Tennessee football: Vols a team to be reckoned with
Tennessee’s football program has taken a mighty turn over the past month.
The Vols were all but written off in September following losses to Georgia State and BYU. Now, UT looks respectable, especially after a 30-7 win over UAB.
Beating the Blazers caps a month in which the Vols beat two SEC foes, Mississippi State and South Carolina, and played Alabama as close as anyone could have hoped.
As for those losses against Georgia State and BYU? Both were understandably unsettling. However, both teams have looked respectable since. Georgia State is 6-2; BYU is 4-4.
No one is hanging banners nor handing out participation trophies in Knoxville just yet but some credit is due. Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt has not been quelled by rumors that his boss, UT athletic director Phillip Fulmer, wants his job. Pruitt has not been shaken by any criticism of facemask grabbing. Pruitt has kept his team focused. That was evident on Saturday.
So what does this all mean moving forward? We’ll see.
Tennessee is 4-5 with games remaining against Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt. Anything short of a bowl bid would have to be considered a disappointment after the Vols fell short of that goal last season. Still, despite the season-opening flop, the Vols can begin to think about a sunny beach trip in January — or at least a gray visit to some bowl that has some sponsor you’ll never remember.
No matter the bowl game, a break-even record would be an accomplishment. Just imagine — I know, work with me — if the Vols would have started the season in better fashion, we would be talking about a 6-3 team. That would change things. Had that all happened, Pruitt would be a candidate for SEC coach of the year.
Now, back to reality. The Vols will play at Kentucky on Saturday, then Nov. 23 at Missouri before hosting Vanderbilt to close the season. I’ll do the math for you. The Vols have to win two of those three games to be bowl eligible. Can they do it? Sure. Will they? Yes.
Tennessee has exhibited enough desire, commitment and emotion that it simply looks like a bowl team. Anything short would be a disappointment.
Statistics are one thing. The overall feel of a football team is something different. This team has that feel.
The Vols have managed to overcome a defunct offensive line, a quarterback controversy and more outside speculation than could possibly be imagined. Still, the Vols have manned up and made themselves relevant again.
Will that continue? With three games remaining, I’d say yes. UT’s football team has shown the maturity to overcome all mental obstacles. As for physical obstacles, the Vols can worry about those next season. Their upcoming opponents shouldn’t scare them on talent alone.
Simply beating UAB on Saturday doesn’t prove anything. However, the way the Vols took care of the Blazers speaks to Pruitt’s style. That should concern his upcoming opponents