Tennessee Volunteers Football: Final Predictions for the 2011 Season
The Tennessee Volunteers will go 8-4 in the 2011 regular season.
I'm not one of those guys who thinks the Vols will make the SEC Championship each year, either. I call it like I see it. For instance, my Titans will not win more than five games this year.
The team is young and thin at a few positions, but you simply can't look past how tremendous this offense will be. Tennessee could win games just getting Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter connected.
Just imagine what they'll do with Tauren Poole, Da'Rick Rogers and that great offensive line.
September 3rd: Montana Grizzlies
Incoming Record: 0-0
The Tennessee Volunteers will start their season in just over a week, and they should start it off with a bang.
While I'm never one to overlook a seemingly sub-par team, it's hard not to think the Vols will win this one going away. The Montana Grizzlies were 7-4 in the Division I-AA Big Sky Conference, whose best team was Eastern Washington.
I'm not bashing. I'm just saying.
This game will allow Tyler Bray and the offense to find their rhythm and give defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox more time to figure out what the heck to do with the thin defense.
One interesting note is that one of Joe Montana's sons plays for the Grizzlies, so he'll be in Knoxville next weekend!
Prediction: Win 38-13
September 10th: Cincinnati Bearcats
Incoming Record: 1-0
Two years ago, this would've been a high quality non-conference game. It would've garnered national coverage and been a scary one for the Tennessee Volunteers leading into the Third Week in September.
But in 2010, the Cincinnati Bearcats managed a miserable 4-8 record, a clear indication that their 12-1 finish in 2009 was a peak year, not the new standard. With the loss of coach Brian Kelly to Notre Dame last year, Butch Jones did his best with the new Bearcats.
This game has the potential to be similar to the 2010 UAB game for the Vols, if they're not careful. Cincinnati has several players that were a part of that 2009 team that went to back-to-back BCS Bowl Games, which means they know what it feels like to win.
The skill and leadership of Tauren Poole will bode well for the Vols in this gritty game in mid-September, if only until Tyler Bray connects with wide receiver Justin Hunter for a few big plays.
Prediction: Win 30-17
September 17th: At Florida Gators
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Incoming Record: 2-0
In my opinion, the biggest rival of the Tennessee Volunteers is the Florida Gators. Many fans from older generations still think it's Alabama, but at least I respect the Crimson Tide.
I absolutely hate the Gators.
One of the biggest reasons for this loathing is the one-sided "rivalry" the game has turned into. Florida has won the last six meetings, most recently in blowouts. Furthermore, when the Vols won last in 2004, they had an early bye week before the game.
I hope that's not what it takes to beat the Gators these days.
Florida is in minor upheaval after another Urban Meyer retirement (this one seems permanent), but they brought in an impressive coaching staff. Still, it takes time to get used to one another, especially when the boss, Will Muschamp, has about half the resume of his egotistical offensive coordinator, Charlie Weis.
The quarterback duel between John Brantley and Tyler Bray will be a joke. Bray is clearly more talented and more confident. The goal for Tennessee will be to push the tempo and make it a track meet, a game the Vols can and will win.
Prediction: Win 31-28
October 1st: Buffalo Bulls
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Incoming Record: 3-0
After a rousing victory, the likes of which the Tennessee Volunteers haven't seen in years, it's going to be a challenge for the team to get refocused for a home game against the Buffalo Bulls.
Senior defensive tackle Malik Jackson and senior running back Tauren Poole are the two guys I expect to see step up and get the young Vols calmed down from the Swamp win. Whether or not they're successful may not matter since their opponent is a real cupcake.
Buffalo went 2-10 last year in the vicious Mid-Atlantic Conference and doesn't seem likely to improve much on that this year.
The crisp air of Neyland Stadium in October should correlate with a more cohesive defense that's being glued together with junior college standouts like tackle Maurice Couch and cornerback/safety Byron Moore.
Prediction: Win 38-14
October 8th: Georgia Bulldogs
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Incoming Record: 4-0
The Tennessee Volunteers should be ranked in top 25 by going undefeated in their first four games, while the Georgia Bulldogs could conceivably be 2-3 with tough losses to Boise State, South Carolina and Mississippi State.
In any event, the Bulldogs' quarterback, Aaron Murray, is the best in the SEC. I've been a fan of his for a while now, and another season under his belt has only made him improve.
The Georgia offense lost stars A.J. Green, Washaun Ealey and Caleb King. Incoming freshman Isaiah Crowell was highly recruited, but how many Marcus Lattimores are out there, really?
This will be a great faceoff between Murray and Tyler Bray, two guys destined to go at the top of the 2013 NFL Draft.
The clearly better Georgia defense will outperform Tennessee's, and Murray will find tight end Orson Charles just enough to hand the Vols a disappointing first loss.
Prediction: Loss 17-24
October 15th: LSU Tigers
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Incoming Record: 4-1
It's good that the Tennessee Volunteers didn't have to wait long to see the LSU Tigers again. They have some unfinished business to take care of with the Bayou Bengals.
With the story of Jordan Jefferson's involvement in a bar fight getting worse every day and the recent report of Russell Shepard's indefinite suspension, the already curious Tigers have gotten even more mysterious.
Fortunately, they have the games luckiest/screwball-est coach in Les Miles, though I'm not sure even he can find a way to win this one.
LSU is extremely overrated this year. They had the second worst offense in the SEC last year, better only than lowly Vanderbilt, and did little to improve it for the 2011 season other than claim that Jefferson had improved.
Improved at his Mike Tyson impersonation?
With the Vols coming off a home loss to a division rival, with LSU being overrated, with the crazy end to last year's game, with the game taking place in Neyland Stadium, I see Tennessee pulling off a great win.
Prediction: Win 27-20
October 22nd: At Alabama Crimson Tide
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Incoming Record: 5-1
The Alabama Crimson Tide are going to beat the crap out the Tennessee Volunteers in Tuscaloosa on the Third Saturday in October.
Anyone who thinks otherwise is blinded by the Power T. I already gave you wins over Florida and LSU. Concede this loss and go home. The Titans play tomorrow.
One good thing to take from this is that the Vols would lose it even if it were in Knoxville, so it's good to get a loss to Alabama out of the way on the road.
Prediction: Loss 21-38
October 29th: South Carolina Gamecocks
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Incoming Record: 5-2
Two years ago, the Tennessee Volunteers played the South Carolina Gamecocks on Halloween Night for a national television audience.
I'm proud to say that I predicted action-for-action the entire night's events: Vols will warm up in usual uniforms, Vols will come out in brand new black jerseys, Vols will own.
As a junior at UT at the time, I can vouch for my student section absolutely losing their minds when Tennessee erupted onto the field in the haunting black and orange, perfect for the dark night.
I had an evil pumpkin mask on and was screaming at Erin Andrews. Memories...
This year, the Gamecocks return with a potent running and passing attack led by Marcus Lattimore and Alshon "Pilot Gas Pumper" Jeffrey. (Side note: I'd love for Jeffrey to catch passes from Jake Locker one day.)
While South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia is a total wildcard, the Gamecocks are simply at a different stage in their development as a team. Tennessee is young and won't be able to keep up with the more experienced 'Cocks for four quarters.
Prediction: Loss 17-27
November 5th: MTSU Blue Raiders
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Incoming Record: 5-3
Homecoming! And a double homecoming for yours truly, a native of the town that MTSU is located in. Don't worry, I'll be all orange.
The MTSU Blue Raiders were supposed to be the best team in the state in 2010, predicted by many to go 11-1 and make it to a terrific bowl game. Star quarterback Dwight Dasher was suspended for half the season, though, after a gambling issue and wasn't the same when he returned.
That kind of excitement around MTSU has greatly diminished, and you can bet that the thousands of MTSU-and-Tennessee fans will choose their Big Orange gear that day.
By November, the Vols will be vying for strong bowl contention and an outside shot at winning the SEC East in a weak year. Tyler Bray will be a known name in the college football world as will the future wide receiving superstar, Justin Hunter.
If the Vols are to fulfill my predictions, players like Austin Johnson, Ben Martin and Justin Coleman will have to be significant contributors. By the MTSU game, we'll know for sure.
Prediction: Win 35-17
November 12th: At Arkansas Razorbacks
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
Incoming Record: 6-3
The Arkansas Razorbacks were supposed to be contenders for the SEC West in 2011, but the huge loss of running back Knile Davis will make that much more difficult.
Still, Arkansas figures to be a tough task and a formidable force regardless, led by impressive quarterback Tyler Wilson, who filled in admirably for Ryan Mallett last year against Auburn.
The way this game feels and is played will remind Vol fans of the earlier Georgia game: A matchup that Tennessee certainly is capable of winning but just can't seem to because of their thin defense. The great quarterback duo also will make it reminiscent.
This game is a little bit of a question mark as to how it will go, but it reminds me a lot of the Ole Miss game from 2009. Hope I'm wrong.
Prediction: Loss 20-30
November 19th: Vanderbilt Commodores
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Incoming Record: 6-4
After starting the season 5-1, there will be plenty of fans upset that the Tennessee Volunteers have lost three of their last four.
But it's the big picture that counts. It's our favorite two-games of the year, starting with the Vanderbilt Commodores.
James Franklin is being lauded by many as the second coming of Vince Lombardi. His commitment to winning, magnetic personality and energetic spirit is unprecedented in college football history...not...
I think he's a nice guy, but he's just another in a long line of coaches that think they can turn Vandy into a contender in the country's toughest conference.
It's like claiming you can make the Baltimore Orioles win in the AL East.
Quarterback Larry Smith has failed to impress as a starter for the Commodores, giving the Vols' defense a chance to rack up some stats. Last year's game was a lackluster win, but Derek Dooley will have Tennessee fired up for this home game.
Prediction: Win 31-17
November 26th: At Kentucky Wildcats
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Incoming Record: 7-4
Recall how confident I was that the Tennessee Volunteers would fall to Alabama? Insert that same confidence if not more right here for the Vols beating the Kentucky Wildcats.
It's become the Volunteers State's favorite pastime.
Unless you're 27 years old and can remember Tennessee games from your infancy, you've never seen the Wildcats beat the Vols. Indeed, the last time Big Blue toppled the Big Orange was 1984. Tennessee will extend the streak to 27 straight in late November.
Last year was the year for Kentucky to get the win. While the game was in Knoxville, one of the best players in Kentucky history, Randall Cobb, was playing his last SEC game, and quarterback Mike Hartline was a legitimate passing threat.
The Vols will roll. We can all live another year.
Prediction: Win 28-14
Not a Bad Season!
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Final Record: 8-4
I think any fan of the Tennessee Volunteers will take 8-4 right now with wins over Florida and LSU. These predictions are neither optimistic nor pessimistic. They're truly what I think will happen.
That's why I've already got my ticket to the Swamp. I can't wait to see that victory.
Rally around Derek Dooley, who is recruiting players that are good, smart people and have top-level talent each and every year.