After nearly half a century of watching Volunteer football, and all its successes and failures, you come to know when to move along from the last game. An old coach I once knew said, "It's not wise to celebrate a win for more than a minute and you should whine about a loss for less than that."
True words, but so hard to do. Still, it's time to turn the page on the Vols latest loss to Florida. There will be plenty of reminders about the eight-game streak on the build up to the next game in 2013.
This Saturday, versus Akron, the Volunteers will take their team fury out on the Zips. The fourth quarter frustration from Florida will likely equal a very one-sided score. So, while I am willing to turn the page on the Gator loss, I'm not really ready to write a preview of the Zips.
In early August, I recall thinking if the Vols won the NC State game but lost to Florida, that would be about what was expected. Still, I picked the Vols to win because I didn't think Florida would be rebuilt yet.
After the win over NC State, it was clear to most fans that the Vols had made some significant progress over the past few months. However, coach Derek Dooley has said over and over again that there were still a lot of mistakes to correct in that game.
Like most other fans, I was stuck on what could have been there. Tennessee came very close to an extra touchdown at halftime of that game. Also, there was the field goal attempt they chose not to make earlier. Like many, I was thinking, "we could have won that game 45-21 or even 49-21!"
I watched Florida struggle against Bowling Green and thought that offense still had big issues. Then, versus Texas A&M, I thought "that defense can be had." Typical fan thoughts, hoping their team is going to win the big game.
What I—along with many thousands of Vols fans—didn't take time to notice, is how well sophomore Florida quarterback, Jeff Driskel took control of the Gator offense once it was his. Also, how hard senior running back, Mike Gillislee ran with the ball.
In addition, no one really knew how good a job the Gators defense did controlling the Texas A&M offense, since its schemes and coaches were so new.
A week later and all these things have been brought into clear focus. To take it all one step further, Tennessee may have lost to the best team in the SEC East in Florida.
Florida began the season barely included in the AP Top 25 Rankings. It has never been a question about a lack of talent at Florida, causing a higher ranking. Rather, the question was "could Will Muschamp and his staff coach them up enough?" Yes, they can coach rather well, thank you.
As I write this article, I'm listening to an interview on ESPNU. The host is talking to Phil Steele, who does a comprehensive analysis of all 124 FBS teams each season in his magazine, "Phil Steele's College Football Preview."
According to Mr. Steele—who picked Florida to win the SEC East this year—the Gators current AP Ranking of No. 14 nationally is too high. His rating system has them ranked inside the Top 10 now.
In addition, he thinks Florida's defense will be ranked in the Top Five nationally by the end of the year. If all this holds to be true, the Vols played one of the top two teams they will face this year versus the Gators.
What about Georgia? They are ranked No. 5 in the AP currently. Still, if Steele's information holds up, Florida will finish the year ahead of Georgia, regardless of current rankings.
If Tennessee has played one of their two best opponents, you have to say the results are a big improvement over 2011. The Vols led this game until late in the third quarter.
They were ahead in every major offensive category. And I will argue that had UT followed stopping that attempted fake punt up with a score, I don't believe the Gators would have made it back.
Sure, that's all speculation. But everything done before games are played is nothing else.
There is no argument which team is best this year. Florida won the game and Florida is the best team for 2012.
My point is the season is not done for this Vols team.
They lost a game almost everyone thought they would lose before the season started. There is still every reason to be excited about this team and this season. Nine, maybe 10 wins are still possible for the Volunteers in 2012.
Before the season began, a loss at Georgia on September 29 is almost a given. I don't see it as a given at all now. Even after the fourth quarter with Florida.
Georgia is still the definite favorite to win in Athens. In fact, UT will be an underdog in four (Akron) of the next five games.
Beat Akron and win one of those four and they will be 4-4 going into the final four games. That would equal a likely 8-4 regular season, with a chance at nine in a bowl.
Go 0-4 in those games and it will be a disappointment, no doubt. Flip it and go 3-1, and this could be a great year.
In short, the next five games are the meat of the schedule and will determine how we remember 2012. Hopefully, after those games, last Saturday's fourth quarter will just be an unpleasant memory.
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