. 10 and 11 on the road. I say all of this not to say that we shouldn't be in those conversations but to note that it's extraordinarily difficult and frustrating to measure "getting better" only by whether you beat the best. And looking beyond the wins and losses into the statistical rankings doesn't help that much, either, because although our offense is better, our defense is so much worse that it obscures the gains. That's the most frustrating part for me, not being able to get a handle on whether there's been any real progress that hasn't been negated by something else, whether it's better-than-expected opponents or a worse-than-expected defense.

But if the question is whether I feel better, worse, or the same this week than I did last week, the answer is actually the same, except that it's now gone from theoretical to real. I expected to get beat by Alabama by 31 points, and I could not have been the only one.

Which leads me to my next point. The tragedy of all of this isn't so much getting stomped again by Alabama. It was expecting to get stomped by Alabama. It feels bad to lose by 31 again, but as bad as it is, it's much worse to know that it's going to happen. When a program finds itself there, the band wagon fans are rooting for other teams, the fair weather fans are off doing something else, and the truly loyal fans are still there, but they've traded their shakers for torches and pitchforks. That all translates to significantly decreased interest in the actual games, decreased ticket sales, decreased merchandise sales, and an increase in apathy, which is the second leading cause of death for football coaches.

So the Alabama game hasn't changed my mind, and neither has any of the weekend performances of our remaining opponents. I think we still lose to South Carolina, and I think we win the rest of them unless the wheels completely come off like they did in 2008. The problem with that, though, is that there's little to no joy there. Assuming we're right about the Gamecocks, there isn't really anything left to look forward to this season. I feel the same this week as last. I believe most hints of actual progress have been obscured by the brutal schedule our guys have played and by a new defense not getting it done, and yet I can't get excited about any of the five games remaining. Because if those games play out the way they should, they won't tell us anything, either.

Anyway. How do I feel this week? I feel the same as last week, except that the negative feelings are more real and the anticipation that drives the season is nearly gone. Same predictions, worse feeling.

@South Carolina Gamecocks


Animated Drive Chart brought to you by Gameday Depot.
  • Joel feels __________ about this game this week: A LITTLE BETTER UNTIL HE REMEMBERS THEY'RE BACK AT HOME THIS WEEK. They've lost two road games against good teams, and something like 21 points of this weekend's blowout came on something like only 29 yards. If they'll fumble in their own red zone three times again, we'll take it, though.

Troy Trojans

  • Week 1: Beat UAB, 39-29.
  • Week 2: Lost to the Ragin' Cajuns, 37-24.
  • Week 3: Lost to Mississippi State, 30-24.
  • Week 4: Beat North Texas, 14-7.
  • Week 5: Beat South Alabama, 31-10.
  • Week 6: Bye.
  • Week 7: Lost to Western Kentucky, 31-26.
  • Week 8: Beat FIU, 38-37.

Animated Drive Chart brought to you by Gameday Depot.
  • Video. That there's an extremely compelling video of the QB dropping back to pass, finding no one open, scrambling, scrambling, scrambling . . . and then running out of bounds for a three yard loss. Why did ESPN post this? Maybe for the same reason I'm linking it.
  • Joel feels __________ about this game this week: SAME.

Missouri Tigers

  • Week 1: Beat SE Louisiana Lions, whoever they are, 62-10.
  • Week 2: Lost to Georgia, 41-20.
  • Week 3: Beat Arizona State, 24-20.
  • Week 4: Lost to South Carolina, 31-10.
  • Week 5: Beat UCF, 21-16.
  • Week 6: Lost to Vanderbilt, 19-15. That's right. They lost to Vanderbilt and remained unwinned in the SEC. Rock M Nation is getting the stink out into the air.
  • Week 7: Lost to Alabama, 42-10.
  • Week 8: Bye.
  • Joel feels __________ about this game this week: SAME.

@Vanderbilt Commodores


Animated Drive Chart brought to you by Gameday Depot.
  • Joel feels __________ about this game this week: SAME.

Kentucky Wildcats


Animated Drive Chart brought to you by Gameday Depot.
  • Video.
  • Joel feels __________ about this game this week: A LITTLE ANXIOUS.

Conclusion after Week Eight

No changes to the remaining predictions, but a growing general feeling that the entire thing has become more fragile.

Opponent Preseason Prediction Revised Prediction Result
NC State W W W
Georgia State W W W
Florida W W (L) L
Akron W W W
Georgia L L L
Mississippi St. W W (L) L
Alabama L L L
South Carolina L L
Troy W W
Missouri W W
Vanderbilt W W
Kentucky W W
Record 9-3 7-5