Oregon Fans, Your Hammering Tennessee Was No Big Deal, OK?

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Oregon Fans, Your Hammering Tennessee Was No Big Deal, OK?
Steve Dykes/Getty Images
Oregon Ducks QB Darron Thomas

First of all, allow me to congratulate you on a very impressive win against the Tennessee Volunteers.

Giving Tennessee its worst loss ever in Neyland Stadium is something to talk about, as Tennessee is a great program that plays a lot of great programs.

Still, let's not get carried away, OK?

I know that Tennessee is an SEC team. But since when did Pac-10 fans start buying into the SEC hype? Pac-10 fans annually claim that the SEC is overhyped and overrated, the product of media hype and easy nonconference schedules. Fine—if that is what you believe.

But instead of doing precisely that, you turn around and use your victory over an SEC team as evidence of your own greatness? You can't have it both ways. Pick a story and stick to it.

That's one of the things that SEC fans find so frustrating about Pac-10 fans: their blatant willingness to self-servingly shift arguments back and forth as it suits them with the efficiency, creativity, and shamelessness of politicians running for office.

Second, while Tennessee is an SEC team, make no mistake: It is a bad SEC team. Sure, they went 4-1 in the SEC East, but as Florida was the only ranked team in the SEC East last year, that wasn't much of an accomplishment. (P.S. An example of the argument-shifting: the same Oregon fans who called Florida an overrated fraud all last season are now talking about how great Tennessee was last year.)

Yes, they played Alabama tough last year, but it isn't as if they actually beat Alabama like 8-6 Cal did to USC in 2003, 6-7 UCLA did to USC in 2006, and 4-8 Stanford did to USC in 2007. News flash: Great teams sometimes struggle with bad ones. In 2004, this allegedly unbeatable greatest ever USC team barely escaped 7-6 UCLA 26-21 and also needed a fourth-quarter comeback to beat 3-9 Stanford, who led them 21-3 at the half.

Add it all up and Tennessee was a 7-6 team that had its good moments (its blowout victory against UGA) and its bad ones (blowout losses to Ole Miss and Virginia Tech), not to mention a lot of mediocrity (loss to similarly rebuilding Auburn at home, plus barely getting by Vanderbilt and Kentucky).

That was last year. Since then, Tennessee has replaced nearly its entire coaching staff for the third time in three years. Their offense lost starting QB Jonathan Crompton, starting RB Montario Hardesty, starting OT Chris Scott, and starting OG Jacques McClendon to the NFL, and their defense lost first round draft pick Eric Berry and another first rounder in NT Dan Williams.

So, when a 7-6 team loses six draft picks, including one of the best safeties in SEC history in Berry, and also critical positions like QB, RB, and LT...my goodness, how much talent do you believe is left in that program? That doesn't even include the starters or contributors who weren't drafted or the guys who transferred or quit because they were tired of the coaching changes or for other personal reasons (which were more than a few).

Either Lane Kiffin badly underachieved with that team (unlikely, as several Kiffin recruits received playing time as true freshmen, and several more true freshmen are receiving playing time this year) or there wasn't that much talent on that team.

Please note that Philip Fulmer was forced out of his job because he allowed the talent level to dip, a fact that he himself never contested (Ken Goe, a sportswriter Oregon fans should know, stated that Fulmer should have retired in 2001).

Folks who cover the Tennessee program state that it will be about three years before the Volunteers are competitive in the SEC again, and yes, they were saying so before Saturday (in that same article, Goe says that Derek Dooley's contract gives him five years to get things turned around).

There is a reason why Lane Kiffin was trying to arrange a game between USC and Tennessee next season or the season after...he has seen both rosters and knows the Vols won't be any good this year, in 2011, or 2012. 

So all this means is that a very good (and potentially great) team in Oregon beat a bad (and possibly very bad) team in Tennessee.

Even before the Oregon loss, I was wondering how a Tennessee team that is depleted on defense, playing a bunch of first and second-year players on the OL, has the guy who was third on the depth chart last season starting at tailback (Tauren Poole) and a guy who quit on Louisville, played at a JUCO last season, and is getting his first playing time against major college competition (Matt Simms) starting at QB.

Not only is this team very young, but even the few third, fourth, and fifth-year guys that they have are learning their third system in three years on both sides of the ball, negating a lot of the benefits that you are supposed to have.

Add it all up, and Tennessee will be doing very well for itself to win two games in the SEC this year, and one of those will be Vanderbilt.

By the way, even if I am totally wrong and Tennessee makes a game of it this year and wins six or seven games like last year...it won't do you much good. Why? Because your competition is whoever wins between Florida and Alabama (who, by the way, could conceivably play each other twice this year).

Now of course, it is in your interests to root for Alabama and Florida to split their two meetings, but that is beside the point. The point is that if either Florida or Alabama comes out of the SEC undefeated, your having beaten a mighty SEC team in Tennessee out of conference will be a wash, because both Florida and Alabama play Tennessee also.

You MAY get some consideration from the pollsters if Alabama and/or Florida don't match your margin of victory (then again, you may not, as everybody knows that Alabama-Florida and Tennessee-Florida are huge rivalry games), but in the computers it is going to be a wash.

As a matter of fact, their beating Tennessee will only devalue your out of conference victory over them. But it won't have the same effect for them, because Florida and Alabama will have other conference games (including when they play each other and also the SEC title game) and also games against non-conference foes that will have a better record than will Tennessee (i.e. South Florida and FSU for the Gators, Penn State for the Crimson Tide).

Oregon's other non-conference opponents, meanwhile, are New Mexico (losers of their first two games by the combined score of 124-17...their only shots at winning a game this season will be against UNLV and UTEP) and FCS Portland State. (By the way, speaking of FCS teams, Tennessee also plays Jeremiah Masoli and Ole Miss.)

So, any way you slice it, beating a bad (or even a mediocre) SEC team doesn't do you a bit of good when you are competing with a great SEC team for a spot in the national title game. You Ducks can ask your rival USC about that one. Their beating 8-5 Auburn by 23 points in 2003 didn't do USC a bit of good. Why not? Because LSU beat Auburn by 24 points in that same year.

Where the pollsters tended to play up the former (USC proved they were the best by blowing out No. 6 Auburn!) and ignore the latter, the computers saw six of one and half a dozen of the other. As a matter of fact, LSU not only beat Auburn that year, but also beat an Ole Miss team who beat Auburn.

As for the UGA team who beat Auburn by 19 points? LSU beat them twice (once during the regular season and again in the SEC title game). Since Auburn lost to LSU AND to several teams that LSU beat, it would have been better for USC had they played an 8-5 Big East, Big Ten, or ACC team.

So, Oregon fans, while you logged a great win over a not so great team, you are still going to have to root for two of Alabama, Florida, and Ohio State to lose (yes, Florida will leapfrog you if they go 13-0 and beat a very strong Alabama team twice in the process). Oh yes, and this is while watching your back to see what comes of the Texas-Oklahoma-Nebraska race in the Big 12.

Yes, going 13-0 is all the Ducks can do. But please remember that the same was all that Auburn could do in 2004, and also all Penn State could do in 1994.

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