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The Idiot Optimist’s Guide to the 2016 Season

Your annual serious preview for the serious fan. Seriously.

Outback Bowl - Northwestern v Tennessee Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

My name is (redacted), and I am a Kool-Aid addict.

It’s been ten months since my last drink. Fourth quarter, Tuscaloosa. I thought we had ‘em, boys. After that, though, didn’t need no Kool-Aid to know we could take care of business. Six straight wins, and now it ain’t just us who know 2016 is going to be our year.

The liberal sports media ranked us ninth, but that’s only because half of them went to Northwestern and they’re still upset about two of the best teams in the history of their institution playing Tennessee and losing 48-28 and 45-6. And they knew better than to give Butch Jones a vote in the coaches’ poll, that’s a conspiracy. Cutcliffe slipped us a first place vote in there, he’s VFL. But I figure we’re gonna be a unanimous number one in both polls by week three, maybe week four anyway.

At quarterback, we’ve got the next President of the United States. Since I quit drinking my wife says I can do something called “multitasking”, so in addition to carrying the banner for Team 120 I’m also the unofficial campaign manager for the Dobbs/Manning ticket. I’m trying to be respectful of Peyton’s retirement; I figure he can be VP, play golf, and erase the deficit through the usual television commercials at his leisure. Then he can take over in four years once Dobbs has started the colonization of Mars. That’s the Dobbs platform: Make Mars Great Again, For The First Time. You’d vote for it.

I’m running the campaign office from just outside Bristol Motor Speedway. These folks kept talking about parking lots and ticket prices and traffic and having a plan. So my plan was to sell our house and move in across the street from the property. So now we don’t have to worry about all of that. I told my wife I’d buy her something real nice to make her feel at home – went down to ‘Lumni Hall, where they’ve got that big ol’ picture of Pat Summitt’s stare? Had that in mind for the mantle until I made eye contact with it and woke up in the hospital. I needed to look at one of them pictures where Jesus’s eyes follow you all around the room for a few days after that to let me know I was still loved. Whatever Pat is doing in heaven, she’s doing it well.

Living here though, I guess this does mean I’ll have to get back into NASCAR. Is Darrell Waltrip still driving?

Look, Dobbs can run for president because Hurd and Kamara are going to run for everything else. People asking about why we don’t throw the deep ball more, I say why not get back to our Robert Reese Neyland roots and just run the dang ball every play. I mean, winning a national championship because Dobbs got to throw it too? Seems unfair.

Or maybe we can be the first team in history to win a national championship just playing defense. Like, okay, we stopped you, now here comes our punter so you can try again. Everybody knows Evan Berry is going to run the opening kickoff back for a touchdown anyway, that’s six right there. But even if they kick it out of bounds – and they should – I think ol’ Bob Shoop’s defense would be more than up to the challenge of having to score all our points. That would really free up some time for the Dobbs campaign. Someone asked me if we were going to play Salt-N-Pepa instead of Lil Jon on third down this year, but I have no idea what that means.

Never mind beat us, who’s going to score on us? Appalachian State? It wasn’t DeBord’s fault Michigan gave up 34 points and couldn’t kick a dang 37-yard field goal against a I-AA team. We’ve known for 15 years our tight ends are faster than Michigan’s defensive backs. But don’t worry, we’ll get them for you. When Manning gets in the oval office he’s going to executive order that Heisman.

I’m most excited to play Virginia Tech because it’s as close as we can currently come to beating Memphis State. I’m much more terrified of Ohio because that Frank Solich fellow is still there. I don’t know what stories other people tell their friends’ kids or nieces and nephews and what not to scare them; we tell ours about late 90’s Nebraska. But we needed that, you know? Our boys needed a loss like that to prepare them to win a national championship in 1998, and all those broken hearts from 2015 were just preparing us for glory in 2016. The heart is a muscle, and ours is the size of Jonathan Kongbo.

Florida? Look, I haven’t been drinking. This is just me talking. Do you know how many different things had to go weird or wrong for us to lose that game last year? They had Lance Armstrong playing quarterback for them, he’s gone. They converted five fourth downs, our defensive coordinator is gone. The referees hosed us on the final drive, they’re…well, I mean, there will still be refs and they’ll still be awful, but at least it won’t be the same ones. And then Derek Dooley hosed us with his own rule costing us a timeout to prevent a runoff, and last I checked he’s still gone. The Tabor kid is back and clearly trying to figure out ways he can miss the Tennessee game again, which apparently requires something more than trying to hit your own teammate with a helmet because you were dumb enough to forget the first rule of football fightin’: never take off your helmet! FULMERIZED! They ain’t no good!

But by God, we are.

If I survive the postgame celebration, it’ll be nice to see us beat the Dawgs two years in a row. When we hired a coach with Georgia ties he at least had the decency to get his hair cut twice a week. Which is probably why he wasn’t out there recruiting for us, but still. Then it’s Texas A&M, where I keep hearing about this Myles Garrett kid being better than Derek Barnett? They got Chavis, right? He won’t be better on third down.

Alabama? First, let’s talk about this:

Look, sure, Bama’s defiantly beaten us nine years in a row. But I’m not sure I want to hear about it from the dude who went 18 of 29 for 120 yards (a robust 4.13 yards per attempt) and helped his team kick four field goals against us in 2009, a game we win if Daniel Lincoln’s quadriceps were 100%. You say McElroy was great against us in 2010? Irrelevant, #Dooley. More than anything, he shows his ignorance by bringing up Casey Clausen. Allow me to educate.

All I’m saying: you don’t see me calling out Jay Barker. Know your limits.

I mean, it’s Bama. It’s on the actual Third Saturday in October. It’s destined to be a classic. I’m sure we can bring Dobbs back from the campaign trail for this one.

After that, it’s yesterday’s news. Will Muschamp loves seeing people get disappointed, which is great for him because he’s had like eight months to have South Carolinians look at him that way and they ain’t even played a game yet. Tennessee Tech? You know, I usually stop and eat at the Cookeville exit when I travel. Maybe they can take some of that payout and make a Calhoun’s By The Interstate there. Kentucky? If we can come back from down 21 on their basketball team, I say we spot ‘em like 70 and see if we can test our limits. That’s election week, so Dobbs will be busy but I think we’ll still be fine.

We basically beat Missouri without playing offense last year anyway. Vanderbilt, man, no more James Franklin and now no more Kevin Stallings? We really had something going there for a few years. Did you know Bobby Johnson is on the playoff selection committee? They replaced Archie By God Manning with Bobby Johnson! Look at the bios of these folks and compare them to his! Nothing says, “I know what makes a champion!” like a I-AA team and VANDERBILT! You can’t trust a man that hasn’t had to ask forgiveness for saying bad words.

They’re tearing down the Georgia Dome after this year, and there is no team more deserving of a hand in its destruction than Tennessee. That’ll take care of the SEC Championship and the playoff semifinal. The championship game is in Tampa, which is where I’ll be re-relocating the family to shortly after Bristol. Already called dibs on some 50-yard line seats when we were there in January. Doesn’t matter who shows up, we’re gonna win the title on January 9 and visit Dobbs in the White House a few weeks later. And I’ve already got a contract drawn up for him to sign for us to play the Dallas Cowboys on Mars in 2020.

15-0, National Champions boys. It’s going to be great.

And don’t even think about putting that spinning top down at the bottom. Team 120 is coming to by God knock it over.

Go Vols.

The Idiot Optimist’s Guide to:

2015: Kool-Aid Light

2014: Do you think it’s possible Butch Jones and Jon Gruden are the same person?

2013: The Kool-Aid tasted like bamboo

2012: I’m pretty sure me and you and six of your friends from the message board could coach this team to a championship.

2011: Last year was Year Zero, and everybody knows zero is not a real number.

2010: If I go down to the Big Orange Caravan and look Derek Dooley in the eye, he’s not going to be hiding behind some sunglasses.