By Steve Williams
It’s halftime of the 2013 University of Tennessee football season and the Vols are 3-3. That’s no big surprise.
But UT easily could be 5-1 right now and 2-0 in Southeastern Conference. On the other hand, they could be 2-4 overall.
Let’s look back.
Tennessee began the Butch Jones era against Austin Peay. Before the game, I went up to the first Austin Peay fan I saw outside Neyland Stadium and told him, “Fly is open.” He replied, “Let’s Go Peay!” That was fun.
The next AP fan I saw was a woman. Without thinking, I said, “Fly is open.” She didn’t reply but gave me a dirty look. Oops, I thought. That wasn’t fun.
The Vols beat the Governors 45-0. It could have been much worse. UT led 42-0 at intermission. We learned our new coach is merciful.
Bobby Petrino and Western Kentucky rode into town in Week 2. I don’t think Petrino came in on a motorcycle. Some thought the Hilltoppers would at least give Tennessee a good scare. Instead, they gave up seven turnovers, including five interceptions. Tennessee, not Petrino, rolled, 52-20.
The Vols played next at No. 2 ranked Oregon, and if I remember correctly were 28-point underdogs. I got my hopes up in the early going as Tennessee scored first and trailed only 10-7 at the end of the opening quarter. Then reality set in. The Ducks got their thing going, pulled away to a 59-14 win and also were merciful.
Florida was generous and misfortunate in Week 4. Butch didn’t take advantage of it. His experiment to start Nathan Peterman backfired. His decision to leave the struggling quarterback in the game cost him a signature win. With Justin Worley at QB, the Vols could have won that game on that day with all that happened. Instead, a backup quarterback led the Gators to a 31-17 win.
Tennessee won a game it came close to losing the following week. With Worley back at quarterback, the Vols built a 31-7 lead over South Alabama. About the time Coach Jones was probably going to put freshman quarterback Riley Ferguson in the game for his debut as a Vol, the Jaguars started a comeback that pulled them within seven points. It took an interception by Brian Randolph in the end zone with less than two minutes remaining to save the day.
With No. 6 ranked Georgia on the way to Knoxville, many UT fans were scratching their heads trying to understand how the Bulldogs could only be favored by 10½ points. We would soon find out the oddsmakers knew their stuff. Georgia won 34-31 in overtime. If the game had been played in the days before replay was utilized, a flying Pig would have scored and Tennessee would have won.
The atmosphere in Neyland for the Georgia game was electric. Many prospects were on hand to witness it and also the Smokey Gray uniforms the Vols wore for the first time.
I was glad to hear Coach Jones say in his post-game comments he didn’t believe in moral victory. A lot of hope did ooze from that tough loss.
Tennessee will try to build on it at high noon this coming Saturday against the ol’ ball coach and South Carolina. While the Vols had an open date this past weekend, the No. 14 ranked Gamecocks played at Arkansas.
Let me be he first to say Tennessee is on the bubble, as far as qualifying for a post-season bowl game. The Vols have to get at least three more wins to become eligible.
If we count top-ranked Alabama as a sure loss and Vanderbilt and Kentucky as sure wins, that means the Vols must defeat either South Carolina, Missouri or Auburn to get to 6-6.
Missouri was a surprising 5-0 and ranked No. 25 in the Associated Press poll heading into its game at Georgia Saturday. Auburn was 4-1 and listed among “others receiving votes” as it prepared to host Western Carolina.
As I see it, Tennessee’s best chances for victory versus this trio will come against South Carolina and Auburn. Simply because the Vols will have Neyland and you on their side.