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The Idiot Optimist's Guide to the 2014 Season

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The annual serious preview for the serious fan. Seriously.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Do you think it's possible Butch Jones and Jon Gruden are the same person?

I'm telling you, there's something going on here.  Because "Butch Jones" is recruiting at a level that a guy from Cincinnati and Central Michigan has no business reaching in just one year.  My sister's boy Matthew taught me how to do something called a Google Image search?  There's no photographic evidence Butch Jones and Jon Gruden have ever been in the same place at the same time. Gruden was conveniently on campus earlier this summer, even got a picture of him wearing one of those fancy bucket hats.  You're telling me he was on campus and they were so specific to get a picture of him pointing at Reggie White, but they just forgot to take a picture of him and Butch Jones together?  Sure.

This is why Butch is so clever, challenging Gruden with that ice bucket business.  It's Superman challenging Clark Kent to a fight!  That'll throw the rest of them off the scent, but us real fans?  We know.  We've known for years!  This is all just because so many of us figured it out while Mr. Fancy Pants Lawyer was still on the sideline those last few weeks.  Don't you see?  Butch Jones IS the smokescreen!

So Butch is out there coaching our fine young football team on Saturdays, then sneaking away on ESPN's dime so he can make those NFL connections on Monday Night Football.  He's so smart, those "experts" at the worldwide leader in Tim Tebow haven't even figured it out yet.  Shoot, I bet he's even dropping subliminal messages about the Vols on the broadcast!  Zack Morris is the son I never had!

So we've got ourselves a hard-working blue-collar brick-by-brick football coach SLASH national celebrity with a regular spot in primetime and a Super Bowl ring?  Yeah, I'll come play for you, coach.  So will Kahlil McKenzie.  And if Torrance Gibson don't come here, it's because WE decide WE don't want him.

Why were we so bad again last year?  That's not a hard question to answer.  Who do you think was out there?  For the first time we had none of Phillip's kids putting on the orange and white, and Butch Gruden's legacy class of winners and hall of famers was still in high school.  A whole team of Lane Kiffins and Derek Dooleys?  It's a miracle we beat Kentucky!

But none of that matters anymore.  This is the year.

Now, look.  I won't pretend I didn't have an authentic hand-stitched smokey gray Riley Ferguson jersey.  Which is strange, because I'm not even sure Riley Ferguson had an authentic hand-stitched smokey gray Riley Ferguson jersey.  I don't know what they make those things out of, but I know it cost $199.99 and it was highly flammable.

But you know who else is in on this conspiracy?  Peyton By God Manning.  It's a good thing Gruden wasn't calling the Super Bowl.  How's a man supposed to win championships when the center snaps the ball when The Sheriff ain't ready and Percy Harvey runs kickoffs back for touchdowns?  That's not Peyton's fault.

So anyway, the Worley kid goes out to St. Manning's Passing Academy for Winners this summer, and what do they say about him?

Not just one Manning.  MANNINGS.  Plural.  I bet Olivia had some nice things to say about him too.

Look, they know they can't come out and say, "Justin Worley is the best quarterback in college football."  Everybody would use words like "biased" and "last year" and "the year before that" and "the year before that".   So they throw that sneaky little "top three" designation in there, and all the secrets are safe.  Including the one where Justin Worley comes out firing for 400 yards in the Sunday night special.

Is it any wonder the best player on our team last year was a Butch recruit?  And now Worley is going to be able to throw to someone besides Marquez North?  You can't spell Cordarrelle Patterson without Von Pearson!  Josh Malone caught like six touchdowns in the Orange & White Game against our defense!  And Josh Smith, we know he's going to do great just like all local kids would if given the proper opportunity.  Those kids are VFL from birth.  We'd win championships just recruiting Knox and Blount County, but Butch Gruden likes a challenge.

I'm telling you, Worley will be just fine.  He'll manage the game the way I manage my emotions.

The biggest question mark this year is whether the liberal sports media will give the Doak Walker Award to a true freshman.  I'm making payments right now on an authentic hand-stitched Jalen Hurd jersey.  I will then be auctioning it off in June along with literally every other piece of clothing I own when we make the transition from adidas to Nike.

You're worried about the offensive line?  The only reason those guys weren't playing last year is they hadn't been recruited by Butch yet or they were sitting behind guys who are playing in the NFL.  That's the way it used to be around here:  if you weren't playing it's only because there was an All-Pro in front of you.  Just because Kyler Kerbyson ain't Ja'Wuan James doesn't mean he's not going to be an All-American.  And Butch took Mack Crowder to Media Days?  What more do you need to know about our center?

Defensive line?  They moved Curt Maggitt down there because Dillon Bates is gonna be just like his daddy.  I get emotional talking about Bill because he was best friends with my cousin's nephew's babysitter's dad, so I've got a real personal connection to the family.  I've known Dillon was going to be a star since the day I read about his birth in the newspaper.

With Maggitt at one end and Corey Vereen at the other?  And then this Barnett kid, been blowing up fall camp?  We signed 18 four or five-star players this year!  I can't keep up with them all!  While we've been thinking about Hurd and Malone and Bates and Kelly, this kid comes in and starts blowing things up right away in August?  That means he's definitely a Hall of Famer.  He'll be keeping the Reggie White comparisons warm for Kahlil McKenzie.

In the middle you've got A.J. Johnson, who's so good they won't even let him practice with the rest of the ones sometimes.  This is what you want, right?  A team led by a senior quarterback and a senior middle linebacker who've been through all the suffering together.  Because all the suffering is going to make all this winning seem so much sweeter.

Do you understand what it means to have two Eric Berries in the secondary?  Is cloning a secondary violation?  What about nepotism?  You youngsters out there that might not know Todd Kelly Sr?  Watch this for thirty seconds.  The Heisman pose you see there is two decades of foreshadowing for when Todd Kelly Jr becomes the first defensive player to come in second for the Heisman Trophy.  It will be with a tear in my eye and a song in my heart when I watch all of them succeed instantly this fall.

My lovely and patient wife even says I can wear my orange to church next Sunday.  Get to worship and then get to Neyland, boys, because it's gonna be the start of something beautiful.  Ain't no way we're losing to a team from Utah.  I don't really know who we're playing in the second game, but I know it's not the real Arkansas and I know they were even worse than we were last year, so Arkansas State Tech Poly-Sci whatever is getting beat in round two.  Wait, is Trooper Taylor on their sideline?  That towel's worth at least a touchdown.  Might be a tough game.

Then it's the coming out party.  The wind ain't the only thing gonna come sweeping down the plains.  I've figured out you can insert the name of any one of our skill players in that song every time we score a touchdown.  And I plan on using them all.  Real VFLs know Oklahoma has knocked our fine women's softball team out of the tournament in each of the last two seasons.  I demand justice.

Georgia?  Would've beat them last year if not for the dumbest rule in college football.  Florida?  Lost to Georgia Southern, they ain't no good.  And I am sick and tired of people telling me Chattanooga is a better place to live than Knoxville.  Not on October 11, by God.

People been saying Butch Jones is following the Ole Miss model in rebuilding this program?  That's like saying Peyton Manning is following the Archie Manning model, by which we mean make vast improvements and generally overshadow it in every possible way.  But, again, thanks for the compliments about Worley.

And then there's Alabama.  My wife's cousin is a lawyer, and he has unofficially advised me not to say anything more about Lane Kiffin in a public forum.  Officially, Beat Bama.

South Carolina?  Beat 'em already.  Kentucky is Kentucky and Vanderbilt is Vanderbilt without their mouthy little head coach, we'll get to him in a second.  In the middle you've got Missouri, a newcomer with fans who like these advanced metrics which neglect important football stats like assigning wins to starting quarterbacks, proximity to Knoxville, and the size of your heart.  The most important stat for this one:  senior day.  Automatic victory.  I don't do math, boys.

The real playoff is in Atlanta, where it's either Kiffin again, John Chavis, or that guy with the pocket protector from Auburn.  But you know they're tearing down the Georgia Dome, right?  I wrote Mike Slive at least a dozen letters about demon possession, and I knew it was true when they didn't go after Derek Dooley because they can recognize the difference between a threat and a lawyer.  I was glad to see they finally listened.  I'd still expect the building itself to put up a fight, probably our toughest test of the season.  But guess who's got a winning record all-time in the Georgia Dome?  Jon Gruden.  SEC Champs, baby.

So then we get two more opportunities for victory this year, right?  Which would make for 15-0 and the greatest team not just in the history of the university, but all of college football.  With Virginia Tech already on the docket and our former head coaches off the market, here's a power ranking of teams I'd like to see in the playoffs:

  • Texas - I've been angry at Charlie Strong for two years, because this could've been you.  But I haven't figured out if he was part of the smokescreen or not.  Until I do, you're still on my list.  And until the University of Would Be Speaking Spanish If Not For Tennessee Volunteers remembers the Alamo and stops calling themselves UT, Texas is on my list too.
  • Penn State - I am now forced into the awkward position of actively rooting for James Franklin so we can meet in the playoffs.
  • Notre Dame - I mean, who doesn't enjoy beating Notre Dame?  And we would know.  But I'd like for Butch to surpass his "superior" along the way just to close that loop.
  • Washington - Still upset about being a sub-lateral move, their latest argument is more water = superior program.  I respect this kind of logic, but even I have my limits.
  • Wake Forest - I have not forgotten you, Dave Clawson.
Anyone, anywhere, anytime.  That's why Butch keeps scheduling these fancy games like the one at Bristol:  he knows after we go 15-0 this year, we're gonna need some additional excitement to keep from getting bored.  I hear we're in talks to play the Dallas Cowboys on the moon.  Close the deal, Dave Hart.  I need revenge on Derek Dooley too.

15-0, National Champions.  This guy.  Butch gets it.

Go Vols.