I don't know whether it's me still trying to rid myself of the lawyer stink or what, but when I should have been writing objective, fact-based opponent previews for this year's magazine, I found myself instead making arguments about why the Vols should or could win each game instead. I reined myself in with my editor hat on in the second and third drafts, but there remains a certain amount of argumentative residue in each article. I couldn't help it. There were reasons we should (or could, depending on the opponent) win, and they had to be said. And yet I did dial it back a bit for print. There's something daunting about sending something to a printer that's going to put thousands of hard copies on pallets and ship them to you. Any runaway emotion that finds its way onto the page and defends its existence all the way through deadline literally weighs hundreds of pounds.
But in this modest and casual space, there's something more comforting about typing words on a screen and being done by simply hitting a green button that says "Approve and Publish," and so I feel much more freedom to go ahead and indulge my deep-rooted desire to just let loose and tell you why we're going to win. So here begins a series wherein I write what I feel unburdened by editorial restraint. And because Will has this week already sullied this fine establishment with a reprehensible image of Steve Spurrier's mug on the front page, South Carolina's up first.
Presenting . . . three reasons the Vols should beat South Carolina again in 2015.
1. 2014 and 2013. It's the oldest argument in the book. We beat them the last two years, so why not again this year? Shoot, we weren't even very good the last two years. The Vols went a bowl-less 5-7 in 2013 and a mere 7-6 last season and yet beat the Gamecocks 23-21 and 45-42 those two years. Sure, South Carolina was also only 7-6 last year, but they were 11-2 two years ago, so they weren't pushovers then. It's not like they have a psychological advantage over the Vols like the Gators do. And the Gamecocks this year? They have issues (see below), and the Vols should be improved. If we did it the last two years, we should be able to do it again this year.
2. A defensive coordinator experiment that could blow up in the lab. When Texas A&M destroyed the Gamecocks 52-28 in the first game last year, we all (yes, you did, too) jumped to the conclusion that the new Aggies QB was Manziel 2.0. Turns out, though, that the Gamecocks' defense was just turrible. They finished the season with a defensive S&P+ rating of something like 89th. So what did the short-tempered Darth Visor with the itchy Jedi choke hold do to defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward?
Nothing. He did nothing.
Wait. That's not exactly true. He may have done something worse than nothing. He hired another guy -- John Hoke -- to also be defensive coordinator. That's bizarre even for someone who likes to rotate quarterbacks like they're tires. Hey, you're not fired, but we're hiring someone else to do the same job you had all to yourself last year. What could go wrong?
3. Holes in the offense. What do you get when you lose your starting quarterback, your best running back, and most of your receivers? Dirty visors and grimaces galore for the Jumbotron. QB Dylan Thompson is gone and will likely be replaced by Connor Mitch, who's seen action in all of two games. RB Mike Davis and WR Shaq Roland left early for the NFL, and WRs Nick Jones and Damiere Byrd (along with TE Rory Anderson) graduated. Sure, Pharoh Cooper's back, and he's three handfuls of frogs, flies, and boils, but that's still a lot of firepower to replace.
So there you have it. My best argument as to why Tennessee should beat South Carolina this season: They've done it the last two years, the Vols are better this year, and the Gamecocks have a lot to replace on offense and a lot to fix on defense.