I don't think Tennessee's football team will go 12-0 this fall. Or 11-1. Or even 10-2. That doesn't make me a pessimist; it makes me a realist. Programs rarely improve from five wins to 10 wins in one offseason.
Still, I realize there are some fans reading this who are convinced the Vols will win at least 10 games this fall. My response? Good for you. I question your logic but I applaud your enthusiasm. Please do not let my opinion — or anyone else's, for that matter — temper your optimism. If you can't feel excited about the Vols in July, while they are still undefeated, when can you feel excited about them?
Former Tennessee head man Johnny Majors grew so weary of hearing the grumblings of negative fans that he dubbed them "The Legion of the Miserable." That was 30 years ago, and the legion is bigger and louder now than it was in the early 1980s.
Trust me: With the Vols coming off records of 5-7, 7-6, 6-7 and 5-7, I understand why fans aren't exactly dancing in the streets. Tennessee's 46.0 winning percentage over that span makes it the worst four-year stretch since the 1909, 1910, 1911 and 1912 teams combined to go 11-19-5. The Big Orange Nation isn't accustomed to this level of discouragement. Faces are long. Psyches are fragile.
You may ask: What's the point of being optimistic? I counter: What's the point of being pessimistic?
My all-time favorite movie line is from Dumb and Dumber. Lloyd (played by Jim Carrey) asks Mary (played by Lauren Holly) if there is maybe a one out of a hundred chance she could fall for him. She replies: "I'd say more like one out of a million." After pondering that for a few seconds, Lloyd breaks into a huge grin and says: "So you're telling me there's a chance ..."
I wish more Vol fans would adopt Lloyd's approach. Frankly, Tennessee's chances of making the SEC Championship Game this year are a lot better than one in a million. They're a lot better than one in a hundred. Personally, I think they're roughly one in four. The Vols have closed the talent gap on Florida, Georgia and South Carolina to the point that I think any of the four teams could claim the division this fall.
I know what you're thinking: Didn't the Gators, Dawgs and Gamecocks all beat Tennessee last fall? Yes. But the Gators only had to face Justin Hunter for one series before he tore his ACL. The Dawgs and Gamecocks didn't have to face him at all. The Gamecocks didn't have to face star quarterback Tyler Bray, either.
I'm not suggesting that Tennessee fans start making motel reservations in Atlanta for the weekend of the SEC Championship Game. But I'm not suggesting they don't, either. On paper at least, there is no dominant team in the SEC East this year.
I believe the Vols have a reasonable shot at playing in The Georgia Dome come December ... certainly a much better shot than Lloyd had at getting cozy with Mary in Dumb and Dumber.