Friday, June 29, 2007

Toughest Games: Top to Bottom

This entry is influenced by a forum thread over at my most common hitching post, Vol Nation. What will be Tennessee's toughest games, in order, from the toughest to the easiest? This shouldn't just consider talent, but also experience, location of the game, timing of the game, etc. It'd be neat if some prominent bloggers would step up and do this for their teams (I'm looking at you, Burnt Orange Nation, Swamp Ball, The Band is Out..., Dawg Sports, etc). I will allow (haha, right, me ... allow?) each blogger to eliminate up to 3 super easy, cupcake games from their list, if they'd like. Here is how I see Tennessee's schedule, with thoughts.

1. at Alabama (Oct. 20th)
When I predict games, I base it on a mix of statistical analysis, action analysis, and a little bit of gut feeling. This game has my gut feeling nauseous. Alabama, while finishing 6-7, underperformed quite a bit in 2006. Even if Mike Shula had returned for another season, they would have won 7 or 8 games. Add in Nick Saban plus his Super Friends coaching staff, and you add 2 games to that win total, at the least. Saban will not only bring better coaching tactics, but more discipline, respect, control, etc. Keep in mind that Alabama goes into the season with the best QB-WR grouping in the conference, on paper. This game is going to be tough, tough, tough. In all honesty, this could be a 6-0 Tennessee travelling to a 6-1 Alabama. Talk about reviving the bad blood on the 3rd Saturday.
2. at Florida (Sep. 15th)

I almost put the Gators at the 1 spot, but I think a few things play into Tennessee's hands. First, everyone knows about the new starters Florida will breaking in this season. Tennessee will be the first real offense they face. Also, nobody can deny this, we don't know how well Urban Meyer's spread option will work, week in and week out, in the SEC. This will be UF's first test with the offense in the SEC, and Tennessee has the double-edged sword gift of being the first team to try to stop it.

3. Georgia (Oct. 6th)
Plenty of Vol fans will point to the 18 point victory we had in Athens last season, and that this game is now in Knoxville. Who cares? While the jury is out on Matt Stafford, he doesn't need to shoulder the load to beat Tennessee. He has a solid stable of running backs and Joe Tereshinski won't be around. And if you've forgotten already, Mark Richt is 3-0 in Neyland Stadium. If Stafford is even moderately improved, Richt could move to 4-0 in the house the General built.
4. at California (Sep. 1st)
The Cal game is probably the toughest to accurately rank, mostly because Cal is a very tough team to predict for this season. I'm with Phil Steele on the Bears: 4th or 5th in the Pac 10, with a lot of disappointment for their fans. However, Cal will be very motivated for this game. Then again, so will our Volunteers, so I think that's a wash. Tennessee has travelled to at least 10 venues over the last 6 years that have been more hostile than Memorial Stadium will be in September. I'm more worried about the cross country flight and a new secondary than I am the crowd noise. Cal's defense won't give us fits, but their vertical passing attack will.
5. Arkansas (Nov. 10th)
This is another tough team to rank on our schedule. They completely blasted us last season, and they still have the two backs who did it to us. On the other hand, they lost 3 of their 5 bulldozers on the line (which is not all of their linemen [inside joke]), and they've been mired in an offseason chocked full of controversy and distraction. If our defensive front improves, we should be able to win this game without too much drama.
6. South Carolina (Oct. 27th)
Again, another tough one. Basically, 4-6 could be in any order. South Carolina returns an entire nation of starters, but I think our home field advantage cancels that out. In the Season of Which We Do Not Speak (reference: Rocky Top Talk), we lost to Spurrier and the Cocks at home. Our worst team in how long? 20 years? Steve Spurrier will always give Phillip Fulmer fits, especially with a senior quarterback who sweats like a hoebag in church. Be worried, but don't mess your pants - South Carolina is the SEC East wildcard.
7. Southern Miss (Sep. 8th)
I can hear you now, "WHAAAAAAT?!" It's true. Southern Miss at 7. I actually wanted to put the Eagles higher, but couldn't. If you looked up "trap game" in the Cliched College Football Dictionary (available at bookstores everywhere), you'd see Southern Miss @ Tennessee. This game comes a week after Tennessee travels to California, and a week before the biggest game of the season, at Florida. Wait, if Tennessee loses to Cal, the SMU game isn't a trap game, anymore, I don't think. But we'll win at Cal. Southern Miss is predicted to be the best team in Conference USA, and Jeff Bower always field discliplined, tough teams. Watch out guys, this one could bite us in the hindquarters.
8. at Kentucky (Nov. 24th)
I know, I know, I know - half of you reading this think Kentucky will be good again. They might be, but I doubt it. Their defense won't improve, and you cannot be successful two years in a row with a defense as putrid as theirs. Kentucky benefited from some close win variance last year, so expect a return to the mean. Will Kentucky be as bad as they once were? No. But don't expect another 7 win regular season.
9. at Mississippi State (Oct. 13th)
Another trap game - a road game, sandwiched between our 3rd biggest rival and our most bitter rival. Yuck. With Phil Fulmer's seat a little warmer than toasted bread, but not as scalding as an inferno, I could see a situation where he's Croomed. You know, a coach loses to Croom, then gets canned at season's end? It's not likely, but if it happens, things could get sticky-icky.
10. Vanderbilt (Nov. 17th)
Our last real opponent on the list. Apparently, some people think Bobby Johnson is a good coach, but I disagreed a few months ago. If Tennessee is 10-0, 9-1, or 5-5 going into this game, I'd be a little nervous, but the Commodores were comatose last season in our match up, and I don't think Chris Nickson is anything special. After Arkansas, before Kentucky, ehhhhhhhh.
11. Arkansas State (Sep. 22nd)
12. Louisiana-Lafayette (Nov. 3rd)

So, there you have it: a quick guide to our toughest games of 2007. Do you agree? Disagree? Want to belittle me? Sleep in every Saturday before the season starts? Then leave a comment and tell me.


Roll Bama Roll said...

Great idea for a blog entry. I chimed in with my own version.

Peter Bean said...

Just saw this... Excellent idea for a couple weeks from now. We've sorta beaten the schedule card to death of late.