Can the predictions of an African grey parrot best the prognostications from a lifelong Vol fan and occasional (and award-winning!) sports journalist? The zoo's Einstein, with 85 words she can say on command, and Metro Pulse's Matthew Everett, with a heap more vocabulary at his disposal, make their picks.
Matthew Everett: Human being employed by Metro Pulse as an entertainment editor. He has the intellectual capacity of a journalist, but the emotions of someone who's been a Vol fan since he was 10, and who also graduated from the University of Tennessee. Everett, who has never picked wins and losses in an official capacity, says he has the reputation among friends "for being pessimistic, and I'm pessimistic about this season." (No kidding—evidence in black and white below.) He'll explain his picks, which he made through thoughtful consideration, in complete sentences.
Einstein: African grey parrot employed by the Knoxville Zoo as their spokes-animal. She has the intellectual capacity of a 5-year-old child, but the emotions of a 2-year-old. Einstein has been featured on The Late Show With David Letterman and numerous other radio and television broadcasts, along with being voted animalplanet.com's most popular "Pet Star" ever in 2005. She'll explain her picks, which she made by selecting from two pieces of paper that each had a treat and one team's name on it, in some of the 85 phrases and sounds in her regular repertoire; she makes around 200 other imitations and expressions when she feels like it, but never "Go Vols." (In the interest of full disclosure: We actually paired some of the phrases she expressed during the selection with choices she made.)
UT vs. UT Martin (Sept. 4)
Everett: What's a nice way to start the season when you have a young team and a new head coach? UT-Martin at home, that's what. This should be as easy as it gets this season: UT.
Einstein: UT - "Are you ready?"
UT vs. Oregon (Sept. 11)
Everett: Flying across time zones from the West Coast is, according to conventional wisdom, a killer for football teams, and Oregon also has significant questions on defense. But the Ducks, led by bad-ass running back LaMichael James and ranked #11 in the preseason AP poll, will more than make up for it with a convincing win over the Vols: Oregon.
Einstein: UT - "Yeah!"
UT vs. Florida (Sept. 18)
Everett: We like to think of Florida as UT's main rival, so an upset pick isn't surprising. That used to be true, maybe. It looked like it last year when the underdog Vols frustrated top-ranked Florida in an ugly loss that nevertheless counted as a moral victory. (Remember how much we all liked Lane Kiffin that afternoon?) It won't look like it this year: Florida, with emphasis.
Einstein: UT - "Happy birthday."
UT vs. UAB (Sept. 25)
Everett: The best cure for that post-Gator hangover? A Conference USA patsy. UAB pays for Urban Meyers' sins: UT.
Einstein: UT - "Phew!"
UT at LSU (Oct. 2)
Everett: LSU has experience and depth. UT has neither, and they'll be playing their first game on the road—in one of the most hostile stadiums in the SEC. No chance: LSU easy, big, and perhaps even ugly.
Einstein: UT - "Meow."
UT at Georgia (Oct. 9)
Everett: This is where things could turn nasty. Already 0-2 in conference play, with no depth anywhere on the field, injuries will likely start to be a real problem. UT won at least one game they probably shouldn't have during a 3-1 stretch against Georgia since 2006—last year's 45-19 dismantling had to be an acute embarrassment for the Bulldogs—but their luck runs out this year: Georgia wins.
Einstein: UT - "Ruff ruff."
UT vs. Alabama (Oct. 23)
Everett: No way. It won't be close, not like last year. And even if it is, this isn't a team that's going to be pulling out squeakers against the defending national champions: Alabama
Einstein: UT - "Superstar!"
UT at South Carolina (Oct. 30)
Everett: Man, last year's Halloween night win, with the black jerseys, over that grinning jackass Steve Spurrier—that was a high point of 2009. Playing a solid team on the road, after a tough string of conference games, probably won't be a high point this year: the Gamecocks over the Vols.
Einstein: South Carolina - "Wah, wah, wah."
UT at Memphis (Nov. 6)
Everett: Good lord help the Vols when they can't beat a team that went 2-10 last year and doesn't look to be much improved this season. This one looks to be a romp. It better be—a loss to a team like this can be a catastrophe for a coach (cf. Philip Fulmer, 2008, Wyoming): UT
Einstein: UT - "Yee haw!"
UT vs. Ole Miss (Nov. 13)
Everett: Your week-11 upset special: maybe UT will catch the Rebels looking ahead to their game with LSU the following week, which could have significant divisional consequences. Let's hope so; the Vols could use the conference win. UT over Ole Miss.
Einstein: Ole Miss - "Ow ow ow."
UT at Vanderbilt (Nov. 20)
Everett: Vanderbilt's bad, even by Vanderbilt standards. It might be closer than it ought to be, but it shouldn't ever be in question: UT wins.
Einstein: UT - "Glub glub."
UT vs. Kentucky (Nov. 27)
Everett: There's an air of inevitability about this game—if Kentucky didn't beat Tennessee with Tim Couch or Andre Woodson, you figure, they're not going to do it with the chump who wins the starting job at QB this year. But the teams have almost identical overall records over the last four years, and Kentucky has actually been to more bowl games in that time. They haven't beaten UT since 1984, but that streak just can't go on forever, especially as the two programs start to settle right next to each other in the middle of the SEC East pack. This is a good year for it: The Wildcats win.
Einstein: UT - "Sugar!"