The summer of 2016 is one of inner-conflict for University of Tennessee football fans. If you’re a Tennessee fan, you are as excited about an upcoming football season as you’ve been in a long, long time. Or, you’re afraid to get excited because you think your team will ultimately let you down. The University of Tennessee hype train is barrelling down the tracks. Tennessee football hasn’t been nationally relevant in years. It is now.
- The Golden Nugget casino in Las Vegas released its college football win total projections this month. They have Tennessee in the college football final four. Seriously.
- Athlon released its pre-season Top 25 college football poll. They have Tennessee ranked 7th. Seriously.
- The 2016 pre-season ESPN college football power index has Tennessee ranked 5th. Seriously.
Tennessee could be ranked in the Top 10 when the AP pre-season poll comes out. It’ll be close. I asked John Brice with Volquest.com if he could remember the last time the Vols were in the AP Top 10. His answer was, “Going into 2007, I believe.” That’s 10 years, which reminds me of this clip from Grosse Pointe Blank.
Tennessee fans haven’t had a reason to be this excited in at least 10 years. However, even in 2007, a large portion of the fan base was ready for change at the head coach position. When Tennessee won 5 games in 2005, many Tennessee fans were ready to move on from Coach Fulmer. At that point, many could not care less about any preseason hype.
Chris Low has consistently told us during his appearances on #3HL that he thinks Tennessee hasn’t had this much talent on its roster since 2001. I agree with him. Butch Jones won 7 games in 2014 and 9 games in 2015. That’s healthy growth. Tennessee has not had a player drafted in the last two NFL draft classes. Clearly Tennessee has improved and won games with young talent. That young talent now includes a veteran base with a lot of SEC experience. Tennessee is 13-5 in its last 18 games without an NFL Draft pick in 2015 and 2016. Amazing. Butch Jones has seemingly built an impressive foundation. Now it’s time for the payoff.
Will this be the year that Tennessee jumps back into the national scene? The Vols obviously play in the SEC, which is clearly the most competitive conference in college football. 8 of the last 10 college football National Champions have come from the Southeastern Conference. Out of those eight, four different schools won it all. Meaning, almost 29% of the conference has won at least one National Championship in the last 10 years. That’s crazy. You could make the case that it is almost as difficult to win the SEC as it is to win the National Title. 4 different SEC teams won the SEC Championship in the last 10 years, the same number that won National Titles. Crazy.
That means, winning the SEC is an amazing accomplishment, but one that gives you an equal shot to win it all. That is where Tennessee fan is. If Tennessee wins the East, they are a heartbeat away from playing for a National Championship. They know that. Which, given the recent past, is crazy to consider. That is why some are afraid to jump on that hype train. But, if you listen to my radio show, you know that I do not believe in letting the past dictate the future. It’s the same argument I made when I met James Franklin and said that he would win at an unprecedented level at Vanderbilt. I got killed by people saying Vanderbilt has never won, they will never win. James Franklin won 9 games in back to back seasons. That had never been accomplished at Vanderbilt. He also beat Tennessee twice. Do. Not. Let. Your. Past. Dictate. Your. Future.
The Vols will be picked to win the SEC East. It’s been a while since that has happened. Tennessee, as Barrett Sallee with Bleacher Report points out, has not been picked to win the SEC East by the media at SEC Media Days since 2005. Read that here.
Think about that. Tennessee has not been picked by the media to win the division of its conference in twelve years. That will change in July at SEC Media Days.
So here we are. Tennessee fan is conflicted. Should they be excited, should they have hope for 2016. Some Tennessee fans weren’t around in the 90’s. Those fans have stuck with their team, hoping to experience that kind of success. Some Tennessee fans did experience the success of the 90’s and have great memories of all of the fun associated with all of that winning. Some have kids that are Tennessee fans that have never felt what it was like to be the favorite. Those parents tell their kids, “Stick with your team. It’ll mean that much more to you when they win.” They are hopeful that this is the year.
The expectation level with Tennessee fan is through the roof. But, because of the lack of success over at least the last ten years, UT fans are experiencing a summer of conflict. Do they put themselves out there and buy into the hype and the hope or do they protect themselves by not getting excited while thinking they’ll believe in success when they see it. The risk there is that you don’t enjoy the run. My advice to Tennessee fan would be to jump in. Have fun with it. If they win, great. You’ll enjoy the ride. If they don’t win, you’ll feel like any other tortured sports fan.
I think Tennessee will win the East. I think this is going to be a memorable season for Tennessee fans. The question I have for Tennessee fan is this, are you excited about the 2016 season and confident that your team is finally back? Or, are you terrified to be excited thinking your team will ultimately let you down? Tennessee fan, where are you with the summer of inner-conflict?