This year, Derrick Dooley is entering his second year at the helm of the University of Tennessee football program. Expectations in Knoxville have been somewhat stymied over the past couple of seasons, due to coaching turnover and multiple off the field issues. However, this upcoming season has evolved into climbing excitement for Volunteer fans.
Success this year could be measured in more than one way. For instance, you could easily say that the lack of off the field issues throughout spring, summer workouts and now heading into the season, is success. The recruiting momentum, low attrition and player progression, is success. Maintaining the vast majority of the coaching staff for the first time in three years, success. All of these factors will undoubtedly contribute to the ultimate deciding authority on success, and that is wins.
The bar has been set high for second-year coaches in the SEC. Most recent example; Gene Chizik in his second year at Auburn, coached a Heisman winner and wins a national championship. Is it realistic to expect that from Derek Dooley?
Dooley enters the season with a team that most have ranked no higher than fourth in the East. This sets the table for him to beat expectations and project himself into the success category. However, with Tennessee's onslaught of SEC competition, this will be very difficult.
Tennessee plays the three best teams from the West in Alabama, LSU and Arkansas. Alabama has had its way with Tennessee lately, so do not look for the win here. LSU is more talented but they were last year too. The LSU game is being played in Knoxville and look for Tennessee to exact revenge. Arkansas' strength was a balanced offense, but with the loss of Knile Davis, Arkansas will now shift focus to the air. Arkansas hosts Tennessee following the South Carolina game. This is a perfect opportunity for the Vols to take advantage, considering Tennessee is deep in the secondary and matches up well against Arkansas.
The East breakdown is one that plays into Tennessee's favor. Florida is Tennessee's SEC opener, Week 3. Florida is always going to have talent, but with all of the changes over the offseason, there are numerous creases that need ironing. Next is Georgia, in Knoxville. I think Georgia is one of the most overrated teams in the league and youth will be served. South Carolina is another home game for the Vols, and I do think South Carolina will have the upper hand in this match. Vanderbilt and Kentucky could combine teams and maybe have a shot at upsetting Tennessee.
Tennessee brings to the table experienced youth. Four returning offensive lineman, a quarterback that started that last five games of the season, 1,000 yard rusher in the backfield, and loads of talent to throw to. Defensively the Vols could be considered one of the best defensive backfields in the SEC, the front seven is considered suspect but not due to lack of talent. With talent and returning starters, a 2nd year coaching staff can make a huge difference.
With all this being said, I do believe Derek Dooley will be grouped into the category of the next second-year SEC coaching success. A win over Florida, Georgia and either an Arkansas or LSU would reflect a great season. One that would leave the Volnation and national media gleaming about 2012 expectations.