Tennessee Football: 7 Things Holding the Vols Back from a BCS Bid
It has been 12 years since the Tennessee Volunteers last played in a BCS bowl game. Winners of the very first BCS National Championship in Tempe, Ariz. in 1998, the Vols went back to the Fiesta Bowl as the SEC's at-large bid following the 1999 season.
The Vols have had three chances to make it back to a BCS bowl since that '99 season. Tennessee went to the SEC Championship Game in 2001, 2004 and 2007, emerging as losers in each contest.
Since the 2008 season, Tennessee's football program has struggled through one of the most trying eras in its history.
What has kept the Vols from heading back to a BCS bowl in recent years? Could 2012 be the year that these issues are finally resolved?
Since the Phillip Fulmer era ended following the 2008 campaign, Tennessee football just hasn't been the same. From 2008-2010, Tennessee had three different head coaches.
Tennessee has found some stability with Derek Dooley headed into his third year at UT, but that didn't stop the Vols coaching staff from going through an almost complete purging following 2011's 5-7 campaign. There are only three assistant coaches left over from last year's staff.
Youth and Immaturity
Most of the Vols roster consisted of freshmen and sophomores last season. There were just a handful of upperclassmen on the team, and it showed in more than one situation.
There were rumors and rumblings all season long about some of the younger Vols showing incredible displays of immaturity.
Now, that youth is another year older and has two years of valuable experience under its belt. Will experience and maturity be noticeable in 2012?
Lack of Talented Depth
When Tennessee's top playmaker, Justin Hunter, went down in the third game last season, Tennessee's offense became a mere shell of its former self.
Injuries on the Vols defensive line have depleted any depth the Vols might have had in each of the last two seasons. The Vols depth should be better in 2012, but it will still be a learning process, as most of that depth is extremely green.
No Running Game
What has happened to the Vols running game? Tennessee used to churn out pro running backs on a regular basis, but the Vols have had question mark after question mark at both the running back position and on the offensive line since Arian Foster graduated.
To win in the SEC, you absolutely have to have a solid ground game. If the Vols don't return to their former ways of sustaining drives and making plays on the ground, their BCS-less streak will continue.
Lack of Leadership
The lack of leadership on last year's team was obvious. Having such a young core of players often has that effect. But in all truth, the Vols haven't had consistent, passionate leadership since the 1998 senior crew that featured Al Wilson.
The Vols will still be relatively young in 2012, but there's no better time than the present for a locker room general to step up and take the reins of this team.
Every champion, regardless of conference, has to have a little bit of luck along the way. Alabama didn't even win its division in 2011, yet it had the opportunity to win it all based on some fortunate circumstances along the way.
Remember the Vols '98 run? That season was chock full of memorable moments that defied logic. The last few years have featured a few of those logic-defying moments, but those moments have been every bit as bad as the '98 moments were good.
From devastating injuries to games being decided after the final seconds have ticked off the clock, the Vols have not been able to catch a break lately.
Competition Too Difficult
Two SEC teams just played each other for the national championship for crying out loud. Teams from the Southeastern Conference have won each of the past six BCS National Championships. The top 25 is routinely loaded with at least half of the SEC's 12—soon to be 14—teams.
Derek Dooley just put the finishing touches on a top-20 signing class. While that class may have ranked among the nation's best, it was widely considered as seventh or eighth best in the SEC.
The competition is not going to get any easier in 2012 and beyond ,so it's imperative that Tennessee improve in these other aspects, or it could be another 12-plus years before the Vols go back to a top-tier bowl game.