By Steve Williams
Tennessee’s football team didn’t get a win at Georgia, but it gave its fans hope.
My how this 26-point loss felt so much better than the 26-point loss to Florida the week before.
It inspired me to look at the remainder of the season in a different light. What if I told you the Vols were going to win out and finish 9-3?
Well, for the fun of it, I’m going to do just that, plus provide a special reason why for each game. Yes, that includes a win over Alabama, too.
Let me point out I wasn’t sure the Vols would win another game after their six turnovers in the loss at home to Florida. Not even against Charlotte.
But in Athens, the Vols had only one turnover and rallied to within 24-12 with 11:10 left in the fourth quarter. Now admit it, you had to believe at that point in the game, if only for a second or two, a comeback win was possible.
If the Vols can compete like that against the No. 2 ranked team in the nation on the road, who is to say they can’t possibly win against any remaining team on their schedule?
First, let’s reflect on UT’s first five games under new head coach Jeremy Pruitt.
West Virginia (40-14 loss): The first of UT’s three 26-point losses this season, a highly unusual fact in itself. This defeat, however, was no disgrace. The Vols trailed 13-7 at halftime before that 90-minute lightning delay zapped their momentum. The Mountaineers and their Heisman QB contender were 4-0 and ranked No. 9 heading into this past weekend.
ETSU (59-3 victory): Randy Sanders’ Bucs went on to win close games over VMI 37-34, Furman 29-27 and Chattanooga 17-14.
UTEP (24-0 win): Miners may be winless, but they’ve scored in double digits in every game they’ve played, except for being shut out by UT. That says something for the Tennessee defense.
Florida (47-21 defeat): Gators were better than we thought. Without the Vols’ generosity, it might have been a good game.
Georgia: (38-12 loss): Tennessee forced the Bulldogs to play down the stretch.
Open date: Vols took Monday off and began working to get better.
And now, week by week, here’s why UT can win nine in a row:
At Auburn (Oct. 13): The game starts at 11 o’clock in the morning on the Plains. The Tigers will hardly be awake and many of their fans, up late the night before, will arrive after kickoff, greatly reducing home field advantage.
Alabama (Oct. 20): The nation’s top-ranked team will get caught looking past the Vols. After their trip to Knoxville, the Tide has an open date, followed by their SEC West Division showdown with No. 5 LSU on Nov. 3. It’s such a big game; LSU also has an open date the week before it.
At South Carolina (Oct. 27): The Gamecocks lost at home to Georgia by 24 points in their SEC opener. They may be rusty too, as they have the week off before UT rolls into Columbia.
Charlotte (Nov. 3): The 49ers may have beaten Old Dominion, which shocked Virginia Tech the following week, but they suffered back-to-back losses to UMass and UAB after that.
Kentucky (Nov. 10): Off to one of their best starts ever, the Wildcats could be flat when they show up at Neyland Stadium. They play Georgia in what could be a huge SEC East Division game the preceding week.
Missouri (Nov. 17): The Tigers’ winning touchdown at end of regulation will be nullified by Derek Dooley’s offensive unit having too many players on the field. Vols prevail in overtime.
Vanderbilt (Nov. 24): The Commodores raised eyebrows in an early season 22-17 loss at Notre Dame but came back home and lost to South Carolina and barely beat Tennessee State 31-27. The Vols will travel to Nashville motivated to end a two-game skid against Vandy.
So, how does 6-2 in SEC play and 9-3 overall sound to you?
First of all, you’re probably still thinking there’s no way Tennessee can beat Alabama.
My reply to that would be simply this: When there’s hope, there’s a way.