Tennessee Football: 10 Presents the Vols Hope to Find Under the Tree
Photo courtesy of Saul Young & GoVolsXtra.com
For fans and supporters of the Tennessee Volunteers football program, there hasn't been much to cheer about in the last few years.
Coaching turmoil, roster upheaval, demolishing losses at the hands of rivals and terrible luck have doomed the Vols on and off the field since 2008.
So, it's about time for Tennessee to get some good news. What better time than Christmas to talk about the Vols' big orange wish list.
Here's 10 things that everyone who cares about Tennessee football hopes to find under the tree.
Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess/KNS
You will not find one Tennessee fan that wants to remember the debacle that was 2011. The way the season ended created one of the worst memories in Tennessee history.
If fans, players and coaches had the ability to completely remove the games against LSU, Alabama, Georgia,and Kentucky from their memory, there would be a lot less depression across the Volunteer State right about now.
A Top 10 Recruiting Class
Photo by Bob Andres, ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION
Tennessee currently ranks anywhere from No. 16 to No. 10 in recruiting according the four major recruiting services (ESPN, Rivals, Scout, 247).
Being in the top 20 is never a bad thing, but considering there are between five and seven SEC teams in front of the Vols, according to each of those respective services, Derek Dooley and staff need to finish strong between now and national signing day.
Tennessee Recruiting Rankings Breakdown, as of Dec. 20, 2011:
ESPN: No. 16—with Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Texas A&M, Auburn, LSU, & South Carolina ranked ahead of Tennessee.
Rivals: No. 10—with Alabama, Florida, LSU & Texas A&M ranked ahead of the Vols.
Scout: No. 11—with Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, & Florida ranked ahead of Tennessee.
247: No. 14—with Alabama, Texas A&M, Florida, LSU, & South Carolina ranked ahead of the Vols.
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With such a young team in 2011, it's really no wonder that the Vols coaching staff had some difficulty reining in a few of Tennessee's more immature players.
Another year of physical and emotional growth should help these kids, but there has to be more of an effort from the coaching staff and the team leaders to make sure some of the antics of 2011 stay in the rear view mirror.
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Face it, the Vols had a gigantic leadership vacuum in 2011. Sure, there were a few seniors like Malik Jackson and Tauren Poole who tried to lead, but there was no spirited, vocal leader like past Tennessee teams have had.
The type of leadership that led the Vols to an incredible run in the 90's has been completely absent for some time now. It's past time for some of these guys to step up and make more of a difference on and off the field.
Improved Leadership at the Top
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If the various reports of what went on in practice and the UT locker room are accurate, Derek Dooley has a lot of improving to do in the leadership department.
Stories of a certain sophomore receiver going all prima donna during games and practice, as well as, a certain quarterback acting up throughout the season brought Tennessee's 2011 debacle into a new light.
Dooley simply cannot allow 20-year-olds to run off assistant coaches and/or disrespect the university.
Better Health in 2012
For all the turmoil that the 2011 season brought Tennessee football, the simple fact is that Tennessee would have finished 7-5 at worst had certain members of the team not gone down with injuries early and often during the season.
The loss of Justin Hunter was perhaps the most season-altering injury in Tennessee history. The Vols lack of depth behind Herman Lathers, Justin Hunter, Tyler Bray and Brent Brewer doomed Tennessee in 2011.
Retention of Defensive Coordinator Justin Wilcox
Tennessee fans were sweating it out last week when Wilcox was rumored to be Arizona State's top candidate for their vacant head coach position before the Sun Devils convinced Pitt head coach Todd Graham to pull a Kiffin and head west.
There is still plenty of opportunity for Wilcox to end up elsewhere as there are a few openings left and possibly a few more still to come after bowl season.
But of all the Vols assistants, Wilcox is easily the least expendable.
Tee Martin Back in Orange
Photo by Michael Patrick
There is reportedly an open spot on the Tennessee coaching staff right now. And there's no guarantee that there won't be more in the weeks to come. Tennessee fans would love nothing more than to welcome their national championship quarterback Tee Martin back into the fold.
Dooley already went out and snagged former Vol great Jay Graham to coach running backs. If Tee Martin ended up back in orange and white, it would be a nice morale boost for big orange fans everywhere.
Better Luck in the Georgia Dome
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Tennessee will open the 2012 season in Atlanta next season against the North Carolina State Wolfpack. The annual Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at the Georgia Dome has become one of the premier opening weekend games in the nation in recent years.
It's just too bad Tennessee has not won a game in the Georgia Dome in 13 years.
Since the December 1998 win over Mississippi State that propelled Tennessee into the first BCS National Championship Game, the Vols have been back to the Dome six times, losing by an average margin of 15 points.
Getting 2012 off on the right foot by exorcising their Peach State capital demons would be a huge step in the right direction for the Vols.
A Sold-out Neyland Stadium Next Season
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Is there anything more disheartening for longtime Tennessee fans than seeing less than 90,000 people inside Neyland Stadium? Officially, there were three games in 2011 where less than 90,000 showed up in Knoxville. Unofficially, it was worse.
Neyland only reached 100,000-plus twice last season.
It may be hard to justify spending a ton of money in this economic climate to watch a team you know is probably going to lose, but it's amazing how that particular phenomena doesn't affect the best teams in the SEC.
Everybody loves a winner. If Tennessee can get off to a good start in 2012, attendance at one of the nation's biggest and best stadiums should get much better.