Tim Tebow owned the Tennessee volunteers for his four years at Florida. During the Tebow era, Tennessee barely looked competitive against the Gators- surely a large part of the reason that Phil Fulmer was asked to step down in 2008.
In 2010 the Gators are still stacked with talent, but they are not the same frighteningly invincible team that appeared unbeatable to the boys in orange the last few years.
Can the Vols compete with the Tebow-less Gators? To be sure, the Vols have much to adjust after their week 2 drubbing at the hands of the Oregon Ducks, who looked pretty good last week in Neyland despite after replacing their highly touted 2009 quarterback.
Here's one last look at the week 2 performance of the Vols. Based on the Vols performance last week we give you 5 reasons to feel excited about the season ahead and, for the anxiety stricken among you, 5 reasons to worry.
The Vols can run. Against the number 7 team in the country, Tennessee running back Tauren Poole wracked up 162 yards at an average of 7 yards a carry. Back David Oku has also looked strong in the Vols first two games.
Going into the season, there was little doubt that Poole and Oku were capable of big runs- the question was how they were going to break through opposing defenses with their small and young offensive line. So far, the Vols offensive line has looked strong, giving Matt Simms strong protection in the passing game even while the dazed and confused Vols were being hammered by the Ducks in the second half.
With the Gators coming into to town, the defensive competition is going to be even stronger. Tennessee must have a great game from their backs to have a chance to win. So far, there is every reason to believe they will.
The Vols gave up. Derek Dooley said as much. If you were watching the game you didn't need Dooley to tell you that his team looked tired and scared in the second half against Oregon.
For the last three years Tennessee Safety Eric Berry was the quiet leader by example on some struggling Tennessee teams. A consummate professional, Berry brought his hard hat to the stadium every Saturday and appeared to go hard on every play.
Teammates, and fans, knew that Berry, like other superior Tennessee athletes in the past (I'm looking at you Albert Haynesworth) could have relied on his superior athleticism and taken plays off from time to time. Berry never did. Last year, amidst the turmoil of coaching change and off the field distractions, the humble and heard working Berry was the face of the Vols.
Tennessee has appeared to have strong team leaders this year in guys like Luke Stocker, Nick Reveiz, and Gerald Jones but the question remains, who will be the guys to give the Eric Berry 100 percent when the scoreboard looks disappointing? Who will be the heart of this team and keep it together in adversity?
Derek Dooley has been asking that question of his players all week. There's a good chance we will have another chance to find out this week.
Tennessee looked good enough to beat anyone- Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina all three, in the first half of the Oregon game. The Vols were fast off of the line, played with discipline, and held the high flying Ducks to 13 points, almost less, in the first half despite a lightning delay.
Last week Oregon scored 72 points against New Mexico. In the first 25 minutes of the game on Saturday fans were right to wonder if Oregon would score 10 points on the Vols.
You know the rest of the story. After a turnover and a poorly timed penalty, the Vols looked rattled and started a quick downward spiral.
If Derek Dooley can fix his team's character issue, as he has harped on the Vols' players to do all week, Dooley's D showed that they can play with anyone. That could be reason to hope for big things against a younger Florida offense next week.
Will the real Tennessee defense stand up?
As great as Tennessee looked in the first half against Oregon, they looked horrible in the second. The Vols looked confused by the same plays over and over. They looked tired early in the third quarter. They looked uninterested in the 4th quarter.
If the Vols have any chance of moving forward in 2010, they must get consistent pay from their defense. If the second half D from the Oregon game turns out to be the true face of defense in Knoxville this year then things will not be pretty.
Ok, it wasn't quite Peyton Manning, but Matt Simms moved the ball with ease in the first half on Saturday. He looked confident and capable and, if no Manning, at least a strong game manager like Casey Clausen who could keep the Ducks' D on their toes.
Simms looked poised and ready in the first half. He made good decisions. If the disciplined Matt Simms of the first half of the Oregon game is the real deal, Tennessee has a chance to compete with good teams and pull off some unexpected wins by protecting the football and waiting for the right opportunities to score big.
For all his success in the first half, Matt Simms looked as confused and shaky as the 2008 Vols' offense that featured Tennessee "not so" greats John Crompton and Nick Stephens vying for the opportunity to start each week in losses to Wyoming University and a nail-biter against Northern Illinois.
Crompton and Stephens were both notorious for tipping off everyone in the stands before they threw the ball by staring down their expected targets. Simms might as well have pointed to his receivers and waved them downfield playground style for as much as he glared at his guys before attempting to pass to them.
If the Matt Simms from the second half of the Oregon game is his true identity, expect to see Tyler Bray tossing it up by the Alabama game in October.
Kicker Daniel Lincoln looks to be the Vols' comeback player of the year in 2010. After two years of underachievement that made fans forget his All-SEC nod as a freshman, Lincoln has been automatic through two games.
This week against Oregon, Lincoln was one of the Vols' players of the week after kicking a 35 and 48 yard field goal.
If Tennessee wants to make any noise in the SEC this year, they must get consistent play from Lincoln. Last year, he was the difference, and not in a good way, in more than one game, including the Vols' near upset of the Crimson Tide.
Lincoln's early kicking should reason for Tennessee fans to find hope in 2010.
Britton Colquitt, pictured above, is one name in a long line of great Tennessee kickers. There's a lot of pressure that comes with being a punter or kicker for the Vols. Chad Cunningham has been effective, if not historic, in his time in Big Orange Country so far.
On Saturday Cunningham snagged a key punt out of nowhere that put the Vols' backs against the wall at a critical point in the game. He looked inconsistent and shaky in a game where field position against the quick moving Ducks' offense mattered most.
Cunningham's supporting cast on Special Teams hasn't helped his case, looking as inept as it has in recent years' past. This week Tennessee managed to give up an 80 yard touchdown on a punt return. That should bring back dark memories of Special Teams past for Tennessee fans.
If Cunningham and the Vols don't pull it together, there won't be much about this season worth calling "special".
Early in the game against a team he had played for and coached against before, there was every reason to believe that Justin Wilcox had designed the game plan to knock off the Ducks one more time with a lesser appreciated defense. The Ducks' offense looked sluggish and confused in the early moments of the first half when the Vols seemed to keep them off of their rhythm.
Even as the Ducks' offense found it's stride, it didn't appear to be for lack of good schemes as much as a lack of discipline from players who were tackling half-heartedly and jogging when they should have been sprinting.
Vol fans have every reason to be excited about the Wilcox era in Knoxville. Tennessee looks to have a coordinator who uses an exciting style of play that puts the game in the hands of playmakers and confuses offenses with creativity.
When Wilcox gets a stable of SEC caliber players in the locker room, the sky is the limit for the Vols' defense.
There is no reason to question the Vols' apparent plan to keep the game at a slow pace and pound the football on offense in the first half. The time of possession must have been a stat that Vols' OC Jim Chaney thought about in his sleep as he prepared for the game against Oregon.
The question is, why did Tennessee completely abandon the running game after only being down one touchdown? The Vols came out in the second half of their run dominated offensive display to run several consecutive pass plays that left no one wondering what play was coming next.
There is no question that the run must be used to open up the passing game, especially if Simms continues to look shaky, but a total abandonment of the run after falling behind by one or two scores gives the impression that the team should be desperate, not confident.
This week, Derek Dooley has spoken often about his team's playing to the scoreboard. Maybe he should consider the way that his staff's playcalling appeared to come straight from the scoreboard as well.