Can Tennessee Overcome These Newest Distractions and Finish Strong?

Larry BurtonSenior Writer INovember 19, 2009

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 31:  Quarterback Jonathan Crompton #8 of the Tennessee Volunteers looks to pass the ball during the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Neyland Stadium on October 31, 2009 in Knoxville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The loss to SEC foe Auburn seemed to be a wake-up call to most fans. It was a contest of two rebuilding teams with two new SEC coaches. This game would go far in showing which team was making the biggest strides.

Auburn won that in a close contest, but it may have been a turning point for Tennessee. They committed themselves to knuckle down and work hard, and they certainly did that the next week in completely demolishing an old SEC foe, Georgia, 45-19.

Crompton ended up silencing many of his boo bird fans, and the following week they almost succeeded in pulling off the upset of perhaps one of the best teams in the nation, a 12-10 loss to Alabama.

Tennessee came back the next week, however, and once again humiliated South Carolina 31-13 and pummeled an out-manned Memphis team 56-28.

Then came news of the arrest of three players in an armed holdup attempt. Whether that was the cause of the distraction or not, the wheels came flying off and Tennessee was beaten like a plow mule by Ole Miss 42-17 in a game that was almost painful to watch.

Now no one in his right mind would bet the house that Tennessee will lose to Vanderbilt this weekend; they simply have too much firepower. But will all these distractions hurt them in that game that they need so badly to become bowl eligible?

And what about next week when the competition gets a little stiffer with Kentucky? There are going to be a lot of 6-6 teams in the SEC this year. Could Tennessee be the odd man out watching everyone else go bowling?

Certainly these next two weeks are the most important in the young Lane Kiffin era. To have the wheels come off as they did last week and not come back would signal that this team has taken no steps forward since firing Phillip Fulmer.

It will also leave many fans wondering if they indeed took a step backward.

The world will be waiting to see not only how the team deals with all of these latest developments, but how Lane Kiffin will deal with the fact that he was caught exaggerating the cleanliness of his program as well as the ongoing dilemma of what to do with the two remaining students who have not yet been asked to leave the program.

Kiffin wanted a high profile, high-paying job and he got it. Now we're all waiting to see how he deals with the high profile, high stress ramifications that go with it.

Can he, and in turn Tennessee, get past all this and finish strong? The football world is waiting and watching.