Settle in for the long offseason, kids, and thrill to the weird ideas we come up with for content until fall camp starts. This week we're inviting you, dear reader (and any of the participants in the Crimson and White Roundtable, who I totally meant to e-mail about this, but then totally forgot to, so if you totally want to do up a post on your own sites and let me know, I'll totally link them up), to make a wacky prediction about the coming football season, something that maybe kinda sorta could happen and will make you look like a genius for calling it well before the start of the season, but in all likelihood won't happen, in which case you can say "hey, it was supposed to be a boneheaded prediction, what did you expect?" So leave your predictions in the comments, and we'll revisit this in January to see if any of us are psychic, or if we're all just a bunch of internet blowhards talking crazy.
My completely boneheaded prediction: Vandy makes a bowl while Tennessee stays home.
Why it might happen: Vandy is an improving program that's starting to scare the SEC elite. Just last season, the 'Dores followed up their "dream season" with a 4-8 record that included a win over Georgia, and contests decided by one score at Alabama (10-13), vs eventual Western Division champion Arkansas (19-21), at Ole Miss (10-17), and vs eventual National Champions Florida (19-25). The coming season features four very winnable games in Nashville against season opener 1-AA Richmond, Ole Miss, Eastern Michigan, and Miami (OH), and two somewhat winnable home games with, as much as I hate to say it, Alabama in week two, and Wake Forest to end the season. That's six wins right there, all in Nashville, and that's discounting visits from Georgia and Kentucky, and road trips to Auburn, SC, Florida, and UT, of which at least one is a likely upset win for the Commodores. With WR Earl Bennett and QB Chris Nickson returning, the Vandy offense has the potential to put up some yardage (and scores?) while the defense returns seven starters, including MLB Jonathan Goff, the team's leading tackler last year, and All-SEC Freshman Team Safety Reshard Langford. While I don't think Vandy will take the conference by storm this season, I do feel like anyone that faces them will have to earn the win instead of just showing up like in year's past.
Alabama native Earl Bennett catches the touchdown pass that kept the Vols home in 2005.
UT, on the other hand, is ripe for another letdown like the one they experienced two season's ago when the aforementioned Vandy pulled the upset in Knoxville to keep the Vols from being bowl eligible. The return of David Cutcliffe last season gave the Vol offense the shot in the arm it so desperately needed and his tutelage saw QB Erik Ainge, well, actually play like a BCS league QB. Their beatdown of a much hyped Cal squad on Rocky Top catapulted the Vols into the national limelight last season, but they finished at 9-4 with several close calls, including a narrow win over an improving Kentucky, and a 20-10 loss to Penn State in the Outback Bowl.
Andrew Quarless scores the only offensive TD for Penn State in the Outback Bowl.
The coming season has the Vols with a tough road schedule, opening the season at Cal before heading to Gainesville in week three, and making trips to Mississippi State, Alabama, and closing the season at Kentucky. Of their five road games, four are very dangerous for the Vols, and I could easily see them finishing the season 4-1 in road contests. Of their home slate, Georgia, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Vandy are also danerous traps for UT; An older and more experienced UGA team is looking for revenge for last season's beatdown in Athens, there's nothing that Darth Visor loves more than sticking it to Fulmer, Arkansas put a whipping on the Vols in Fayetteville last season (though I don't see the same thing happening again), and we've already talked about an improved Vandy team. Though I don't necessarily think UT won't be bowl eligible again, I do feel like their schedule, coupled with an "emaciated and vaguely scandalous" secondary and the continual improvement of the teams they barely got past last season could mean some tough times for Fulmer and Co. next season.
Why it won't happen: For Vandy to get bowl eligible, they'll have to go 4-0 out of conference and manage to pick off at least two conference foes. Unfortunately for the 'Dores, their Western Divison opponents this year are Alabama, Auburn, and Ole Miss, while they remain at the bottom of the Eastern Division barrel as Kentucky surprised us all with their sudden improvement and bowl win. I figure them to finish at best a frustrating 5-7, dropping one to Wake while beating Ole Miss and getting an upset over one of their Eastern Division rivals.
For UT to miss out on a bowl, they'll have to blow every tough game on the schedule which, while possible, simply isn't plausible. I do think, though, that they'll get nowhere near the SEC Title game with losses to Florida and UGA putting them at least third in the division and a loss to our own beloved Tide adding insult to injury. And speaking of boneheaded predictions, if one is to believe Tom Dienhart, that should be enough to prompt an exit for Fulmer.
Apparently your days are numbered, fat man.