Tennessee Football: Vols Break Through, Bowl Chances Increase Substantially

Joel BarkerSenior Writer INovember 14, 2010

COLUMBIA, SC - OCTOBER 30:  Head coach Derek Dooley of the Tennessee Volunteers watches on against the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on October 30, 2010 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

When the first play from scrimmage for Tennessee was a pass thrown by a true freshmen into double coverage which should have been picked off, only to see it deflected into the hands of super-athlete, freshman wide receiver Justin Hunter, who promptly took off for a Tennessee 80-yard touchdown, we figured it was going to be Tennessee's day. 

The day ended with Tennessee putting up 50-plus for the second straight game. The Vols beat Mississippi Rebels 52-14 for their first SEC win of the year. 

Tyler Bray proved his mettle against an SEC team this time around. As bad as Ole Miss might be, the Rebels are not Memphis. Yet Bray routinely made Houston Nutt's squad look almost as bad as Memphis looked last week. It's clear that Tennessee has found its quarterback. 

Now, the focus turns to Vanderbilt, Kentucky and bowl eligibility. 

For years these two games were gimme-games. Wins over Vanderbilt and Kentucky in the past served to improve the Vols bowl possibilities. Now the Vols must defeat both teams to even get to a bowl. 

With the Vols peaking at precisely the right time, wins against those schools appear to be a lot more likely now than they did a month ago. 

Vanderbilt is currently the worst team against the pass in the SEC. That certainly doesn't bode well for the Commodores with Bray and this all-of-a-sudden high-powered Tennessee offense coming to town. 

Since taking over in the second half against South Carolina, Bray is 46-of-82 for 807 yards and 10 touchdowns. His numbers against Memphis and Ole Miss were almost identical. 

It appears that the Vols may have finally turned the corner. As cautious as I was last week after the Vols' drubbing of a really bad Memphis team, I have thrown caution to the wind after the similar dismantling of a four-win Ole Miss team. 

With only perennial Vols-doormats, Vandy and Kentucky standing between the Tennessee and a bowl game, the young Vols still have some work to do. But the remaining work looks nothing like it did a month ago, or even one week ago.