When Lane Kiffin left his position as head coach the University of Tennessee right in the middle of recruiting season in January, the emotions felt by Volunteer Nation ranged from jilted to enraged.
Although Tennessee fans, players and alumni view their beloved university as a top-tier institution of higher education and athletics, Kiffin saw nothing more in this job than a mere stepping stone towards a more prestigious head coaching position. As soon as Pete Carroll left USC to coach the NFL Seattle Seahawks, Kiffin pounced through his window of opportunity.
What resulted was brief pandemonium in Knoxville. A waste water treatment plant was renamed in Kiffin’s “honor.” Ed Orgeron, Kiffin’s recruiting chief, admitted trying to poach Tennessee recruits before Lane skipped town. Finally, the Vols were forced to hastily hire Derek Dooley, a former disciple of Nick Saban who sports a career 17-20 record as head coach after spearheading the Louisiana Tech program for three seasons.
While Tennessee fans will likely give Dooley a fair chance in spite of his underwhelming track record, one would have difficulty finding a Vol fan that will admit that Dooley was their top choice for head coach. Volunteer Nation still has a bitter taste in its mouth from the Kiffin departure, but there is something that will make every Tennessee fan and young recruit happy: a shot at Lane’s Trojans.
Unlike the NFL schedule, which is assembled before each season, college football schedules are hashed out years in advance. After looking at each university’s upcoming calendars for the next few years for both universities, I see a date on both the USC and Tennessee schedule that still has a “TBA” next to it: September 29, 2012.
Since USC already has two non-conference home games scheduled against Hawaii and Notre Dame that year, Sept. 29 would be an prime opportunity for both schools for several reasons. Both Southern Cal and Tennessee are viewed as upper-tier football programs.
USC plays in the media capital that is Los Angeles, and is a perennial Pac-10 and BCS Championship contender. In spite of this tradition, SEC fans will never fully respect the Trojan program since Southern Cal doesn’t have to play the likes of LSU, Florida, and Alabama each season. Tennessee plays in the almighty Southeastern Conference, but is viewed as a medium fish in the SEC pond.
Regardless of Tennessee’s conference ranking, USC always gets national credibility for traveling east to play an SEC team on the road. Conversely, a victory over the Trojans would help to dispel Tennessee’s current reputation as an SEC also-ran.
Although the writers who vote on the Associated Press and Bowl Championship Series polls aren’t blind to the fact that the Pac-10 has seen vast overall improvement recently, Southern Cal typically needs all the help it can get to eliminate the ever-present east-coast bias. Tennessee, also in search of national credibility after losing to UCLA two years in a row, needs a win against a Pac-10 team to demonstrate that they can compete with west coast teams.
Given all that Kiffin has put them through the past few months, one can safely speculate that Volunteer fans would love a shot at home against Lane’s Trojans, and would buy 2012 calendars as soon as possible just so they can circle the Sept. 29 date. If this USC/UT matchup were to happen, Neyland Stadium would be sold out months in advance, Vol fans would be rife with anticipation, and television ratings in Tennessee and Los Angeles would be sky-high.
Neither team should back down from this challenge. Assuming he doesn’t go pro as a 21 year-old, quarterback Matt Barkley will be a mature senior after accumulating three years of leading the ‘SC offense. The robust crop of talented 2010 Trojan recruits, barring redshirts, will be seasoned juniors and shouldn’t be afraid to take on any program.
Finally, Coach Lane, never known for backing down from a challenge, will have every chance to run his mouth to the media and further incite the city of Knoxville to perhaps name a toxic waste dump after the Trojan head coach this time around.