Rocky Top News is among a couple of specialty magazines that focus on Tennessee exclusively while other regional and national publications take an overview of the college and SEC football scenes. Inside Tennessee subscribers who take RTN should receive the 2004 football edition next week. The 100-page issue is filled with features, analysis, bios, recruiting info as well as the obligatory predictions.
As with any publication dedicated to a single school, RTN puts a positive spin on the home team's endeavors, although every effort is made not to be unduly optimistic about it's chances, or profuse in praise when Tennessee's performance doesn't warrant it.
This qualifier might appear to be little more than a thinly veiled promotion, but instead it is intended to explain what a challenge it is to remain objective when writing about the Vols. Too much information can sometimes inhibit the analytical process while being too close to a situation can prevent one from gaining the best perspective.
The other side of such insight is that it's easy to recognize inferences drawn from too little information regarding the team in question just as it takes little effort to readily recognize when an evaluation is right on. There are some of each in The Sporting News SEC preseason issue that recently hit newsstands.
Overall TSN's SEC is well written and laid out in a reader friendly fashion. The normal high standards and production values one would expect from a magazine of TSN's magnitude are in place and it's a worthwhile purchase for football-philes.
However there are some postulations that strain the credulity of the well-informed and appear to be outright contradictions. For instance: Fred Gibson of Georgia is listed as the SEC's No. 1 receiver as well as the SEC's most overrated talent. Go figure.
Tennessee's James Banks is listed as the SEC's No. 3 wide receiver despite his glaring lack of discipline in route running and lapses in concentration that border on inexcusable. For every big play Banks turned in last season (and there were plenty of them) there were at least two in which he simply disappeared. On top of that he was suspended from the team in the spring after being suspended in the first half of the Peach Bowl. No doubt, Banks is an outstanding athlete, but he's far from a refined receiver and may not be UT's No. 3 wide receiver (see Jayson Swain, Chris Hannon, Robert Meachem, Bret Smith) much less the SEC's.
Here's some other TSN ratings or predictions that may make you ask — what the heck?
• Undersized Vanderbilt fullback Matthew Tant is listed as the SEC's top blocking fullback, although he's probably better known for his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and frequently appears overmatched against the league's better linebackers.
• Four-year starter Michael Munoz is listed as the SEC's fifth best offensive tackle which means he's not even second team all conference.
• Tennessee's Cedrick Houston is rated the top tailback running between the tackles despite his lack of durability which has manifested in six missed games the last two seasons.
• UT's receivers, which appear to be the strength of the offense this season, are rated No. 6 as a unit in the SEC. A curious conclusion considering Banks is rated No. 3 and the Vols have three other high school all-Americans that are poised to come into their own this year.
• Tennessee's offensive line is rated No. 8 in the SEC despite having arguably the best tackle tandem in the conference and every other position manned by high school all-Americans like Jason Respert, Arron Sears, Cody Douglas, Rob Smith and Eric Young.
• The Vols' backfield is rated No. 9 in the league (Vandy is No. 4) which combined with the other rankings places UT squarely in the bottom third of the conference's offensive units. Obviously, the lack of production last season and questions about the quarterback and fullback positions impact that ranking. Ultimately, it would be surprising if the Vols rank nearly that low with the level of talent on hand, including Jabari Davis who TSN rates the SEC's top short yardage runner.
• Two years ago, TSN rated Tennessee the best game day atmosphere in all of college football, but now the same publication rates Mississippi as the best pre-game atmosphere in the SEC, Florida the best game atmosphere in the conference and South Carolina the best fans. Georgia is rated with the best home field advantage and Saturday night in Death Valley as the SEC's best tradition. (UT's Vol Navy comes in a distant fourth). It looks like Big Orange fans have fallen more than the football program according to TSN.
• TSN picks Tennessee to finish No. 3 in the SEC East Division and No. 24 in the nation with an 8-3 record, 5-3 in the SEC.
• Tennessee's linebackers are rated the SEC's best but no other UT unit breaks the top three in the conference, although Dustin Colquitt is named the league's best punter.
• Randy Sanders and John Chavis are rated No. 5 and No. 4 respectively among SEC coordinators, while Phillip Fulmer, who has the second highest winning percentage among active coaches in college football, is listed No. 3 behind Nick Saban and Houston Nutt. Florida's Ron Zook comes in No. 10.
If TSN is be believed, Tennessee fans are in for a season pretty much like the last two, which translates to little offensive fireworks with virtually no chance at a conference title or major bowl bid.
So, is it a glimpse into the near future or simply pulp fiction?
In football terms, June is a month for publications to provide their take on the upcoming campaign and to supply ravenous readers a plethora of predictions to ponder, along with enough opinions to occupy thoughts until fall practice takes center stage.