Last week, Team Speed Kills took a look at the Tennessee Volunteers’ prospects for the 2010 football season. Among the insights provided by the proprietors of SB Nation’s SEC-centric weblog were three things we know and three things we don’t know about the Big Orange.
There are many more than three things I don’t know, but two things I do know are that I am an unrepentant pessimist and my fellow Bulldog fans consider Tennessee a big-time gridiron rival. (When it comes out, though, buy Fighting Like Cats and Dogs, anyway.) Consequently, it seems only right for me to take this opportunity to get my fears about the Vols out into the open. It is without further ado, therefore, that I present . . .
1. They’ve got Da’Rick. Yes, I know we all got a little steamed when Da’Rick Rogers spurned Georgia at the last minute on national signing day, but that shouldn’t blind us to the fact that there was a reason why we wanted the talented wide receiver in the first place.
Of necessity, the Volunteers will be forced to rely on some underclassmen in 2010. Although no team with Gerald Jones, Denarius Moore, and Luke Stocker on the roster suffers from a shortage of players who can catch passes, Rogers is a prodigy with a chip on his shoulder where the Bulldogs are concerned. If he gets his chances, he will make the most of them against a Georgia defense that will still be trying to implement a new system.
2. They’ve got Derek. At this point, before he’s actually coached a game as the head honcho in Knoxville, the parent of whom Derek Dooley reminds us most is Barbara. Coach Dooley fils shares his mother’s wit, which has blinded many observers to the qualities he shares with his father. The younger man is an intense competitor, and Vince Dooley’s imprint upon his son is obvious.
That is bad news for the Bulldog faithful. Many pundits have been dismissive of the Volunteers’ chances, but we should not forget that Tennessee has posted three winning seasons in the last four years and is just three seasons removed from a berth in the conference championship game. The program Derek Dooley’s father took over in Athens in 1964 was in far worse shape than the one he inherits in Knoxville.
Georgia had suffered through three straight losing seasons when Vince Dooley came to the Classic City, and the Bulldogs had finished below .500 eight times in the previous eleven autumns prior to his arrival. The Red and Black had won one SEC title since 1948, and that had been five years earlier and two coaches before.
Those who are predicting a seven-win ceiling for the first edition of Derek Dooley’s Volunteers need to remember that the first edition of Vince Dooley’s ‘Dawgs went 7-3-1 and won the Sun Bowl under much worse circumstances than those presently extant in Knoxville. Heck, Tennessee won seven games last year despite performing less than optimally. Derek is Vince with prior experience; those who doubt him do so at their peril.
3. We’ll be coming down from the Colorado game . . . literally. While I don’t buy the argument that Georgia automatically struggles one game after facing an out-of-region opponent, there is some wear and tear associated with lengthy road trips, so facing the Buffaloes in Boulder is apt to prove particularly taxing for the Red and Black.
Colorado plays its home games approximately 5,430 feet above sea level, and something like the hangover effect experienced by visiting pitchers in their first starts following an appearance at Coors Field is liable to afflict the Bulldogs on October 9, when Georgia takes on Tennessee one week after visiting the Buffaloes.
Opposing teams unfamiliar with Colorado’s mile-high surroundings tend to turn in lackluster performances one week after paying visits to Folsom Field. In the last five seasons, the Buffs have hosted six Division I-A non-conference opponents from outside the region. One of those six (Florida State in 2007) had an open date the following weekend. Of the other five, only one (West Virginia in 2008) won its next game handily, and the Mountaineers had the benefit of facing Marshall at home nine days after their Thursday night tilt in Boulder.
The other four visiting teams who traveled a ways to get there did not fare so well in their ensuing outings. Miami (Ohio) in 2007 and Wyoming in 2009 survived three-point home scares against sad-sack outfits Syracuse and UNLV, respectively, after returning from road trips to Colorado. New Mexico State in 2005 and Arizona State in 2006 did even worse, going on the road one week after being hosted by the Buffaloes and losing to New Mexico and Cal, respectively, by a cumulative 87-42 margin.
Irrespective of whether the Vols are having an up year or a down one, Tennessee invariably plays a physical game against the Bulldogs. Georgia will need to be in peak condition when hosting the Big Orange. The history of squads coming off of dates in Boulder suggests that the Red and Black are not apt to be at their best against the Volunteers. That does not bode well for the ‘Dawgs.
Am I panicking unnecessarily, or does Tennessee cause you concern, as well? Let me know in the comments below.