This is always an awesome time of year. Summer is coming to a close, your beloved football teams are in training camps, and you can hear the SEC on CBS theme playing from memory. For me, I was born in Alabama, raised in Nashville, and growing up I was a fan of Tennessee and Alabama both. When I was in my teens, my Grandfather, who has been a lifelong Vols fan told me, “You can’t be a Tennessee and Alabama fan.” So, I decided to commit to Alabama as a “fan” when John Parker Wilson was the QB and Tennessee was running the table. However, I always kept up with Tennessee, and my Dad was a huge Vols fan, and so I grew up watching Fulmer, Peyton, Jamal Lewis, Tee Martin, and Peerless Price, and I could go on and on. In the midst of the most recent coaching search, I told my brother Matt, “If Tennessee makes Fulmer the AD, I will leave the dynasty of Alabama and marry myself to the Vols – for better or for worse.” So here I am, having watched some of Tennessee’s hardest years from a slight distance, but feeling every move just like the rest of the fan base. So with that said, I am here and committed, and I hope you can accept me as fellow fan. Now looking forward, I know going into this season for some Tennessee fans, the excitement level is very high and very real. For others, the reluctance is palpable. In the conversations I have had with some groups of Vols fans, there is a sense of hurt and pain. The type of pain that one would feel after breaking up with a significant other that despite wanting it to work and giving so much effort for so long, you just had to end it. The outlook after that breakup can be that of a pessimist, anticipating more hurt and pain to come, and rightly so. But look, we all loved Butch Jones, bought into his Gospel, loved his little slogans, and when he let us down the hurt and disappointment was very real. The truth is, we had the same experience with Kiffin, Dooley, and now we’ve got a new guy in Pruitt that we’re handcuffed to for the foreseeable future. With that said, I know for sure that I am in the majority on this, but I believe the fact that John Currie and Beverly Davenport are gone is one of the biggest happenings in Tennessee football history. When Currie was fired and Phil Fulmer, who is like the great Uncle of every Tennessean, was brought in, I jumped ship. I love Phillip Fulmer and I believe his love and passion for this program is going to right the ship – not to mention Jimmy Haslam isn’t using him as a puppet. It’s always hard to get the courage up and put yourself out there to be hurt again, so some people decide they’ll be negative to avoid it. How do Tennessee fans go from saying, “we’re going to win the East,” a few years ago to now, “It’ll be years before we can compete and win games?” Yes I will be the first to admit that the team that Jeremy Pruitt has inherited does have its history of dysfunction, issues, and regrets. There is for sure a complete culture overhaul happening on Rocky Top, but it’s not something that hasn’t been done before. We can all look at what Penn State went through after the Sandusky scandal, and yes that’s an extreme example, but it just goes to show that, despite what some fans say; we’re not that far off from being where fans want to be and considered a competitive team in the SEC.
Now, let’s get on to West Virginia. For the record, I think Will Grier is a solid QB. The team in general has my respect, mainly because I have family who are from West Virginia, and love the Mountaineers, so I’ve kept an eye on them from week-to-week. I know they also have a wide out in David Sill V, who was named to the preseason All-American team for this year. Now, my question is, what is there besides the two of them? Last year, this West Virginia team went seven and six, ending the season with a three game losing streak, against some stout competition (Texas, Oklahoma, and Utah). The other three losses they accrued over the season were again VA Tech, TCU, and Oklahoma State – again solid competition. But something that people don’t look into is their wins, and there is one in particular that grabs my attention. The Mountaineers played Baylor on the road, and beat Baylor by two points. What happened that a team like Baylor could hang thirty-six points on the Mountaineer defense? Baylor was a team that didn’t win a game in 2017. They’re young and still rebuilding after the Art Briles ordeal. Now, for the record, and before you write me off, I am not saying the Vols will beat West Virginia because Baylor hung thirty six on them at home. I see it this way; the media, due to the hype around Will Grier, are already saying that Grier is a Heisman candidate, and he could get his team into the playoff, and so on. I’m of the belief, yes, that the QB is the most important position in the game, but there is much more to the game of football than just passing the ball well. It was noted late last week in an article by 24/7 Sports that the Vols, over the course of the last four years, have had a better recruiting class than West Virginia. So what can the Vols do with a real test against the Mountaineers to start off 2018? If they lose, it could start the Pruitt era off with a disappointment. If they win, it could send them into two back-to-back games they will be favored in, and potentially go into the Florida game with a 3-0 record and all the confidence in the world.
The one thing that all Tennessee fans can credit to Butch Jones is that he was an incredible recruiter. Also, we all agree he is a terrible coach, and that’s why he’s now an intern at Alabama – probably going on Starbucks runs for Saban everyday. Now, the classes he’s brought in over the last few years have been through a lot. Much more than most college football players have to endure. From what I have seen from their responses to the new coaching staff, they are buying in. It’s been a slow, frustrating grind and I am sure as a player, you want to jump on the chance to step in to an open spot and let your talent shine. Pruitt’s gut level honestly that fans have had to get used to in press conferences is something that I believe, from a players perspective, is only something that can benefit the team as a whole. For those who have played organized team sports at a high level, we’ve all had coaches who have gotten in our faces, ripped us apart, encouraged us, and picked us up which results in our growth and betterment as a team. I believe the older players on this team have an opportunity to lead from a position that few have had, having endured the last year of this programs history. September first, we will know what this team has to offer, and we will see a battle between the Mountains vs. the Mountaineer.
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