July is a safe month for Tennessee football optimism. Exaggerations earn winks and smiles and might even be applauded. No matter what is said, most people will forget as soon as action replaces words.
ESPN says the Vols are now favored in nine games. The worldwide leader in sports has powerful binoculars. It sees something I can’t see.
Phillip Fulmer is wearing more softly tinted orange sunglasses.
“I can’t even imagine Tennessee not expecting to be in a bowl.”
The athletics director is basing that lightweight outlook on “more depth on this team, and a much better understanding by players of how to practice and how to prepare for big games.”
Phil Steele, routinely referred to in his press releases as a renowned college football expert, predicts the Volunteers will end up in the Texas Bowl against Oklahoma State. If you believe that and want to book it, start and finish will be on Dec. 27 in Houston.
Steele, in his preview magazines, says the Volunteers will be dramatically improved on offense.
“My computer is calling for an average 30.6 points per game.”
Tennessee averaged 22.8 last season and ranked 109 out of 130 in the college football world. Optimism is undoubtedly based on new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, projected improvement in the offensive line and more timely release of the football by your quarterback and mine, Jarrett Guarantano.
Steele also thinks the Vols will be better defensively. He is so enthralled with outside linebacker or defensive end Darrell Taylor, he has awarded all-America status, fourth team.
You can decide whether Phil Steele, 59, is a legitimate expert analyst. I say he remains a genius at selling printed magazines in this digital age. For 25 years, he and his staff have been cranking ’em out, more than 300 pages each, small type, strange abbreviations.
Personally, I doubt that Phil knows any more about the Volunteers than you do. He undoubtedly knows more than me about Boise State and Western Carolina. He is very big on research buoyed by advanced analytics, computer models and his own tireless routine. Steele interviews dozens of coaches each spring while I am fishing.
Starting the first of each September, fired by a steady flow of Diet Mountain Dew, Phil will watch and chart many games from the bank of 12 televisions in his Cleveland, Ohio, office. He says he hasn’t actually been to a game since the Glass Bowl of 1981.
Optimism is more guarded elsewhere. Street & Smith’s magazine picks UT to finish fourth in the SEC East. Athlon projects 7-5 and fifth place. Lindy’s picked the Vols to finish sixth.
Athlon’s forecast has the Vols 56th in the 1-to-130 national rankings. Lindy’s says 67th. Keep in mind that football magazine predictions are composed by mostly ordinary people.
Athlon says Jeremy Pruitt is the 86th best coach in the country, 13th in the SEC. He hasn’t done much yet to distinguish himself.
Street & Smith thinks Steele’s Texas Bowl is off course. It has the Vols busing over to the Music City Bowl. That’s how to sell more magazines in Middle Tennessee.
In Lindy’s is a section with comments from anonymous coaches. The Tennessee page features unpleasant recollections of 2018 disasters, the guess that Pruitt is going to need five years to get it done and a few encouraging words about Chaney. It seems the profession regards Big Jim as genuine.
Tennessee optimism is bubbling over for some who have memorized football magazines. Because the future is so bright, they are beginning to worry that Nick Saban will die or retire and Alabama will call out that supper is ready and Pruitt should come home.
Alabama is Pruitt’s school. He is Alabama through and through, his relatives are there, his dream job is undoubtedly in Tuscaloosa. If he isn’t afraid of following a legend, he could be packed in a matter of minutes.
Fear not. Whenever Alabama needs a new coach, it won’t be looking for 5-7 records. To qualify for consideration, Pruitt will need to produce a much stronger team at Tennessee.
If and when that mission is accomplished, I say cheers, Jeremy, go for it. There is a built-in advantage to coaching the Crimson Tide. Alabama doesn’t have to play Alabama.
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is [email protected].