I am officially an alumnus of the University of Tennessee.
I graduated (without honors, mind you) from Tennessee just two weeks ago, and I miss it already. I'm back on Rocky Top for Memorial Day weekend and a college friend's wedding. It was epic, but that story is for another time and maybe another website.
Even as a recent alumnus, the Derek Dooley Effect hasn't worn off a bit. The guy is a comedian in the press room, a teacher on the practice field, and a fighter in Neyland Stadium.
Here are five bold predictions for the 2011 season for our beloved Tennessee Volunteers.
After Urban Meyer's second (third, fourth) retirement from college coaching, the Tennessee Volunteers' unsteady coaching situation suddenly became the second most stable in the SEC East behind South Carolina.
John Brantley leaves a lot to be desired as "a pro-style quarterback," and I fear for him when Charlie Weis hobbles over to him to berate his latest fumbled snap.
The losses of Mike Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert, two starting offensive linemen for the Florida Gators, will demand a lot out of the new starters.
Tyler Bray and his motley crew of wide receivers will hit no less than two long touchdown plays to lead the Vols to victory over their hated rival in the Swamp.
Lane Kiffin's short tenure as Tennessee's head coach was tumultuous, to say the least.
One of the coups of his first recruiting class was the steal of Janzen Jackson from his native LSU on National Signing Day. I remember waking up to about ten text messages telling me the good news.
But one by one, Kiffin's recruits started falling by the wayside. Clearly, he looked only for on-the-field talent and ignored other important intangible factors, such as being a good and decent person.
Bryce Brown is gone.
Nu'Keese Richardson is gone.
Aaron Douglas is gone in a tragic story that we've all heard by now.
Janzen Jackson has been withdrawn from the university since early February for personal reasons. Dooley was on board and said that Jackson would be welcomed back to summer practices, yet he has yet to be seen.
I've seen this story with Kiffin's players, and I think that the Vols will be starting a different safety all year.
The Vols will play all four non-conference games at home. The games are Montana, Cincinnati, Buffalo, and in-state foe MTSU on Homecoming.
Cincinnati is no pushover, but they're also not the same team that went to BCS Bowls in 2009 and 2010. After a 4-8 season last year, Tennessee has caught the Bearcats in a rebuilding era, which bodes well for my prediction.
Barring any Fulmer-esque performances where the Vols play way down to the level of their opponent, Tennessee should be able to focus their efforts to the SEC schedule.
I need to write in bold for the first sentence of this prediction because it's ridiculously bold.
By the end of October, the Vols will have played three non-conference games, which they will win. They will have fulfilled my earlier prediction of a win in the Swamp.
That leaves a record of 2-2 needing to be attained against Georgia, LSU, at Alabama, and South Carolina. Only one of those games is away, Alabama, and that's not a game that Tennessee will win at home any time soon anyways.
A win over Georgia is not only possible, but likely when you consider the hot seat Mark Richt is on. The Bulldogs had a rocky season last year that included a four game losing streak. They ended the year by losing to UCF in the Liberty Bowl and finished 6-7.
The end of the LSU game in 2010 can't be described in words. Tennessee was better than the Tigers the entire game except for the first and last plays of the game.
These four games need to be split for the Vols to fulfill my prediction, and I think that they will.
The 2010 Volunteers ought to have taken the Music City Bowl trophy home, but that was a mess of the highest order caused by the officials.
Tennessee will use its speed on defense to counteract its lack of size to limit opponents while the offense continues to dazzle with big throws and gritty runs.
That kind of play will yield nine wins for the Vols with losses at Alabama, at Arkansas, and Georgia/LSU/South Carolina.
The last time Tennessee went to the Outback Bowl, they silenced the extremely annoying Wisconsin fans and won. I expect that they'll experience similar success this year by impressing college football fans and arriving on the national stage a year or two earlier than expected.
When these five bold predictions come true, we'll be elated.
I'm expecting big things out of this group of Volunteers since they're all the same age and will have had a ton of playing time together by their junior and senior years.
Next year, I just might be boldly predicting an SEC Championship for the 2012 Tennessee Vols.