Every team has a chance to be good or better than expected. Every fanbase gives their team a better chance at doing so than everyone else. UT is far from being an exception.
UT fans have their case. Non-Vol fans have theirs. Both have valid arguments.
Vol fans say "decent at worse", others say "decent at best".
Tennessee can be 9-3 just as easily as they can be 5-7 and vice versa. But where will they end up most likely at?
Well first you've got to go back to last year, where UT fans blame the system for the awful offense way more than the players. Other fanbases say the blame should be distributed equally, saying that UT lacked talent and playmakers. To an extent this is true. But we can also go back futher to 07, where the offense was pretty decent. The only starter they lost heading into the 08 season was QB Erik Ainge. Yes, anytime you go from Ainge to Crompton, its not going to be very pretty. But why did the ENTIRE team play so... awful?
Sounds to me like alot had to do with the system. This team admitted the NEVER really understood it. There was too much thinking involved, and the OL "flipping" around? How about 43 pass attempts in the OPENING game where you led most of the time??
And here comes the "But its LAME KITTEN coaching!" comments. Well Im sure he will learn quickly that the SEC is much different than he thought. And I know he's new at head coaching. But this team could have done better if they were their own coaches! Plus people have got to remember, Kiffin may not be so great, but hes got a GREAT staff and hes bringing in some good talented players. I promise you that goes a long way. So it may take him awhile to figure it all out and realize its different than he thought, but hes got help to get him there. Besides, how do you know that he isnt a good head coach?
Ok so lets look more in depth at the offense:
Quarterback: Crompton is going to be the starter. Stevens hasnt shown that hes capable of doing any better than either of them did last year. Crompton has had some good practices, but fumbling on the QB-center exchange and overthrowing guys shows that he still has a ways to go. But he will be better than last year. Maybe not by much, but he will be improved (right? Right???).
Backs: Ok many people are glad to see Arian Fumblester Foster gone, and Im torn here. He rushed for almost 2000 yards in 07 and then, with the help of the OL, played terrible last year. The backs could be better than last year, but they could be worse. It depends on if the OL can block worth a flip. If Hardesty can stay healthy and Brown and Oku can hold onto the football they will be a better group.
Receivers: Now this is a tricky one. I think the WRs will have a better year, but I dont know if they are a better group than last years. It will be close. Freshmen Richardson and especially Teague are doing well so far, and the 3 guys returning, Jones, Moore and Warren, should be solid after the 1st 2 get healthy.
O Line: Now here is the group that will have improved the most. They return all but the LT from last year, and you can already tell how much theyve changed, from Scott getting the "biggest improvement since spring" honor to McNeil no longer "satisfied with just showing up for the games". They wont be very good at pass blocking, but they should do quite well in run blocking.
Plus the TEs and FBs will actually be involved this year, unlike what Clawson promised us.
Well alot, if not most, Vol fans think our D will be just as good as last years. I disagree. I think they will be good, but not as good. Perhaps a slight struggle and dropoff with this system. The pass rush will be tons better, but I dont know if the LBs can duplicate what happened last year-newbies preforming quite exceptional. What I am excited about is the freshmen. They have been very solid in practice. So depth with plenty of talent might not be a problem.
And then there is the special teams. This should be the most improved group now that we ACTUALLY got a STs coach! That would be Mr Eddie Gran. So I expect better things out of the punt and kickoff teams. Now Lincoln may still struggle, and Cunningham may not be able to replace Colquitt, but like UTs offense, "They cant be worse!".
And then there is the schedule. What alot of fans dont realize is that yeah, the Vols were 5-7, but they were so close to being at least 7-5. We absolutely had the UCLA game won and WE LOST IT by throwing 43 times and playing the stupid prevent in the secondary. Then there was the Auburn game. Had we had just landed on that fumble for a safety we still would have won it. Then theres Wyoming... well we'll skip that one (which Ill blame the announcement of Phils firing for).
This years schedule isnt any tougher by any means. Florida will still be tough as heck. UGA wont be any better, maybe even worse. Bama will still be tough, but maybe still slack off a bit. And I dont see any of those other teams improving from last year. OK, so we've got Ole Miss instead of Miss St. Well they might not be as good as advertised. And you can also look at it this way. I predict they lose to Florida Bama and Ole Miss (and SC). If so then they didnt "waste" a home game if you know what I mean. Optimism can be found anywhere if you look hard enough lol.
So I think if you take everything into consideration UT is a 7-5 ball club. I also think that the UCLA game is the key game this year. They will not be 8-4 in all likelyhood if they lose to UCLA. If they can win big it will give them confidence heading into the UF game and that might be enough to... just kidding.
Now the thing that matters most; wins and losses.
W. Kentucky - Worst team in DivI I think they are being labeled, but I dont expect a complete slaughter. Heres a question for you: How much playing time will the backups get? Will Kiffin let the 1st string get as many as possible? Win 38-6
UCLA - Its time for revenge and its at home which is big. Last I heard UCLA will be starting a true freshman? Not good. And I can promise that you wont see the prevent again! Look for lots of running plays. Win 20-10
Florida - Well... Nothing is impossible I guess. Lose 30-13
Ohio - The offense starts to pick it up altho I heard Ohio isnt THAT bad? Win 37-10
Auburn - Another home game helps out, and it should be a close one. Like last year, except not as terrible by the offenses! Win 16-13
Georgia - UT will beat one of the Big 4 on their schedule. This should be a dog fight. Both Ds will look to be pretty good. A good ol fashion football game featuring defense and running backs. The Vols play their hearts out and pull the upset at home. W 17-16
Alabama - UT looking good now at 5-1 and coming out of a bye. But that Bama D will be just too much for Crompton and Co., and Bama pulls away in the 4th. Lose 23-13
S Carolina - I think Spurrier has one last trick up his sleeze and will beat the Vols inside Neyland, then retire after the season. Poor Lane will hate that. Lose 13-10
Memphis - A much needed break after a 2 game losing streak. Win 40-13
Ole Miss - Ole Miss could be really good, or just an average team. I think the D holds their on and Sneed out lasts Crompton for the win in Oxford. Lose 24-20
Vandy - After losing 3 of their last 4 games UT now sits at 6-4. They know that they must finish strong and win these last 2 games. Plus Vandy has yet to prove they can finish strong. Win 24-17
Kentucky - I think they will suprise some people, but if you cant beat UT in 05 or 08, their 2 worst season in forever, why should I ever give you the nod for the win? Win 27-16
So there you go, 8-4 heading into the bowl game, which I will not predict.