I wavered between using the word "could" and the word "should" in the title of this post. So far in this series, the Gators, Razorbacks, Sooners, and Gamecocks have all been "shoulds" and the Bulldogs were a "could." As you can see, after much deliberation, I've gone with "could." Three losses in a row and all that, you know.
So what are three good reasons to believe that Tennessee could beat the Tigers this year? Glad you asked.
1. The Tigers are missing 5-30% of their offense. Running back Marcus Murphy is gone, and so is most of the Tigers receiving corps. Murphy accounted for 924 yards on 177 rush attempts last year. Sure, Russell Hansbrough is back for his senior year, and he was even more effective than Murphy last year. But he'll have to either carry the entire load himself or find a new friend to run while he rests. Regardless, Murphy's gone, and that's a good thing for us.
The receiving corps is even worse off. The Tigers' four leading receivers last year were Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt, Darius White, and Murphy, and they're all gone. Such a huge vacuum provides opportunities for others, yes, but they could be great or they could stink. Raise your hand if you've been a witness to such things in the past.
2. Missouri's sacks are wearing graduation caps or driving fancy new cars to their new luxurious homes. Defensive linemen Shane Ray and Markus Golden combined for 24.5 sacks last year, but Ray's off to the NFL and after exhausting offensive linemen for four years, Golden has finally also exhausted his eligibility to do so. Yeah, I know that Missouri seems to be growing huge men with a knack for sacks in an experimental lab somewhere on campus, but maybe there was a bad batch this year or something.
3. No more screwing around with these guys. Let's be real here for a second. Missouri's beaten Tennessee three years in a row and won the SEC East the last two seasons. I think they were probably the better team for most or all of those games, largely because the Vols were not up to their usual standards. But I don't think that's the case this year. And part of the Tigers' advantage has been their stealth, their ability to breeze silently through the season and then pound you senseless before you even had time to wake up. If our improved team actively watches for these guys this year and hits them first, the Vols should have a good shot this time around. It should be difficult to come from behind when you have half your running game and no proven receivers. Or rather, it could be.
So what's the closing argument on this one? The Tigers are missing half their running game, all of their receivers, and almost all of their sacks from last year, and after having won the East two years in a row, the rest of the SEC East should be better able to take them seriously in time to make a difference. Count the Vols as one of those teams.