The second part of the Vols' schedule should be more manageable with the exception of Alabama.
This is where Derek Dooley shows his coaching chops and doesn't overlook "gimme" games like Kentucky or Vandy. These kinds of games can get a coach fired.
Hopefully, by this time in the season, Nick Stephens, Matt Simms, or Ty Bray will be settled in at QB, and the offensive line will be situated. Janzen Jackson should be getting some national and SEC recognition for his bone-jarring hits and key interceptions at the safety spot.
Without further ado, here's part two of Tennessee's schedule.
7. vs. Alabama, Oct. 23
Last year's game in Tuscaloosa was a heartbreaker, with Mount Cody making a meal of our young, injured kicker Daniel Lincoln. The Vols have lost a lot of starters, especially on offense, but Bama lost nine starters. To replace NFL guys like Terrence Cody, Rolando McClain, and Kareem Jackson, the Tide brings in a Top-10 recruiting class and career backups like Luther Davis.
The Vols' best bet of beating 'Bama at home is to attack their inexperienced corners with big play receivers Gerald Jones, Denarius Moore, and super frosh Da'Rick Rogers. A field position battle will favor Tennessee's young offense, but 'Bama's offense is loaded at the skill positions.
Alabama, with returning Heisman winner Mark Ingram, senior quarterback Greg McElroy, Julio Jones, and depth at the skill positions and line, will be the heavy favorite in this game. I think the Vols will keep it close in Neyland because they will score a lot of points on the Tide's weakened defense.
'Bama is my pick in this game because Nick Saban always finds a way to beat the Vols (3-0), even if his teams are subpar. Also, Janzen Jackson will have his hands full chasing Alabama's receivers and backs, and I don't think Art Evans can lock down Julio Jones.
8. at South Carolina, Oct. 30
In his first game as Gamecock head coach, Steve Spurrier beat Phil Fulmer and a struggling Vols team. Now, the Head Ball Coach hasn't turned South Carolina into a SEC power, and defeating a young Tennessee team will right the ship in Columbia.
One thing Spurrier has back from his disappointing 7-6 team is experience. The 'Cocks return all of their starters at the skill positions, including QB Stephen Garcia, and four of five starters return on the line. But South Carolina's running game wasn't that great last year, and they will depend on the skills of Garcia (2,862 yards, 17 TD).
Spurrier's defenses at South Carolina have all been good, and this one is no exception. Nine starters return, including steady safety Chris Culliver (62 tackles, nine pass breakups), leading tackler Shaq Wilson, and NFL-ready pass rusher Cliff Matthews (seven sacks). These guys will give Tennessee's new quarterbacks nightmares all the way back to Knoxville.
Because of the talent and experience of South Carolina's defense, I unfortunately have to give them the edge. This is a tough game for a new coach with new recruits to play on the road. If the game was at Neyland, the Vols might have a chance, but they won't be able to put enough points on the board.
9. at Memphis, Nov. 6
By now, Tennessee fanatics want to execute Dooley at the guillotine. The Vols' schedule has been EXTREMELY tough so far, but it takes a turn for the better with a matchup with in-state whipping boy Memphis. The Tigers went 2-10 last year but gave Conference USA power Tulsa an overtime shock the last game of the season.
However, the Tigers will be worse, losing nine starters on defense and most of their offense, except for QB Will Hudgens, who showed flashes of talent but is still raw. Memphis is a mess this season, and it will take a few more good recruiting for Larry Porter to put the Tigers on any kind of football radar.
10. Ole Miss, Nov. 13
Tennessee's players should highlight this game on their Blackberries because it is when Dexter McCluster and Jevan Snead destroyed their football manhood in Oxford. Those guys are trying to make NFL rosters, but coach Houston Nutt still has some pieces, especially on defense.
Junior Brandon Bolden (823 total yards) will be the focal point on offense, running behind a maturing offensive line that returns only two starters. New QB Nathan Stanley will have to find some targets because of the loss of McCluster and underrated split end Shay Hodge (1,135 yards). Markeith Summers needs to emerge as not just a big play threat (23.2 yards per catch), but also a consistent option who can move the chains.
The Rebels defense will depend on their front seven to hinder Tennessee's speedy tailbacks. DT Jerrell Powe (12 tackles for loss) will spearhead this defense and make Tennessee go to the air. But the Rebels will be breaking in two new corners and will miss Cassius Vaughn's (11 pass breakups) coverage on Tennessee's wide receivers.
I think that Tennessee's returning linebackers Herman Lathers (52 tackles in limited action) and LaMarcus Thompson (seven tackles for loss) have the chops, with Jackson's help, to cripple Ole Miss' run game and give Tennessee's wide receivers a chance to put points on the board against the Rebels' inexperienced secondary.
11. at Vanderbilt, Nov. 20
The Commodores don't bring much back from a mediocre '09 squad that Tennessee pulled away from last year in Neyland. Nine total starters return on offense and defense. Vandy is playing at home, but they don't have the talent to hang with a much more seasoned Tennessee team.
The 'Dores' biggest asset is tailback Warren Norman. He broke Herschel Walker's freshman all-purpose yardage record, but his lineman buddies are dropping like flies in spring practice. Larry Smith must develop exponentially as a passer, and offensive linemen must emerge for Vanderbilt to have any chance against Tennessee's defense, which is chock full of blue-collar Lane Kiffin and Phil Fulmer recruits.
Defensively, Bobby Johnson will rely on two-year starter LB Chris Marve, who is a great tackler and leader (121 tackles). No returnee on Vandy had more than two sacks, so Nick Stephens will have time to find his battle-seasoned targets.
Even though the Vols have more depth at virtually every position except for quarterback, they should be wary of CB Myron Lewis (four interceptions), who could cause some stupid turnovers and get Stephens out of his rhythm.
12. Kentucky, Nov. 27
Tennessee has beaten the 'Cats 26 straight times and can continue their winning ways in the first matchup between Dooley and UK offensive mastermind Joker Phillips. However, they have to replace many great players from the Rich Brooks era, including Trevard Lindley (one INT, but never targeted) and Micah Johnson (105 tackles). This Kentucky team will take on the offense-slanted personality of its new head man.
Because Mike Hartline and Morgan Newton aren't great passers, UK will depend on the "Wild Cobb." Direct snaps to Randall Cobb and tailback Derrick Locke could be effective early in the year, but by the time the Vols roll into town, there will be many defensive schemes dedicated to stopping this gimmick. One returning starter on the line will further complicate Kentucky's run game
On defense, more starters return, but a program can't replace a Corey Peters or Lindley with the No. 50 recruiting class. Matt Lentz (one interception) is an interesting linebacker/safety who should make plays in Johnson's absence. Dooley will figure out the "Wild Cobb" early and will cook up something, maybe using Janzen Jackson as a spy, that will stop UK's only weapon and put pressure on their young defense
7-5 and 4-4 in the hardest football conference in America isn't bad for a new coach with several key defections. The Vols should make it to either the Music City or Chick-fil-A Bowl with this decent record and continue to build on this success into a new decade.