UT Football: Tide, Dawgs, Cocks Important, but Swing Games Tell the Tale in 2012

Kevin KingSenior Analyst IIAugust 1, 2012

UT Football: Tide, Dawgs, Cocks Important, but Swing Games Tell the Tale in 2012

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    Georgia, Alabama in Knoxville and South Carolina. Those three are this year's toughest games to win, but the season will be defined by a combination of the games the Vols are favored in and the swing games. 

    For the fanatical, you have read everything for months, scanning the articles for any signs that indicate the Vols will turn that corner this year. Now it's August and the clock is ticking towards the 31st, when Tennessee Volunteer football 2012 begins.

    There are signs of good things too. The passing game being healthy and adding new pieces, a new coach for the offensive line and the changes in the defense. All of these, and several others, point towards improvement. 

    Another important and seldom examined opportunity is the schedule itself. There are no back to back games against killer teams as such. But, it's about the teams in general.  

    According to who is scheduled, here is the way it should play out for the 2012 Volunteers:

    Every year you can divide up your opponents by three categories: 1) Games you are likely to win 2) Games you can easily lose and 3) games that could go either way—swing games.

    My definition of a swing game is a contest projected to be decided by eight points or less. The Volunteers could be the favorite or the underdog, but either way, their winning or losing is by no more than a TD and a conversion.  

    Tennessee should be double digit favorites in four games, and they are likely to win each this year. If the season started now, they would be double-digit underdogs in three games, thus they are likely losses—for now.

    That leaves five swing games. All of these games have lines that will be under eight points either way.

    Follow me through the next few slides and see if you agree with my picks of the Volunteer swing games in 2012. These are arranged in the order they appear on the Vols schedule.

1: North Carolina State

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    This is a pretty good football team. They finished 8-5 last year, but that is a little deceptive. They seemed to really come together as the season ended when they blew out No. 7 Clemson 37-13 and beat Maryland by 15. Then they won their bowl over Louisville.

    NC State has a capable head coach in Tom O'Brien. Their defensive coordinator (Mike Archer) has SEC head coaching experience, and occasionally his defenses get really tough to score on.

    Their quarterback is a returning senior who threw for 3,054 yards last year and had 31 TD passes versus 12 interceptions.

    The line in this game will be close from posting until kickoff. Where it ends up will depend more on how much confidence people have in the Vols than the Wolfpack.

    I think the game is a toss up right now.

    If the Vols can get the win, it improves confidence for the team and the fans. The team already believes in this staff, so their confidence needs to be gathered for the upcoming SEC wars. It's the fanbase that needs a shot of confidence in the coaching staff.

2: Florida

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    If you rated this game anything above ugly for Tennessee last year, you are an all time Vols optimist. Last year marked Florida's seventh straight win over the Vols—the last five all by double digits. The problems suffered by UT in that game alone would fill an entire article. Let's not relive that now.

    This rivalry has gotten out of hand for Tennessee, and this is the year to get it fixed. Florida plays in Knoxville, the Vols have an experienced quarterback and world class receivers and now the overall depth they have been missing has returned. For everything that went wrong at last year's game, UT has the edge this year.

    Everyone is looking at the opener against NC State as the game to focus on as a measuring device for head coach Derek Dooley. If UT losses in that game, the media world will crush him. As far as I'm concerned, that is what media people who disbelieve in him are poised to do.  

    Regardless of what happens in the first game, should the Vols win over a very beatable Florida team at home in game three, all will be forgiven. Seven years is too long. This is year three against Florida for Coach Dooley. He needs his team to win this game.

3: Mississippi State

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    Mississippi State is a dangerous opponent. Since they play about the same at home or away, this game will be more about the Vols' road play than the Bulldogs home field advantage. 

    They have a running quarterback who can throw accurately enough and a very stingy defense which has a good shot at being even better this year. They are returning seven starters and have several highly touted young players pushing to get on the field. The past two seasons, the defense is averaging holding opponents to under 20 points per game.

    Head coach Dan Mullen is in his fourth year. He is the first head coach to have a winning record at State in over 50 years (Jackie Sherrill was 75-75-2). Obviously, he is doing a lot of things better.

    Tennessee has grown accustomed to having their way with State. Hopefully their trip to Davis Wade Stadium will go well this year, but this isn't the same old MSU team it was under Sylvester Croom. 

4: Missouri

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    Missouri finished the year at 8-5 with an impressive bowl win over North Carolina. They return the starting quarterback and have a very experienced offensive line. Last year, their average rushing per game was 244 yards. Good offensive line or no, they wont get that average against SEC defenses.

    The Tigers head coach is 12th-year Gary Pinkel who has a career record of 158-91-3. This guy knows how to coach. He has several long time assistants, much like Fulmer had when he was at Tennessee.

    I just finished watching a replay of last year's Missouri at Arizona State game. What I saw only confirmed my analysis that says this Missouri team is suspect on defense—both run and pass.

    Tennessee hosts the Tigers on November 10. By then, there will be no secrets for either team. I feel confident the Vols will beat Missouri at Neyland Stadium this year. 

5: Vanderbilt

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    Why is this a swing game? Why shouldn't it be? Vandy took the Vols to overtime last year in mammoth Neyland Stadium. This year the game is hosted at mammoth(ly) quiet Vanderbilt (39,773 capacity) Stadium.

    I'm getting in my Vandy jokes just in case they turn out to be better this year. I don't believe that will be the case, but they could be good enough to make it to another bowl.

    James Franklin has the Commodore players and fans believing. In their SEC losses last year, they were within a single score on everybody but Alabama and South Carolina. With a few bounces, these guys could have went 9-4 last year.

    That's not going to happen this year. They may play the Vols for three quarters, but everybody will see Vandy coming this year.

    If UT wins all their swing games and beats the teams they should, they could drop all three of the games they are underdogs in and still finish 9-3. My guess is if they get to 9-3, it will not happen that way.

    This year, 8-4 or 9-3, any way it comes, would be a great regular season for the Vols. With a bowl win, double digits or nine wins are still a possibility. If you are expecting more wins than that, you are elected the newest, most optimistic Volunteer fan!